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Methodist bishops celebrate election, pray for Obama

Bishop Gregory Palmer, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops,
signs an episcopal letter Nov. 5 to U.S. President-elect Barack Obama as
Bishops Larry Goodpaster, Janice Riggle Huie, Donald Ott, Sharon Rader
and Robert Hayes Jr. look on. UMNS photos by Linda Green.

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By Linda Green*
Nov. 5, 2008 | ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. (UMNS)

With tears, hymns and prayers, a jubilant United Methodist Council of Bishops celebrated the election of Barack Obama as U.S. president, while affirming his vision of change for the nation "based on hope for all the people, especially those who are disinherited and disenfranchised."

During their semiannual meeting in St. Simons Island, the clergy leaders hugged and many cried in their opening worship on Nov. 5, one day after Obama became the first African American elected to the top government office in the United States.

Holding hands, they sang "My Lord, What a Morning" and the Negro anthem "Lift Every Voice and Sing," while many chanted "Yes, we did!"—the phrase echoed during Obama's acceptance speech the night before.

"The election of any president in a democracy is a great day," said Bishop Gregory Palmer, president of the Council of Bishops and himself an African American. "… The new president-elect symbolizes and magnifies part of our common life that hasn't been brought to fore in this way."

“We applaud your willingness to articulate a vision of change for the United States that is based on hope for all the people, especially those who are disinherited and disenfranchised.”
–Council of Bishops letter to
President-elect Barack Obama

The council, including 69 active and 91 retired bishops, is the top clergy body of the 11.5 million-member worldwide United Methodist Church, which is the second largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. The council represents bishops from the United States, Africa, Europe and the Philippines and helps to set the direction of the denomination and its mission across the globe.

The council's officers quickly signed a letter of congratulations to the new president. "The Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church is pleased to join with the chorus of United States citizens and international partners in congratulating you on your election as the 44th President of the United States of America," the letter opened.

"We applaud your willingness to articulate a vision of change for the United States that is based on hope for all the people, especially those who are disinherited and disenfranchised. We are also encouraged by your desire to construct a landscape for the United States that is inclusive of all people. We affirm your desire for a more peaceful and just world."

The bishops also signed two Bibles to be presented to Obama and the future first lady, Michelle Obama, and asked in their letter to meet the couple during the council's meeting next May in Washington.

"A visit with the president by representatives of the Council of Bishops is a tradition that dates back to our first bishop, Francis Asbury, who visited with President George Washington," the letter noted. 

'A new day'

The election's outcome brought moving and emotional reactions from bishops from across the world.

Retired Bishop Herbert Skeete recalled how he spent a week in jail in Mississippi in 1963 for attempting to help integrate a Methodist church in Jackson and open its doors for African Americans to worship.

"Today makes the week I spent in jail in Mississippi in 1963 really meaningful," said Skeete, himself black. "It is certainly a blessing for us all, for the country and the world. We are entering a new day."

Retired Bishop Beverly Shamana agreed. "In my heart, I did not think that I would be able to see this day. I am just overwhelmed. The impact that this is going to have on the world is just unimaginable, but we know that it is going to make such a huge difference in the hearts and minds of people," Shamana said.

Palmer signs a Holy Bible Nov. 3
to be presented to the next
president of the United States.

Shamana said the election made her think of other African Americans, both old and young. "I think about those older than me, like my father, who never would have thought that he would see this day—and of my biracial nephew, who has a new sense of who he is because of the president-elect. My heart is warmed and I am so happy."

For Bishop Donald Ott, executive secretary of the council, Obama's election represents "a marvelous seismic shift" and proves that people want change and a new image for the United States in the world. "The face of President Obama and his message will bring that," he said. "I am personally pleased because of the articulation of many things in his voice and his record that indicate alignment with the values that are in the Christian faith."

Bishop Susan Hassneger, who represents United Methodists in the area around Albany, N.Y., said Obama's election brought Isaiah 43:19 to mind, declaring that "a new thing has sprung forth."

Newly elected Bishop Grant Hagiya, an Asian American who leads the church's Seattle Area, called Obama "a symbol of diversity" that signifies change. He said changing the guard should lead to greater safety in the United States, as well as an improved perception of the U.S. in the world.

"This was a historic landmark election for the life of this country," said Bishop Emilio De Carvalho, a retired bishop of Angola. "It makes a change in relationships not only among U.S. citizens but also nations of the whole world. We congratulate the American people for this election."

Bishop John Innis of Liberia was elated that an African American will lead the United States. "Our God is a great God, and to see what he has done in the world … by electing the first black man as president of this great nation is historic," he said. "A new day has come."

Rosemary Wenner, bishop of Germany, also congratulated the United States. "The people in Germany celebrate with you. We all know that struggle of racism throughout the world," she said.

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

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org

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