Daytona Beach Sept. 22-24, 2004 saw a turnover in the leadership of the Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, reported Methodist News Service.
The leadership is striking in its unprecedented composition. At 45, the Rev. Larry Pickens is both the youngest ever chief executive and the first African-American to lead the agency of Christian unity. Pickens became the commission's general secretary this July.
Meanwhile, Bishop Ann Sherer of Lincoln, Neb., is the first woman to be president of the commission. Both she and Bishop Minerva Carcano of Phoenix are the first female bishops on the commission as members.
Bishop Albert "Fritz" Mutti of Topeka, Kan. testified to Pickens sincere concerns of fostering unity among a world of diversity. "Larry Pickens has a deep commitment to the unity of Christ's church and a deep concern about furthering interfaith dialogue," he said. It is clear that Pickens believes unity is a core issue that must be addressed.
"In our church, we need a healing presence," he told United Methodist News Service. Because of the misunderstandings that result from a lack of communication, the church needs "a forum that can help us address those in a way that is affirming of community."
Pickens is most interested in developing sustainable relationships with other faiths. Considering the tensions between the Christian and Muslim world, this interest is well placed, and he speaks at great lengths on this issue during the installation service.
"In a post 9-11 world, I believe that United Methodists must play a significant leadership role in promoting clarity and creating avenues through which Christian-Muslim dialogue must happen. It is critical that as we affirm our Judeo-Christian heritage we must also work hard to counter the impression that is created by terrorists, that Jews and Christians are working together to destroy Islam."
The commission will focus on the following:
· Building relationships with Christian communions currently engaged in Christian-Muslim dialogue.
· Developing resources and relationships through the National Council of Churches.
· Developing and expanding the pool of Arab and Islamic groups as dialogue partners.
· Offering models for dialogue for the denomination’s annual and central conferences.
In the past, the commission has made great inroads on opening discussion on the issues of homosexuality and racism. The commission sponsored a series of dialogues on homosexuality and encouraged participation in the "Act of Repentance for Racism," which was adopted by the denomination’s top assembly to address this deep-seated problem in America.
He also hopes to guide the commission in developing a relationship with the Orthodox Church, perhaps through the World Council of Churches, where he previously served as an assembly delegate. In addition, further communication with the Roman Catholic Church and the other 8 denominations involved in Churches Uniting in Christ, including Methodists will be encouraged.