April 27, 2004
By Linda Bloom*
(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 Center.
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 creation.
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.
|Members of the Mass Choir sing a hymn during the opening worship of General Conference 2004. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.
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 Lord!”
played an integral role in the service, as Bishop Janice 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.”
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
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.”
Kenneth L. Carder delivers the Episcopal Address during the opening day
of the General Conference. A UMNS photo by John C. Goodwin.
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 financial
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 home.”
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.
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,
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.
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.
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
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer.
News media contact: (412) 325-6080 during General Conference, April 27-May 7.
After May 10: (615) 742-5470.