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Assembly leaders shine through music, good works

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The Rev. Don and Emily Saliers greet attendees during worship at the United Methodist Women's Assembly.
May 8, 2006

By Linda Bloom*

ANAHEIM, Calif. (UMNS) — His father was a jazz musician in New York and his daughter is half of the Indigo Girls, a Grammy award-winning folk rock duo.

The Rev. Don Saliers himself is a composer of sacred music, as well as a United Methodist pastor and the William R. Cannon distinguished professor of theology and worship at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta.

Together, Saliers and his daughter, Emily, demonstrated to participants at the 2006 United Methodist Women’s Assembly on May 6 how music “takes us to places we wouldn’t have expected to go.”

Three “ordinary women doing extraordinary things” also told part of their stories during the morning’s Bible study, led with exuberance by M. Garlinda Burton, chief executive, United Methodist Commission on the Study and Role of Women.

It wasn’t the first visit to Anaheim for Don Saliers. Twenty years ago, he told the crowd, he had designed the liturgy for the 1986 United Methodist Women’s Assembly, which took place there. Interacting through conversation and music, he and Emily began with a prayer song of “peace, not affliction.” Father and daughter have collaborated on a book, A Song to Sing, A Life to Live.

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A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

"Ordinary women can do extraordinary things," says M. Garlinda Burton while leading Bible study at the assembly.
The Saliers spoke briefly about the commitment of the Indigo Girls to social justice issues and their work with indigenous peoples and how music can be “a great tool of change” as the walls of oppression come down.

While Don Saliers has been an organist, choirmaster and president of the North American Academy of Liturgy and the Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality, Emily Saliers, an Emory University graduate, and her singing partner, Amy Ray, got their start performing in bars.

There, she said, they found a sense of musical community. “Music really transformed our lives,” she explained. “It brought us together and, more importantly, took us out into the world.”

The participation of Emily Saliers at the assembly had been the subject of criticism by the RENEW network, a coalition of evangelical United Methodist women, because she has been open about being a lesbian. But both father and daughter received an enthusiastic reception as they shared songs ranging from Indigo Girls recordings to Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday” to two different musical versions of Psalm 139.

Three who shine

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A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

Casimira Rodriguez Romero tells how she was exploited as a house servant in Bolivia.
Building on the call in Matthew 5:14-16 to be a light of the world, Burton introduced three women who “shine” in their own special ways.

For Casamira Rodriguez Romero, it was her teen-age experience as an exploited house servant that led her to organize for the rights of domestic workers in Bolivia and, eventually, Latin America and the Caribbean.

The recipient of the 2003 World Methodist Peace Award also learned along the way that her Methodist faith and her convictions for social justice went hand-in-hand. “With the permanent support of God ? I was able to go on with my struggles,” she recalled.

Early this year, Evo Morales, the new president of Bolivia, named Romero to his cabinet. “Today, my new responsibility is not just to serve the domestic workers of Bolivia but to serve my entire country as minister of justice,” she told the assembly.

Her appointment, she added, “has made visible the movement of domestic workers around the continent” and has given a public voice to indigenous women.

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College freshman Kim Hallowell says the United Methodist Women's reading program inspired her to become an advocate against child labor.
It was the reading program of United Methodist Women that led Kim Hallowell, of the denomination’s California-Nevada Annual (regional) Conference, to the issue of child labor.

She started a club in her high school to advocate against child labor and was a UMW representative to the first-ever Children’s World Congress on Child Labor in Florence, Italy, in 2004. “The stories I heard made the issue of child labor more real to me,” she said.

Now a freshman in college, Hallowell’s goal is to become a children’s advocate for an international nongovernmental organization.

After devastating tornadoes struck Tennessee in 2003, Christy Tate Smith felt called by God to respond. She became the disaster coordinator for the United Methodist Memphis Annual (regional) Conference and now trains volunteers as a consultant for the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

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A UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey

Christy Tate Smith tells how she became the disaster coordinator for the Memphis Annual Conference.
“God wants each survivor to walk away whole,” said Smith, who was part of the first UMCOR inspection team in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina hit.

The Katrina survivors that Smith has met have shown patience and gratitude under very difficult conditions. “I went to a prayer meeting where survivors never mentioned their own needs but prayed for others,” she said. “I saw dignity and grace and hope and mercy.”

In the rousing style of a big-tent evangelist, Burton challenged her “sensible-shoes-wearing, fund-raising, bazaar-hosting, prayer-shawl-making” sisters at the assembly to be their own light in the world — through love, charity, reconciliation and the fight for justice.

“We’ve got the love of Christ, the chutzpah of the Holy Spirit and more than 200 years of shining backing us up as Methodists,” she declared.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or

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