Krin Ali (left), Denver, Colo., listens while co-presenter Eva Algodon-Bohol, Cebu, Philippines,
gives a part of the Young People's Address by video during an April 25 session of the 2012
United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Fla. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.
Day 2 of the 2012 General Conference began with the Episcopal Address by Bishop Peter Weaver of the Boston Episcopal Area. Bishop Weaver charged us to be a part of what he called a "Resurrection Revolution." He told the story of five displaced African teenagers who were baptized in a New Hampshire river. The teens, driven from their homes by tribal warfare, were resettled in the New Hampshire area. As Bishop Weaver recounted, “There, half a world away from their homes and churches in the Congo, another vital United Methodist congregation…welcomed these immigrants.” Bishop Weaver then brought four of the young men onstage as the delegates and bishops gave them a standing ovation. Bishop Weaver also pointed out that he felt that too many of our churches have "swapped the 'Let's Go' of the Great Commission for the status quo of the no mission" and challenged the delegates to ask "how will this legislation enable making disciples of Jesus Christ" as they do the work of the General Conference. Bishop Weaver concluded his address by kneeling and leading the delegates in John Wesley's Covenant Prayer. (Watch video of morning session.)
The second address of the morning was delivered by Betty Swipe Katiyo, who is the first person from Africa to deliver the Laity Address at a General Conference. Katiyo, who attends a church that seats 1000 people, talked about how people are "so hungry for the word of God" that they sit outside just to be a part of the worship.
Katiyo was joined by Dr. Steve Furr from Jackson, Ala., and Amory Peck from Bellingham, Wash., in delivering the address, which emphasized the mission to make disciples. All three speakers began with the words “by the grace of God, I am a disciple of Jesus Christ.”
Katiyo used the image of a symphony to illustrate the partnership between laity and clergy. “A conductor of an orchestra does not make a sound — instead enlivens others to be effective. Laity are the choir who should be making the noise, and clergy are the conductors. And guess what? To succeed, we need each other!
The Young People's Address was aided by technology. While Krin Ali spoke live to the delegation, fellow presenter Joy Eva Algodon-Bohol made her appearance via videotape. Together the two young United Methodists issued a challenge to their brothers and sisters around the world to be “Charged. Rooted. United.” Algodon-Bohol, from Cebu, Philippines, was denied a visa and could not attend the conference in person, so she gave her speech on giant screens while Ali stood alone on the stage.
Algodon-Bohol, president of the National United Methodist Youth Fellowship in the Philippines, said taking a leadership role in the church was not easy. Her father was not supportive because she had to resign from a good job to be able to participate fully in the church. She said she felt “charged” by God. “At 14 I was elected secretary, at 16 I was elected to the annual conference, and at 20, I became involved on a national level,” she said.
Ali and Algodon-Bohol punctuated their remarks with those three words: charged, rooted, and united.
Ali said he was rooted in his faith: “The Apostle Paul says, ‘Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’ A true disciple finds that he or she will be transformed through their faith.” God’s love unites us all, said Ali. “We must overcome our age differences. I look forward to a cloud of young people at the next General Conference."
After breaking for lunch the delegates engaged in an afternoon of "Holy Conversations" and legislative meetings. In a session that took 90 minutes longer than the scheduled time allotted, delegates approved several changes in the rules by which they will operate over the next eight days.
Some debate focused on whether various committees should be based on geographical areas or on a proportional basis. Existing rules called for one representative from each of five U.S. jurisdictions and one each from Africa, Asia and Europe. Noting the increased costs involved, delegates voted down efforts to provide additional members from larger U.S. jurisdictions and central conferences.
The Rules Committee also proposed that “any legislation not acted upon by the legislative committee at the time of the Saturday evening adjournment shall remain unfinished.” Judy Nutter, a delegate from West Virginia, argued that the new rule was not keeping faith with people who had submitted proposals, but delegates agreed to retain the rule knowing that it only takes 20 delegates to bring any petition to the full body.
The evening worship focused on revitalizing our churches and keeping young people engaged in the church. Four proposals for revitalizing churches were put forth:
1. A ten-year focus on creating and sustaining vital congregations.
2. Annual conferences will have the flexibility to organize themselves to create and sustain vital congregations.
3. Create a more nimble, responsive and streamlined structure for General Boards and Agencies.
4. Invest in leadership to raise up next generation of Church leaders.
Bishop James King, South Georgia Area bishop, discussed what we need to do as a church to be vital congregations. He reminded us that "once we are in, it is our job to bring others in." As Bishop King stated, "There is no shortage of people in the world; there is a shortage of love" and we must invite all to the body of Christ. Whatever language you speak, you must "Invite, Invite, Invite." Bishop King punctuated each "Invite" by also repeating it in other languages native to our delegates. He ended his sermon by leaving us with the acronym REACH, telling us that to be vital church means that we have to Receive, Educate, Apply, Care and Hook all people.