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May 3, 2000         GC-010

Daily wrap-up: Delegates hear CPT report, Laity Address on first full day

CLEVELAND (UMNS) -- Paperwork was the order of the day on May 3 as the 2000 United Methodist General Conference moved through its first full day in the Cleveland Convention Center.

Inside the gray stone structure, the 992 delegates to the church’s top legislative assembly prepared to begin work on approximately 2,000 petitions for change in church law. 

Outside, pamphlets in a variety of colors were offered arriving and departing delegates by members of one group or another.

During the business session, the delegates heard a call for closer partnership in ministry between clergy and lay members, and listened to the initial presentation of a study panel calling on the denomination to take “baby steps” toward a transformed United Methodist Church.

The call for closer partnership in ministry between clergy and lay members came during the Laity Address delivered by Jim Nibbelink of Milford, Ohio, an executive with Procter & Gamble.

“Dictates from the pulpit or pew must pass away, and a renewed, cooperative spirit must be encouraged to take root,” he said.

Too often, he said, autocratic pastors have hampered congregations, and unwilling, contentious congregations have stifled willing and committed pastors. Partners work together, and with the help of God’s spirit, the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Barriers seen as insurmountable are reduced or eliminated, he said.

A 40-minute presentation gave the delegates their first formal introduction to a proposed “transformational direction” for the 9.6 million-member denomination.

The usual procedures of the General Conference were set aside to allow the panel, known as the Connectional Process Team (CPT), to make its report and recommendations. The CPT was created by the 1996 General Conference and is led by Bishop Sharon Brown Christopher of Springfield, Ill.

The team’s report, sent to delegates in advance of the conference, listed five transformational directions and strategies for implementation.

Recommendations call for creating “covenant councils” at all levels of the church. The current General Council on Ministries would be replaced with a Covenant Council that would continue to direct the transformational direction.

For the first time, a price tag of $500,000 in new money was put as the cost of a proposed Global Conference, which would be held for the first time in 2008. The Global Conference would replace the General Conference under the CPT proposal.

After hearing the report, delegates broke into small groups for an hour of discussion. Later, the discussion will be reduced to writing and resumed during a plenary session Thursday evening.

In a poignant moment during the morning session, Anne Marshall, an executive with the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, told of the church’s support for her and her family in the wake of her husband’s death in the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

“It’s been a difficult journey,” she said. “But because of my church community, I have not walked alone.”

The first mention in a conference session of one of the most controversial issues expected here, human sexuality, came in the morning devotional hour. During his sermon, Bishop Arthur Kulah of Liberia said that if the United Methodist Church is to be truly global, then it must pay heed that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. The denomination’s current teachings affirm this position.

Although holding homosexuality incompatible with the church’s stand, Kulah noted that homosexuals have been subject to ridicule, resentment and hostility by Christians and non-Christians. “This ought not be the case because the homosexuals too bear the image of God, and … the grace of God is available and sufficient for them.”

In other business, officers for the General Conference’s 10 legislative committees were announced. The chairpeople of the committees, listed with their annual conferences, are:

  • Church and Society, the Rev. Terri Rae Chattin, Baltimore-Washington;
  • Conferences, the Rev. Charles W. Courtoy, Florida;
  • Discipleship, the Rev. Jeffrey E. Greenway, Western Pennsylvania;
  • Faith and Order, the Rev. Robert E. Hayes, Texas;
  • Financial Administration, Stan Sager, New Mexico;
  • General/Judicial Administration, Christine Harman, Kentucky;
  • Global Ministries, Christine Dean Keels, Baltimore-Washington;
  • Higher Education and Ministry, J. LaVon Wilson, Illinois Great Rivers;
  • Independent Commissions, Harold E. Batiste Jr., Southwest Texas; and
  • Local Church, the Rev. Tyrone D. Gordon, Kansas West.

                                                                          # # #

         -- Robert Lear

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