GC 2008: UMNS April 26 Wrap-up
- Wrap-up: Delegates Renew Baptism, Celebrate Rural Churches
April 26, 2008
By J. Richard Peck*
FORT WORTH, Texas (UMNS)-Delegates to the United Methodist General
Conference renewed their baptism, celebrated rural churches, and spent
most of April 26 in committees perfecting legislation to be considered
by the entire 992-member assembly.
The Texas sky was clear when delegates to the top legislative body of
the denomination entered the Fort Worth Convention Center. However,
they would soon be sprinkled with water as young confirmands moved
throughout the meeting hall, wetting branches and shaking them over
Those present made signs of acceptance and renewed their baptismal
commitment as musicians sang, "Rain down, rain down, rain down your
love on your people."
In the morning sermon, Louisiana Area Bishop William W. Hutchinson
recalled the biblical story of Nicodemus, a man of stature and wealth,
who asked Jesus for counsel for his soul.
"Unless one is born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter the
Kingdom of God," Jesus responded. "That which is born of the flesh is
flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit."
"In other words," said the bishop, "Jesus is saying we have to be born
from above out of this world so to speak. We have to be inhabited
by that spirit of the living God, bringing life to our otherwise
plodding souls, and lifting us from the ashes of life around us into
the splendor of life in the living God."
Hutchinson asked the crowd, "Have we been baptized into form, but not
yet into power? Have we been born from above as well as from below?
Have we been baptized with water and the Spirit? To use two phrases
spoken frequently by one of our district superintendents in Louisiana,
have we moved from the `my my my' state of baptism to the 'yes indeed'
Later in the morning, some 100 representatives of 25,000 rural United
Methodist churches processed down the assembly hall aisles with
colorful banners covered with 25,000 paper butterflies. Senior
citizens in the Redbird Missionary Conference spent three months
cutting out the butterflies.
Members of the procession also passed out packets of "Seeds of Hope"
to grow zinnias, long-stemmed flowers that come in several colors.
Bishop Kenneth L. Carder described rural congregations as one of "our
greatest assets for evangelical and missional renewal." However, he
warned that "forces within and outside the church are choking the life
from the fragile plants."
The bishop said negative forces within the rural church include a loss
of identity as a center of evangelism and mission. "Rather than seeing
the church as a mission station and themselves as missionaries and
evangelists, they see the church as a family chapel and themselves as
merely mutual comforters or perhaps hospice volunteers for a dying
institution," Carder said.
The bishop said negative forces outside the rural church include
demoralizing rhetoric that devalues small-member congregations,
pastoral attitudes that consider rural and small-member congregations
as career stepping stones, and marginalizing small-member
congregations by omitting their voice from denominational structures.
After concerns were registered about a coalition giving cell phones to
some 150 African and Filipino delegates to use during General
Conference, delegates asked the 2009-2012 Commission on General
Conference to create an ethics committee to review such matters.
Some delegates and visitors attended a Nothing But Nets basketball
tournament held by the Central Texas and North Texas conferences at
First United Methodist Church in Fort Worth. The tournament between
the conferences began at the local church level last June. The
tournament and offerings raised $300,000 for the campaign to provide
insecticide-treated mosquito nets to African families.
An effort to raise retirement funds for pastors serving outside the
United States has raised $7.8 million, but, in a video, Barbara A.
Boigegrain, chief executive of the church's Board of Pension and
Health Benefits, said it would require an additional $20 million to
fully fund the program. Liberian Bishop John Innis said Liberia
started receiving quarterly pension payments in 2007.
Some 200 people attended a noon rally asking the assembly to adopt
legislation that welcomes everyone regardless of sexual identity.
"Don't worry, it will happen because nothing can stop the force of
this generation," said Rachel Birkhahn-Rommelfanger, chairperson of
the United Methodist Student Movement. Supporters drummed for 24 hours
leading up to the noon rally. After the event, participants went in
the convention center and prayed outside conference rooms as delegates
worked on legislation.
A study committee is offering several recommendations designed to
establish closer ties with autonomous Methodist Churches in Latin
America and the Caribbean. Among the recommendations is a suggestion
that U.S. churches and conferences establish relationships. The study
group also wants all General Conference documents translated into Spanish.
*Peck is a retired United Methodist clergyman and four-time editor of
the Daily Christian Advocate now serving as an editor for United
Methodist News Service during General Conference.