Combining the biblical imagery of baptism and Pentecost with the three rivers that converge at the site of the 2004 General Conference, planners for the top legislative assembly of the United Methodist Church chose as the conference theme, "Water Washed and Spirit Born."
The theme, approved April 11 by the 16-member Commission on the General Conference, is taken from the words of the hymn "Wash, O God, Your Sons and Daughters" by Ruth Duck, in the United Methodist Hymnal.
We your people stand before you,
Water washed and Spirit born.
By your grace, our lives we offer.
Re-create us; God, transform!
In supporting the theme, commission members agreed they wanted words that call for church unity, signify General Conference as an overtly Christian gathering and, if possible give a nod to the Pittsburgh locale for the assembly, to be held April 26-May 7, 2004. The symbols of water answer those needs, the panel agreed.
A logo to accompany the theme will be developed by June 1, the group decided.
In other action related to the Pittsburgh assembly, the commission agreed to distribute advance materials in five languages: Spanish, Portuguese, French, German and English. This comes in response to a mandate from the 2000 General Conference to publish the 2004 compilation of advance reports and recommendations in other languages; a budget of $700,000 was set to pay for the translation process.
General Conferences in recent years have offered simultaneous translations of the conference proceedings in several languages, but the 2004 assembly will be the first where the Advance Daily Christian Advocate will be available in a language other than English.
Commission members debated at length about the need, practicality and costs, but they agreed that the translated materials are warranted, based on information from bishops in the central conferences - United Methodist regional units outside the United States - and the growth of the U.S. Spanish-speaking community.
"We asked the central conference bishops to send us a list of the languages in which they conduct church business in their countries, and these are the languages we need for the General Conference," said commission secretary Paul Extrum-Fernandez, of West Sacramento, Calif.
More than 1 million United Methodists are in Europe, Africa and the Philippines. Of delegates coming to represent the church in those countries, most speak English, German, French or Portuguese.
Spanish was selected as panel members acknowledged the expanding Hispanic presence in the United States and the United Methodist Church's ongoing National Plan for Hispanic Ministries.
"Also, Spanish is the second most widely spoken language in the world," commission member Roland Siegrist of Linz, Austria, noted. "It is a language in which our church operates."
To curb costs for the mammoth project, the commission will ask the 14 churchwide boards and agencies to trim the length of their reports slated for publication.
In other action, the General Commission on the General Conference:
- Selected as music director for the 2004 assembly the Rev. Barbara Day Miller, assistant dean of worship at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta (see UMNS story #157).
- Set deadlines for receiving materials for the Advance Daily Christian Advocate (reports and recommendations to the General Conference from churchwide agencies and study groups). The deadline for agency reports is Aug. 1, 2003; for legislation from agencies, Oct. 1, 2003; and petitions for all entities, Nov. 29, 2003.
- Agreed to host a delegates' orientation session immediately before the start of the conference, which would allow "all delegates to get the same information," while allowing women delegations, delegates of color, youth, etc., the opportunity to meet and do orientation in their respective groups.
The chairperson of the commission is the Rev. James M. Perry of Minneapolis.
Held every four years, the General Conference approves church law and takes stands on issues of the day on behalf of the 9 million-member United Methodist Church. Nearly 1,000 delegates from around the world make up the legislative body.