“Come to the water, everybody come,” a mass choir of more than 100 youth sang, calling the General Conference delegates to worship May 1.
The delegates began their Saturday work, which will be spent in committees voting on petitions, with a worship service that focused on Portuguese and Celtic traditions. The service included a sermon by Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton of the Ohio East Area.
Keaton’s preaching centered on Acts 6:1-6, 8:4-6, 35-40 and the story of Philip, who was one of seven people chosen by Jesus’ disciples for ministry.
Keaton referred to Philip as “a drum major for service,” referring to the verbal requiem that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. used to describe his own legacy.
“Say that I was a drum major for justice; say that I was a drum major for peace; I was a drum major for righteousness … and all of the other shallow things won’t matter,” Keaton quoted.
When one listens to Philip’s story and “the drumbeat of his journey, the rhythm of his itinerancy and the pep in his step, the preacher cannot help but label Philip a deacon,” said Keaton. “His witness enlivens the spirit, warms the heart and lights the way.”
Keaton pointed out that the first seven officeholders of the church were chosen not to talk, but for practical service. “Using disciplinary language, the deacon combats a situation where ‘people are unfairly granted privileges and benefits’ denied to others.”
Philip did this in his ministry by bringing justice to the Greek widow, working among the despised Samaritans, and interpreting Isaiah’s “Song of the Suffering Servant” to the Ethiopian eunuch, the ultimate outcast.
He baptized the eunuch, who became “water washed and spirit born into a new life,” Keaton said.
Keaton challenged the delegates to follow in Philip’s footsteps. When the doxology is sung, and the 2004 General Conference has been consigned to history, “I hope and pray the dominant theme of our witness and mission reflects the faith stance of Joshua, who declared to Israel at a critical point of decision-making, ‘as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,’” he said.
The choir and congregation closed the worship singing, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”
The choirs that made up the mass choir included Cantemos Youth Choir from the North Georgia Conference; the Detroit Conference Youth Choir; Jean Choir, from Jean (Texas) Church; Jubilate from North Broadway Church in Columbus, Ohio; Drive, the Miami District Youth Band from Florida; and S.I.G.H.T. from Central Church in Rogers, Ark.
“Singing here was an overwhelming honor,” said Christine Logan, a member of the Cantemos Youth Choir. “I hope the General Conference remembers the youth and diversity. It really is the way people are inside that is important.”
* Lauber is a correspondent for United Methodist News Service.
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