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UM Bishops Express Hope for 'Holy Conferencing'

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    CORNET Note: The Bishops Letter follows this news article. Monday, April 26, 2004 Bishops Express Hope for Holy Conferencing A UMNS Report By Neill
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 27, 2004
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      CORNET Note: The Bishops' Letter follows this news article.

      Monday, April 26, 2004
      Bishops Express Hope for 'Holy Conferencing'
      A UMNS Report By Neill Caldwell*

      PITTSBURGH (UMNS) -- On the eve of the United Methodist Church's 2004
      General Conference, the denomination's Council of Bishops has issued
      a pastoral letter expressing hope for an atmosphere of love and
      prayerful Christian conferencing.

      The bishops pointed to issues surrounding this General Conference
      that are creating a "sense of anxiety." Those issues include visa
      problems encountered by some international delegates, financial and
      stewardship challenges, concerns about war and terrorism, continued
      threats of racism and poverty, and issues related to homosexuality.

      "Fear and anxiety are not the only forces at work in the world," the
      council said in its April 26 letter. "When Jesus Christ is present,
      we have nothing to fear. We are convinced more than ever that Jesus
      Christ is with us here, leading us to serve in all that we do."

      Quoting Philippians 1:9, the bishops said their prayer for the
      General Conference delegates is "that your love will overflow more
      and more with knowledge and full insight to help you determine what
      is best."

      During its meeting preceding General Conference, the Council of
      Bishops had long hours of discussion about the tensions that are
      surrounding this gathering of United Methodists.


      "We've had, in this council meeting, quite extensive conversation on
      the present situation of the church and how we should lead," said
      Bishop Ruediger R. Minor, president of the council and leader of the
      church's Eurasia Area. "While we're not encroaching on the rights of
      the General Conference, which is the governing body of the church, we
      do want to help General Conference find a spirit of Christian
      conferencing by listening to each other and putting things in the
      right dimension."

      The 2004 General Conference begins April 27 and continues through May
      7 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

      The letter calls each General Conference a "pivotal moment" in the
      life of the church. General Conference is held every four years and
      is the gathering that determines changes to the denomination's
      governing Book of Discipline.

      Many of the petitions before this General Conference deal with
      sexuality, and a recent survey of delegates said that homosexuality
      would be a chief topic of discussion. The tension surrounding the
      issue has escalated with the March 20 acquittal of the Rev. Karen
      Dammann in a clergy trial in the Pacific Northwest Annual (regional)
      Conference. Dammann was acquitted of a charge of
      practices "incompatible with Christian teaching" -- a violation of
      the Book of Discipline -- stemming from her disclosure in 2001 that
      she was living in a homosexual partnership.

      The bishops are responding to a growing concern that decisions made
      at this General Conference could split the United Methodist Church.

      "That's certainly one of the fears that people have," said Arkansas
      Bishop Janice Riggle Huie, part of the writing team that worked on
      the council's letter. "That's why we spoke to the unity issue very
      strongly."

      Addressing church unity, the letter reads: "As a Council of Bishops,
      we consider ourselves to be family. That means we love each other, we
      listen to each other, and sometimes we vigorously disagree with each
      other. However, we do not question the integrity of our colleagues
      and their commitment to fulfill the responsibilities entrusted to
      them. We have learned that honest struggle is a part of love. Our
      love for Christ, the church and one another transcends our
      differences.

      "On some issues, including human sexuality, we are not of one
      opinion. At the same time, we are united in our commitment to Jesus
      Christ. We are united in our commitment to practice and advocate
      unity. We are united in our commitment to uphold the Book of
      Discipline. … Schism is not a part of God's plan for the church."

      Huie said the bishops spent a good deal of time praying over these
      concerns.

      "We spent three or four hours in covenant groups gathered in
      prayerful discernment about the church and what is heavy on people's
      hearts," she said. "We spent a good deal of time in prayer.
      "We're aware of the concerns and the fears," Huie added. "We, as the
      Council of Bishops, wanted to say a word to General Conference from
      all of us, that we approach these two weeks with confidence and
      hope."

      The bishops said they hope the letter will have an impact on the tone
      of General Conference.

      "It's an invitation to holy conferencing, with a sense of hope that
      General Conference will conduct itself in that manner," Huie
      said. "We're prayerful and hopeful, and looking forward to this
      General Conference."

      *Neill Caldwell is a correspondent for the United Methodist News
      Service.

      -----------------
      Bishops' Letter to General Conference

      April 26, 2004

      Dear United Methodist Sisters and Brothers:

      Greetings in the name of the risen Christ. We write this letter in
      the season of Easter, a season of hope and new life. Christ's
      ministry, suffering, death and resurrection is our inspiration as we
      gather on the eve of the 2004 General Conference.

      Every General Conference is a pivotal monument for the church.
      During this General Conference, we ask for prayer, not only from the
      delegates meeting in Pittsburgh, but also from all who call
      themselves United Methodist.

      We come to Pittsburgh from many cultures around the globe. An
      abundance of issues and concerns await our care and the care of the
      General Conference. We are committed to Christ and to the mission of
      The United Methodist Church. God calls us to do justice, love mercy
      and walk with humility.

      We are aware of a sense of anxiety in the atmosphere. Some persons
      are anxious because of visa difficulties encountered by many
      delegates from Africa, Latin America, and the Philippines. Others
      are concerned about racism, poverty, war and terrorism. Still others
      are focused on the tension between our passion for mission and our
      financial and stewardship challenges. The recent church trial in the
      Pacific Northwest Annual Conference has also contributed to the
      stress.

      Fear and anxiety are not the only forces at work in the world. Days
      after the death of Jesus, the disciples were so fearful they stayed
      behind locked doors. Suddenly, Jesus appeared and said, "Peace be
      with you…receive the Holy Spirit." When they saw the Lord, the
      disciples rejoiced. John 20:19-20.

      When Jesus Christ is present, we have nothing to fear. We are
      convinced more than ever that Jesus Christ is with us here, leading
      us to serve in all that we do.

      As a Council of Bishops, we consider ourselves to be family. That
      means we love each other, we listen to each other, and sometimes, we
      vigorously disagree with each other. However, we do not question the
      integrity of our colleagues and their commitment to fulfill the
      responsibilities entrusted to them. We have learned that honest
      struggle is a part of love. Our love for Christ, the church, and one
      another transcends our differences.

      On some issues, including human sexuality, we are not of one
      opinion. At the same time, we are united in our commitment to Jesus
      Christ. We are united in our commitment to practice and advocate
      unity. We are united in our commitment to uphold the Book of
      Discipline. We are united in our conviction that the critical issues
      will not be ultimately resolved with legislation. We will find the
      answers in Christ-like love, expressed in dialogue, mutual respect
      and a humble search for the mind of God. Schism is not a part of
      God's plan for the church.

      In recent days, we have spent many hours in dialogue, listening to
      God and to one another. We have emerged from these conversations
      strengthened and committed to the Wesleyan spirit of Holy
      Conferencing. We pray that the General Conference will do its work
      in the same spirit of mutual respect and unity.

      The Book of Discipline is our most current statement on how United
      Methodists agree to live their lives together. (Episcopal Greetings,
      page v, Book of Discipline) Each General Conference is charged with
      considering the past and focusing on the future. In the spirit of
      Holy Conferencing, we pray that the General Conference will speak
      prophetically and act wisely.

      Our prayer is "that your love will overflow more and more with
      knowledge and full insight to help you determine what is best, so
      that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having
      produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ
      for the glory and praise of God." Philippians 1:9-11

      The Council of Bishops

      Ruediger Minor, President
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