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Church delegation to attend Liberian presidential inauguration

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Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf will be inaugurated as Liberia's president Jan. 16.

 Jan. 9, 2006

A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert*

A delegation of United Methodist leaders from the United States will attend the inauguration of Liberia’s newly elected president in a show of support for the first African woman head of state.

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, an active member of First United Methodist Church of Monrovia, will officially become president of Liberia in a Jan. 16 inauguration ceremony in Monrovia, the country’s capital city.

“We celebrate Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s election as president because she represents great compassion, a commitment to justice, and she is a fine disciple of Jesus Christ,” said Bishop Peter Weaver, president of the United Methodist Church’s Council of Bishops.

Weaver will present Johnson-Sirleaf with a Bible signed by all the denomination’s bishops. Last year, the Council of Bishops presented President George W. Bush, also a member of the United Methodist Church, with a signed Bible.

“We are honoring both of these United Methodist presidents and praying they will find strength and guidance in the Gospel for their particular calling,” Weaver said.

President Bush offered congratulatory words to Johnson-Sirleaf on her election, according to a report in the Daily Observer in Monrovia. The story quoted him as “offering renewed partnership in building a secured, democratic new Liberia.” The country is still recovering from a 14-year civil war.

“Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s election marks a huge milestone on the road to establishing peace and order in Liberia,” said Jim Winkler, chief executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society and head of the delegation, which will travel to Liberia Jan. 12-19.

“She will be the first African woman head of state, a long overdue moment in African history. She brings a lot of experience to the job, something critically needed for Liberia. She is a United Methodist, and our denomination can be proud of that,” he added. The board has actively advocated for peace in Liberia for many years.

Liberia is a “country dear to the United Methodist Church,” said the Rev. R. Randy Day, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, when Johnson-Sirleaf was elected. The denomination has been active in ministry with Liberia since the country’s founding in the 1840s, he added.

Bishop John Innis, leader of the church in Liberia, has been involved in post-war reconciliation efforts, and he led the country’s United Methodists in mobilizing voters to turn out during last year’s elections. He also advocated for a fair, transparent election process. The Africa Union monitored the vote and reported few irregularities.

Liberian United Methodists are developing ways to work with Johnson-Sirleaf’s administration as well as to be independent from it. The Liberia Annual Conference has created the Liberian United Methodist Empowerment Foundation to help the church’s work in education, health and agricultural development as well as to support clergy throughout the country.

The fund is intended to help build the capacity of ordinary Liberians through livelihood support projects and training, among other things. The foundation is building an endowment fund, which receives support through the denomination’s Advance for Christ and His Church giving program (Advance Special #14368T).

“The church has been playing its role as a loving and caring community on behalf of God’s people, who are in desperate need of food, clothing and shelter,” the bishop said in October.

United Methodists throughout the country worked hard in the months leading up to the election to educate people in the most remote parts of the country on how to vote. The human rights department of the United Methodist Church held trainings and workshops on issues such as women’s participation in the political process and the importance of voting.

On Dec. 13, Innis sent a statement to his fellow Liberians calling for peace and a show of support for the new president.

“It is time that every Liberian submits to the will of God by rallying around Madam Sirleaf so that finding a safe place for our children will no longer be a dream, and our young people will have a right to free academic, vocational and technical education throughout our land,” he said.

In addition to developing congregations, the United Methodist Church in Liberia has contributed to education, health services, and, since the civil war ended two years ago, demobilization and reconciliation. United Methodists continue ministries to Liberian refugees in Sierra Leone. The United Methodist Committee on Relief is responsible for a major demobilization and job placement program in a post-war resettlement camp.

“I am honored to have been invited by the government to be there for the inauguration,” Weaver said. “We look forward to keeping President Sirleaf in our prayers as well as being in partnership with the Liberia government in the many ways in which the United Methodist Church is reaching out in that community. Bishop Innis has done an outstanding job of leading our strong United Methodist conference in that country.”

Liberia has about 600 United Methodist churches, with a membership of about 170,000.

In addition to Weaver and Winkler, other members of the Jan. 12-19 delegation include:

  • The Rev. Vance Summers of West Ohio, member of the Board of Church and Society;

  • Mark Harrison, director of the Peace with Justice program, Board of Church and Society;

  • Kathy Gilbert, news writer for United Methodist News Service, United Methodist Communications.

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

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UMCOR: Liberia

Mission Profile: Liberia

Episcopal Areas: Africa