Hillary speaks to United Methodists

Acknowledging the profound impact of the United Methodist Church upon her life, Hillary Rodham Clinton called upon the denomination to continue its social witness for the world's children.

The First Lady -- who was introduced by Arkansas Bishop Richard Wilke as a "warm and gracious friend" -- spoke here April 24 to about 3,700 people at the United Methodist General Conference.

Her 30-minute message, interrupted intermittently by applause, was accepted with a standing ovation at the end by fellow United Methodists. She shook hands with some of the conference participants as she left the Colorado Convention Center hall.

"I have to confess to you that I have not been this nervous ... since I read my confirmation essay on 'what Jesus means to me' at my home church," Clinton quipped as she stood before the podium.

During her youth, the First Lady and her family were active members of First United Methodist Church in Park Ridge, Ill. There, she said, she learned from ministers and lay leaders "the connection between my personal faith and the obligations I face as a Christian."

She also paid tribute to the work of Sunday school and vacation Bible school teachers and the lessons offered through such simple songs as "Jesus Loves the Little Children."

A line from that song, "Red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in His sight," has stayed with her more "than any earnest lecture on racism," Clinton noted.

The First Lady said she was "equally grateful" that her daughter Chelsea has had the same opportunities for faith and witness. The Clintons currently attend Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington D.C.

All young people need to experience spiritual growth and fellowship. "In today's world, churches are among the few places in society where young people can let down their guard," she noted.

With today's challenges, "we know we need to strengthen the spiritual and moral context of our lives," Clinton said, as well as cultivating "a new sense of caring" about responsibilities to the larger society.

Specifically, too many people, including children "remain on the margins of society.

"Despite the problems of poverty and illiteracy and violence, there are solutions being born -- being born in churches and communities throughout the world," she declared.

Clinton said she was "heartened" by the denomination's Communities of Shalom" ministry and commended the Council of Bishops for its renewed support for the welfare of children, reminding delegates that no child is merely "someone else's child."

The First Lady also referred to the recent funeral of Adam Darling, a 29-year-old Commerce Department official who died with Ron Brown and other government and business leaders in a plane crash in Croatia.

Darling, the son and grandson of United Methodist ministers and a member of Foundry church, pursued his own brand of ministry in the tough urban community where he chose to live, she recalled.

His example "gives me a great deal of energy and optimism" about what young people can do, she added.

Although "disagreements are a part of life," Clinton said, "I think it's how we grow together."

She called upon "all of us to act outside the church as we try to act inside the church" and open the doors "to all those John Wesley sought out."

In an introductory historical perspective on Clinton's visit, the Rev. William Quick, senior pastor of Metropolitan United Methodist Church in Detroit, noted that Methodist Bishops Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke called upon the newly-elected George Washington in 1788.

"That was the beginning of the long association and connection of the United Methodist Church and the White House," he said.

Five 19th century U.S. Presidents -- James Knox Polk, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley -- all attended or were members of the Methodist Church.

Following her speech, Clinton was presented with a copy of the General Conference edition of the United Methodist Hymnal and a "wooden trinket box" bearing the logo of the 1996 General Conference by Mollie Stewart of Valhermoso Springs, Ala.


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