The United Methodist General Conference officially opened with a multi-lingual worship service at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh, April 27. Following the colorful worship, the bishops of the UMC addressed the delegates and onlookers during the traditional Episcopal Address – the only time where the Council of Bishop leads the General Conference.
The Bishop Kenneth L. Carder of the Mississippi Area who delivered the Episcopal Address encouraged the 1,000 delegates to become a sign and instrument of God’s new creation. Carder then told the attendants that the UMC must fulfill this vision of God, by strengthening its own vision, will and financial commitment.
“God 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,” said Carder.
Following Carder’s address, the Bishop Janice Riggle Huie of the Arkansas Area and Bishop Peter Dabale of Nigeria “scooped water from a large basin and let it fall, a proclaiming the General Conference theme, “Water Washed, Spirit Born,”” according to UMC news.
Bishop Ruediger R. Minor of Moscow, president of the Council of Bishops, also emphasized the need to be ‘Water Washed’ during his sermon.
“We 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.”
The bishops also expressed concern that several of the international delegates were unable to make it to the assembly because they were denied visas by the U.S. government. While over 100 international representatives did come to Pittsburgh, some 25 delegates from Africa and the Philippines were unable to attend. This same concern was the topic of a lunchtime press conference. The Bishop Felton E. May of Washington pointed out that while European delegates had no problem receiving visas, 42 delegates from Africa and the Philippines were initially declined.
In addition to the Episcopal Address, the delegates shared a moment of silence for Boris Trajkovski, the president of Macedonia was a Methodist, who died in a plane crash this February. Following the observance, the delegates heard a personal greeting from First Lady Laura Bush, who thanked the delegates for their hard work. Both the President and Mrs. Bush were invited to appear at the Conference.
For the next two weeks, the conference will be marked with votes on some 1,600 legislations and modifications. Of those legislations, renewal groups hope to gain several victories in major themes in the UMC.
The following is the list of major themes the evangelical UMC group “Good News Magazine” said they will be addressing at the conference:
• Advocate doctrinal integrity and seminary reform
• Increase financial and church agency accountability
• Strengthen church’s pro-life stance and opposition to abortion
• Maintain biblical stance concerning homosexuality
• Increase episcopal accountability
• Strengthen church’s focus on marriage and family issues
• Seek women’s division accountability to whole church
• Challenge the refusal by some clergy and bishops to enforce the Book of Discipline
• Strengthen the UM commitment to evangelism and world mission
“This is a critical time for our church. And frankly, one of the greatest dangers we face is complacency. We need greater wisdom now than ever before, and much prayer as we seek a renewed and reformed denomination,” wrote Good News Magazine.