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May 2, 2000         GC-003

‘We are many, but one body,’ bishop says in opening sermon

CLEVELAND (UMNS) — United Methodists must embrace unity amid their diversity, Bishop Robert Morgan told delegates at the opening worship service of the denomination’s 2000 General Conference.

Under the theme "We Who Are Many ... Are One Body," Morgan told the 992 delegates and additional visitors that although they are from all over the world, speak different languages and are of different cultures, they are gathered as one body. Diversity is not manipulated but is claimed, he said. Morgan leads the church’s Louisville (Ky.) Area and is finishing a one-year term as president of the Council of Bishops.

The May 2 worship service marked the official opening of General Conference, which is meeting through May 12 at the Cleveland Convention Center. The assembly is the top lawmaking body of the United Methodist Church.

The diversity of which Morgan spoke was reflected in the worship service’s drumming, dancing, singing and a procession of banners – representing the 12 tribes of Israel and the bishops’ “Hope for the Children of Africa” appeal. Delegates and participants gathered as one body from around the world -- Africa, Europe, the Pacific Islands, Latin America and North America.

Drawing on readings from Mark 5:1-20 and Ephesians 4:1-16, Morgan held up Christ as a role model for unity.

"Christ would not draw a line in the sand, but a circle,” he said. “The crucified Christ paid the highest cost to draw a circle around us."

He implored the audience to understand that unity is a gift, a miracle that makes everyone strong, and that without unity, all would be lost.

Morgan told the delegates that once the General Conference makes its decisions, the church must receive the voice, abide by it, and go out and tell the world the good news.

As Morgan talked about the diversity of the communion table, he reminded the delegates that "whoever comes to the table of Christ must remember that there is no guest list. The celebration is the only thing that gives us unity which is in Jesus Christ," he said.

People come to the table, confess their sins and receive forgiveness, he said. When that happens, they become one in Christ, he said.

After the bishop concluded his unity message, the General Conference collected an offering designated for the bishops' "Hope for the Children of Africa" fund. A video montage of African children was shown during the offering. The offering was followed by a service of Holy Communion and Remembrance.

Carolyn Marshall, secretary of the General Conference, called the roll of the bishops and bishops' spouses who have died since the 1996 gathering. She also called the names of those General Conference delegates who have died in the past four years. All those people were memorialized.

On May 1, the delegates greeted the bishops in a reception at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

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--Linda Green

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