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May 2, 2000         GC-005

Daily wrap-up: General Conference opens with pageantry, worship

CLEVELAND (UMNS) -- In a colorful, festive ceremony with international accents, the United Methodist Church opened its first General Conference of the new millennium on May 2 in Cleveland.

Robes of blue, red, gold, black, white and purple added to the splendor of the opening procession, complete with liturgical dancers, banners and African drums. An estimated 3,000 people in the Cleveland Convention Center expressed their enthusiasm with prolonged applause.

The banners and dancers shared the procession with about 100 of the church’s bishops from the United States, Africa, Europe and the Philippines.  The opening ceremonies began with the singing of the traditional Wesley hymn “And Are We Yet Alive?”  The Scripture was read in four languages.

The opening service carried out the General Conference’s theme of “We who are many are one body.”

After the sermon by Bishop Robert C. Morgan, of the church’s Louisville (Ky.) Area, the bishops, 992 delegates and visitors received Holy Communion at 100 stations positioned around the vast convention center.

When the worship was over, the delegates took a brief break before beginning the business that will occupy them for the next 10 days. In another tradition of General Conference, the delegates found homemade cookies awaiting them outside the main arena.

After taking care of legislative formalities, delegates gathered in 10 legislative committees. For the remainder of the week, the committees will work their way through almost 2,000 petitions filed by more than 12,000 groups and individuals.  Subject matter of the petitions ranges from the routine to the highly controversial.

The Faith and Order Committee will have the most petitions to consider — 348. The committee actions will be brought to plenary sessions, which are expected to occupy most of next week.

Officers for the legislative committees were elected late in the day and then attended special training sessions.

One of the traditional opening events of the quadrennial General Conference received a new look this year, when Bishop Emerito P. Nacpil of the Philippines stepped to the podium in the evening to deliver the Episcopal Address on behalf of the church’s Council of Bishops.  Nacpil was the first bishop from outside the United States to present the address.

“Your bishops believe that the making of people as disciples of the crucified and risen Lord, and forming them into a community of discipleship, is the most radically significant event that can happen to humanity and to the world,” Nacpil said.

The church must “continue working for a more righteous global social order, even if we suffer for it in the struggle,” the bishop said.

“Slavery and apartheid have been outlawed, but racism and ethnic cleansing are still with us — and we must rid the world of these demons.  Colonialism and totalitarianism are no longer politically viable options for us, but we still use power to dominate, violate and oppress, instead of to liberate, to enable and to let be.”

On Wednesday, Jim Nibbelink of Cincinnati will deliver the Laity Address. Nibbelink is lay leader of the West Ohio Annual Conference and a member of Armstrong Chapel United Methodist Church.

The tradition of the Laity Address began in l980. A competition has been held every four years since then for a layperson to make the speech.

General Conference, the lawmaking body of the United Methodist Church, meets every four years. Its current session will end on May 12.

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-- Robert Lear


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