Tuesday, April 27, 2004
Daily Wrap-up: Assembly Begins with Worship, Bishops' Address
By Linda Bloom*
PITTSBURGH (UMNS) Different voices joined in a common song as
the 2004 United Methodist General Conference officially opened with
an April 27 worship service at the David L. Lawrence Convention
In the afternoon's traditional Episcopal Address, Bishop Kenneth L.
Carder of the Mississippi Area told the nearly 1,000 delegates that
God is calling the church to be a sign and instrument of a new
But the denomination's bishops also expressed concern about the
international delegates who didn't make it to the church's top
legislative meeting because they were denied visas by the U.S.
government. About 25 delegates from Africa and the Philippines were
unable to travel to Pittsburgh because of visa problems.
International presence was celebrated, however, in the worship, which
featured drummers from diverse cultures, singing in Korean, Swahili,
Spanish and French, and an African dance that reminded the audience
of the words of Psalm 150:6, "Let everything that breathes praise the
Water played an integral role in the service, as Bishop Janet Riggle
Huie of the Arkansas Area and Bishop Peter Dabale of Nigeria scooped
water from a large basin and let it fall, proclaiming the General
Conference theme, "Water Washed, Spirit Born."
In his sermon, Bishop Ruediger R. Minor of Moscow, president of the
Council of Bishops, remembered being sent to Russia 12 years ago and
discovering that baptism was not about a few drops of water, but
being scrubbed clean.
"We all need to be scrubbed clean, even if you've developed an
expertise in cleaning the dark spots of other people," he said. "A
symbolic washing won't do it."
In his later address, Carder reminded General Conference participants
that while the church has extraordinary opportunities to live into
God's vision of a healed creation, it is lacking in vision, will and
"God is calling us to be a community in which all know their identity
as beloved children of God, where all barriers are removed and where
justice enables the lowly to be exalted and the least and the last
and the lost to be welcomed with joy at the table in God's cosmic
The Episcopal Address is the only time the Council of Bishops
addresses General Conference. Bishops preside over plenary sessions,
deliver sermons and participate in worship, but have no vote at the
assembly. A proposal from the Committee on Plan of Organization and
Rules of General Conference to have bishops chair each of 11
legislative committees -- rather than continuing the tradition of
electing lay or clergy delegates to fulfill that role -- was narrowly
defeated by delegates.
The bishops may expand their current Bishops' Initiative on Children
and Poverty, according to Bishop Donald A. Ott, coordinator, to focus
on points raised in the Episcopal Address. The proposed new
initiative would reclaim the bishops' responsibility to be teachers
of the church, Ott said.
In a lunchtime press conference, the bishops also expressed concern
over the initial denial of visas to 42 delegates from Africa and the
Philippines, and called the visa process both racist and unjust. By
the time General Conference convened, 25 still did not have visas and
were unable to attend. White European delegates had no problems
securing visas, Bishop Felton E. May of Washington pointed out.
During the afternoon plenary, delegates remembered one prominent
United Methodist and heard greetings from another. The passing of
Boris Trajkovski, the president of Macedonia who was killed in a
February plane crash, was marked by a moment of silence. First Lady
Laura Bush, a lifelong United Methodist, sent personal greetings to
the assembly, thanking delegates for their hard work. President and
Laura Bush had received an invitation to appear at General Conference.
Some 82,500 cookies, compliments of church members throughout Western
Pennsylvania, are being provided during breaks at General Conference.
Convention center rules required the cookies to be placed in sealable
plastic bags, three to a pack, labeled and placed in pizza boxes for
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*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer.