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May 5, 2000 GC-017

Daily wrap-up: Delegates honor predecessor churches

CLEVELAND (UMNS) -- Heritage and contemporary problems shared space on the May 4 docket of the United Methodist General Conference in Cleveland.

Two centuries of ministry by two predecessor bodies of today’s United Methodist Church were highlighted for the 992 delegates in pictures and words. Both the United Brethren in Christ and the Evangelical Association began in l800.

The two churches joined in l946 to create the Evangelical United Brethren Church. That body, in turn, merged with the Methodist Church in l968.

Text and pictures were used to highlight mileposts of the two churches, which found their field of ministry in the thousands of German-speaking peoples who fled to America from Europe. Their work paralleled Methodist ministry with English-speaking residents of the new nation.

Included in the memories were the "great meeting" in Isaac Long’s barn on the outskirts of Lancaster, Pa., in 1767, where Phillip William Otterbein and Martin Boehm met; the formation of the United Brethren in Christ in September 1800 on a farm near Frederick, Md.; the organization at about the same time of the Evangelical Association a few miles west of Lancaster; and the uniting of the two bodies in l946 in Johnstown, Pa., to form the Evangelical United Brethren Church (EUB).

Boehm, a Mennonite, and Otterbein, a German Reformed pastor, were elected bishops at the United Brethren in Christ organizational meeting in Maryland. Jacob Albright, organizer of the Evangelical Association had been converted under Methodist teaching.

The 200th observance, held at the Cleveland Convention Center, was directed by Jim Nelson, a professor at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, and director of the Center for the Evangelical United Brethren Heritage.

As part of the commemoration, the United Methodist Publishing House produced a historical sampler of the EUB church and predecessor bodies. The volume was presented to all delegates, along with a commemorative issue of the Telescope-Messenger, publication of the center.

It is hard for United Methodists today to grasp the desperation of the German refugees, according to the multimedia presentation. "We can make use of the heritage left us by ministry two centuries ago," the presenters declared.

The ceremony was concluded with the singing, partly in German, of the familiar hymn "Jesus Loves Me" under the leadership of Bishop George W. Bashore, a member of the Evangelical United Brethren Church at the 1968 union with the Methodist Church.

In another presentation, United Methodists won praise from the founder of Habitat for Humanity, Millard Fuller. A few years ago, in a survey to determine who was involved in Habitat, United Methodists stood No. 1, Fuller said in an address. Habitat’s work, he said, is "so enormous that it can’t be done just by one denomination."

In l998, the United Methodist Church had 7,340 congregations involved in Habitat work, out of a total of 39,600 congregations of all types that support the ministry, according to a Habitat spokeswoman.

Once the celebration and the Habitat address were concluded, the delegates turned their attention to their business agenda and quickly ran into a knotty problem reflecting the church’s life in a global context.

It was called to the conference’s attention that several delegates from Africa had been assigned to legislative committees where language interpretation was not available. Plenary sessions are translated into five languages. The affected delegates are primarily from the Congo and Katanga.

After a long discussion, the delegates called for all steps possible to be taken to correct any inequities in interpretation in the 10 legislative committees. Failing that, the delegates will be given the privilege of being reassigned to committees where interpretation was available.

Plenary sessions are translated into five languages — French, German, Spanish, Portuguese and Swahili. The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries arranges for translators according to specifications and funding provided by the Commission on the General Conference.

One language needing no interpretation was that of the Methodist Choir of Copenhagen, which sang at the morning worship service and had the hallways ringing during the noon hour as they serenaded delegates eating in the convention center food service.

In other business May 4, the conference sent condolences on the death of Cardinal John O’Connor to his family, associates and church.

Delegates also were told that a special offering they had raised for the children of Africa received $16,568.33.

Later in the day, a press conference was held in response to the arrests of protestors on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques. The nonviolent protestors were arrested by federal agents earlier in the day. Bishop Juan Vera Mendez of the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico was among those arrested for their opposition to the U.S. Navy’s use of Vieques as a bombing range.

Members of the United Methodist Council of Bishops and representatives of the denomination’s Board of Church and Society and Board of Global Ministries voiced support for the protestors and disappointment at the U.S. government’s action.

The day was scheduled to conclude with one of the highlights of the General Conference: the Act of Repentance for Reconciliation. The denomination’s Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns planned the two-hour service in consultation with representatives from the three historically black Methodist denominations. In the worship service, the predominantly white United Methodist Church was to confess the sin of racism and express regret for the way people of color have been treated in the denomination and its predecessor churches.

On the night of May 3, one of the denomination’s best-known civil rights leaders told a United Methodist Board of Church and Society banquet that the church’s challenge in the new century is to provide spiritual, ethical and moral leadership as the nation redefines itself.

"There is an opportunity for General Conference to sound prophetic voices, to be courageous souls," said the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, formerly head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

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-- Robert Lear

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