BOSTON (AP) – The number of people attending Mass in Boston’s Roman Catholic Archdiocese has risen slightly since tumultuous closings of dozens of parishes and a reported drop in the Catholic population. Last year, 319,559 Catholics attended Mass regularly, up from 316,811 in 2003, the year before the closings began, according to church data. During the same period, the number of parishes fell from 357 to 303 and the Catholic population by more than 11 percent.

The steady attendance through the closings “absolutely” validated the parish closings, said Kathleen Heck, an archdiocesan staffer who worked on the transition.

Southern Baptists agree on gag order

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) – Trustees of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board have approved a new policy that says they “must refrain from public criticism” of agency decisions and from “publicly airing differences within the board.”

Trustees of the denomination’s North American Mission Board met in Alpharetta, Ga., regarding criticisms leveled by Georgia’s Baptist newspaper. The trustees ordered tighter controls over the activities of President Robert Reccord, programs and bidding on outside contracts.

Reccord’s top aide, Chuck Allen, submitted his resignation.

The International Mission Board’s trustee rules were long in preparation. But last year one member, the Rev. Wade Burleson of Enid, Okla., openly criticized the board’s ban on missionaries speaking in tongues during private worship, saying the denomination was enforcing conformity on nonessential matters.

In January, the trustees decided to ask the Southern Baptists’ June meeting to oust Burleson, apparently the first time such action had been proposed. But during the Tampa meeting, trustees rescinded that decision. Burleson voted against the new gag rule but said he would obey it.

San Francisco leaders assail Christian youth rally for 25,000

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – A Christian youth rally that drew more than 25,000 people to AT&T Park last weekend met resistance from city leaders and some residents over its conservative agenda in a largely liberal, gay-friendly metropolis.

The two-day “Battle Cry for a Generation” aimed at luring youths away from a popular culture that organizers said glamorizes drugs, violence and sex.

Similar rallies are set April 7-8 at Detroit’s Ford Field and May 12-13 at Philadelphia’s Wachovia Spectrum.

Ron Luce, whose Texas-based Teen Mania sponsors the events, urges a “reverse rebellion” against corrupting influences such as MTV and the online meeting hub, The rallies featured Christian rock bands and promote a Christian alternative to, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Last week, the city’s Board of Supervisors passed a resolution condemning the “act of provocation” by an “anti-gay,” “anti-choice” organization that aimed to “negatively influence the politics of America’s most tolerant and progressive city.”

Luce said it was the first time one of his meetings has been officially condemned.

When Luce led a pre-rally teen meeting outside City Hall, Democratic state Assemblyman Mark Leno told counter-protesters that Battle Cry was a “fascist mega-pep rally” and attending teens should “get out of San Francisco.”

Islamic Development Bank unveils blueprint to build clout of Muslim nations

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) – The Islamic Development Bank has launched a 14-year blueprint to accelerate growth and build the economic clout of Muslim nations.

The project will “enhance the well-being of Muslims and uplift the image of Islam,” Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said upon release of a “Vision 2020” plan.

“Large masses of Muslims still live in conditions of poverty, illiteracy and deprivation,” he said, and jobs and health facilities are often scarce.

The focus will be on health, education and good governance projects. The bank is the lending arm of the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Conference, the world’s largest Muslim political organization.

Critics have said the bank hasn’t given enough help to less developed Muslim countries.

World Anglican leader to meet with pope at the Vatican

LONDON (AP) – Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the world’s 77 million Anglicans, announced he will meet with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican sometime this fall.

The visit marks the 40th anniversary of Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey’s visit with Pope Paul VI that launched formal Anglican-Catholic unity discussions.

Williams noted that a 1966 declaration by Ramsey and Paul VI vowed “serious dialogue” leading to the “unity in truth, for which Christ prayed.” He said the 2006 talks will discuss achievements since then and future relations.

Roman Catholic leaders have recently emphasized opposition to same-sex relationships and indicated ecumenical problems with liberal steps among Anglicans and Episcopalians.

Williams met Pope John Paul II in 2003 and last year attended his funeral and then the inaugural Mass for Pope Benedict XVI, during which Williams and Benedict met briefly.

New York Methodist church boasts of being the birthplace of “Scrabble”

NEW YORK (AP) – Community Methodist Church in the borough of Queens boasts of being the official birthplace of the “Scrabble” board game, which has sold more than 100 million sets.

The New York Landmarks Preservation Foundation certifies that status on a medallion at the church’s education building, United Methodist News Service reported. The designation was promoted by the Rev. Austin Armitstead, the pastor from 1974 to 1995.

In 1931, architect Alfred M. Butts invented the first version of his word game and wife Nina then introduced it to friends at the church who became fans.

But Butts couldn’t sell his idea to any game companies. In 1948 a friend who devised the “Scrabble” name began making sets on a small scale. The boom started when Macy’s department store started selling the game.

Nina Butts remained a member of the church till she died in 1979. Butts died in 1993.

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