General Conference opens with message about unity of purpose
The 2016 General Conference of the United Methodist Church opened Tuesday afternoon, May 10, with a message from Bishop Warner H. Brown Jr. for unity during what could be heated debates over contentious issues such as human sexuality.
As part of his sermon, Brown, the outgoing president of the Council of Bishops, pointed out that the church had faced quarrels in the past.
“Through it all, God has not given up on us,” Brown said, “even when we have given up on each other.”
Approximately 860 voting delegates were joined by their alternates, church leaders and other observers from around the world for the opening worship service in Portland, Oregon.
Kathryn Jones Harrison, a member and former chairwomen of the Grand Ronde Tribal Council, welcomed attendees to the land on behalf of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest.
“I’m happy to be here these 92 years,” she said as she thanked all for choosing her people’s sacred land for this gathering. “We hope you get the blessings you came for.”
Sayings of “Welcome, peace and Christ be with you,” “We greet you in the name of Jesus Christ” and “Alleluia” were expressed in several different languages in both recorded and live messages as a means of praise and to show the worldwide connection of The United Methodist Church.
The song “Holy, Holy, Holy” was sung, with each stanza in a different language: stanza one in French, stanza two in KiSwahili, stanza three in Portuguese and stanza four in English.
A short prayer for illumination was followed by a scripture reading of Matthew 28:16-20. The Great Commission statement of “Go, therefore, and make disciples” was repeated by attendees at the same time in their first languages.
In his sermon, themed “Jesus, We Are Here,” Bishop Brown asked why the disciples doubted when they heard of the resurrection of Jesus. But never the less, they showed up.
“There were there for him, and he was there for them.” When they realized it was Jesus, their fear and doubt turned to praise. God continues to be with us.
“Friends, Jesus is here for us at this General Conference.” Brown pointed out. He highlighted that some may have come to General Conference with mixed hopes and apprehensions about the decisions made here – just like the disciples. The United Methodist Church was created as an inclusive church during the heights of the civil rights movement in the United States and other equality movements throughout the world.
“Jesus, we are here for you – not any other agenda. Therefore, let us go!” Brown proclaimed.
The audience recited the Apostles’ Creed via spoken word and song, with words in English. All who were comfortable speaking and singing in their first languages were encouraged to do so.
Prayer beads and medallions then were presented to the delegates by the General Conference Prayer Ministry Team to remind them that others are praying for them.
Worship leadership included The Innovators, a men’s ensemble from Harare, Zimbabwe; Van Wert UMC Chancel Choir, from Van Wert First UMC in Ohio; High Point University Chamber Singers, from North Carolina; and I Solisti Roma, a Korean choir from Rome. The Lord’s Prayer was prayed by all in their first language. And the offering will be split between the Global AIDS Fund and Creation Vacation, a ministry of the host conference, the Oregon-Idaho Conference. The offering totaled more than $15,000.
Bishop Bruce Ough, of the Minnesota-Dakotas Conference and incoming president of the Council of Bishops, presided at opening communion, assisted by deacons from across the connection.
Brown closed the worship with benediction. “Therefore, go – that the world maybe be transformed. Amen!”