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GC 2008: UMNS April 26 Wrap-up

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    Wrap-up: Delegates Renew Baptism, Celebrate Rural Churches April 26, 2008 By J. Richard Peck* FORT WORTH, Texas (UMNS)-Delegates to the United Methodist
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 27, 2008
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      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
      worshippers.

      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."


      Hutchinson sermon

      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'
      state?"

      Planting seeds

      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.

      Other events

      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.
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