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Church stands with new Liberian president, bishops declare

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A UMNS photo by Joseph Zeogar

Bishop John Innis gives the sermon at a thanksgiving and intercessory service for Liberia's new president.
Jan. 23, 2006

By Kathy L. Gilbert*

MONROVIA, Liberia (UMNS) - God has given Liberia a new leader, and it is the church's responsibility to "surround her with a new heart for our nation," said the country's United Methodist bishop.

Bishop John Innis, who leads Liberia's 170,000 United Methodists, urged support for President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf during a worship service the day before the inauguration.

"You are going to be a sweet mother to us all," he told her a few days later, when a delegation of United Methodists from the United States and Liberia met with the new president on her third day in office.

"I want to assure you that the United Methodist Church here in Liberia and worldwide stands behind you 100 percent (and) supports your policies as they relate to the ongoing development of our country - especially your pronouncement on the fight against corruption," he said.

Sirleaf, a member of First United Methodist Church, Monrovia, spoke many times of her faith when she delivered her inauguration address Jan. 16. She vowed to make corruption "enemy No. 1" in her administration. She is the first woman to be elected head of state in Africa.

Innis, United Methodist bishop of Liberia, spoke Jan. 15 to an overflow crowd gathered at First United Methodist Church for Sirleaf's thanksgiving and intercessory service. Also at the service were Bishop Peter D. Weaver, president of the denomination's Council of Bishops, Bishop Joseph C. Humper, Sierra Leone, and retired Bishop Arthur F. Kulah, Liberia.

Weaver presented the president with a Bible signed by the Council of Bishops. He noted the Council of Bishops had likewise presented a Bible to U.S. President George W. Bush, also a United Methodist.

Weaver brought congratulations from United Methodists worldwide.

"We celebrate your election all around the world not only as a United Methodist but a person of faith and integrity and deep commitment to serve all of God's people."

"Today, fellow Liberians, God has given us a new leader," Innis said in his sermon, "a mother, whom I believe has a gracious and kind heart, ever willing to lead Liberia forward, by God's command. It is therefore our responsibility to surround her with a new heart for our nation, and thus press forward with a movement for sustainable development. This movement, like the one started by John Wesley, must take into account the spiritual, educational, health and agricultural needs of our children and people." Wesley founded the Methodist movement in the 18th century.

In a meeting at the Liberia conference office, Weaver told church leaders, "You are in the heart of a miracle, and we are blessed to behold one of the fruits of it."

Innis reminded Sirleaf, who was educated in United Methodist schools, that she is "a daughter of the church."

Humper said he believes the president will do her best, but "she alone will not succeed."

"Her responsibilities are so great and the problems are so huge that we must solve them together," he said. "The United Methodist Church must take the lead" in supporting the new president.

Weaver vowed to stay engaged with Sirleaf and said the church would continue to partner with Liberia through the United Methodist Committee on Relief and the Bishops' Hope for the Children of Africa appeal.

Sirleaf told the United Methodist delegation that she knew she would face some tough choices and needed the church to stand by her.

"Our task is big, and we are going to need the church to stand by us, defend us, give us counsel," she said. "We still need the United Methodist Church and the work it is doing here."

*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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"The role of the church is profound."
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