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May 11, 2000 GC-067

United Methodists sustain connection in the NCC

CLEVELAND (UMNS) — Delegates attending the United Methodist General Conference voted to retain the denomination's membership in the ecumenical National Council on Churches (NCC) on May 11.

The action was in response to a petition that called on the United Methodist Church to "withdraw from any and all connection" with the ecumenical body by Dec. 31. The petition said that although the NCC receives funds to assist churches in cooperating with each other and in promoting Christianity, it has strayed from that goal for the past 50 years.

The 992 delegates rejected the notion that the NCC has focused its energies on things of "a secular political nature" and that it "retained a peripheral relationship" in spreading the Gospel.

The Rev. Robert Edgar, a United Methodist pastor and former Congressman, became the ecumenical agency's chief staff executive on Jan. 1. The United Methodist Church is a major supporter of the NCC.

The delegates also voted to continue the church's membership in the Consultation on Church Union (COCU), a body working toward unity of the universal church. COCU is an ecumenical organization of Protestant churches; representatives from each denomination meet regularly to work toward shared understandings of polity, ritual and ordination.

Voting to sustain a connection with COCU, the assembly directed the Council of Bishops and the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns to continue in dialogue with "covenanting partners," clarifying questions and developing covenant processes. The General Conference also told the bishops and the commission to promote the "Call to Christian Commitment and Action to Combat Racism" throughout the denomination and to advocate its study and implementation.

General Conference delegates, who gather every four years to set policy for the United Methodist Church, are meeting May 2-12.

Delegates acted on a variety of matters May 11, including adding a third special Sunday without an offering to the denomination's programming. They created "Organ and Tissue Donor Sunday," to be observed annually on the second Sunday in November. The current non-funded special Sundays are Heritage Sunday, April 23, when the church is called to remember the past by committing itself to God’s continuing call; and Laity Sunday, the third Sunday in October, when the church celebrates the ministry of lay people.

The new Sunday will be celebrated at the designated time in November because the date is closest to Thanksgiving and "is viewed as a time to come together around the issue of life and Thanksgiving."

General Conference delegates also celebrated the work of the lay members. They were reminded at the beginning of the legislative meeting of the importance of clergy and laity partnership. They called upon the churchwide Board of Higher Education and Ministry and the Board of Discipleship to seek ways of expanding existing and new forms of "professional" lay ministry and to acknowledge professional lay ministry as a call to ministry through "acts of recognition and celebration."

The delegates instructed both boards to bring recommendations for professional lay ministry to the 2004 General Conference in Pittsburgh.

In the United Methodist Church, all clergy members are appointed annually. The delegates voted to lengthen the term of pastoral appointments. They encouraged bishops and cabinets to work toward longer tenures in local church appointments, to provide a more effective ministry. Currently, bishops appoint clergy to coincide with the pastoral needs of charges, communities and pastors.

Delegates also expressed grief for violence by passing a measure encouraging congregations, youth and campus ministries, and church agencies to promote opportunities "where we might be a witness to a grieving nation." They requested that United Methodists across the globe "seek to reconcile the violence found within our own hearts" and to "seek forgiveness for the injustices we have committed against each other, our friends and family, and the larger community."

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---Linda Green

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