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GC2012: Sailing the ecumenical boat

By Linda Bloom*
May 1, 2012 | TAMPA, Fla. (UMNS)

The Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit The Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit gives the sermon during evening worship at the 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Fla. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose. Click on image to enlarge.View more photos.

It's not often that a message by the head of the World Council of Churches is preceded by a blues guitar riff.

But, as Marcia McFee, worship leader for the 2012 United Methodist General Conference pointed out May 1, "Sometimes, it's the blues that can help us pray. Sometimes, it's the blues that can help us lament."

Continuing a theme about sailing with Jesus "over life's tempestuous sea," she got participants in the evening worship up on their feet, telling their neighbors, "I've seen some storms in my life," and adding, "but, I see Jesus coming."

Then, the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit told them not to worry about the storms. "The risen Jesus is coming to us, even when he sends us into adverse winds," he said.

"The symbol of the ecumenical fellowship is a boat, a ship," Tveit noted. The WCC's boat holds 349 member churches in more than 110 countries and territories, representing more than 560 million Christians.

"As you discern your common future and God's will for this church, you are to be reminded you are not alone in the boat," he said.

An ordained pastor in the Lutheran Church of Norway, Tveit professed his "close connection to Methodists" and his appreciation for the denomination's "generous and reliable support for the work of the WCC" - support that allows him and others "to take heart and move on with hope and courage."

One of the hallmarks of Methodism is a commitment to connectionalism and mutual accountability, he noted.

"If we define mutual accountability as an ecumenical attitude, we see how this is crucial in our life as disciples together in our local churches and in the ecumenical family," Tveit said. "We should be sharing and testing our gifts, our concerns, our visions, our work, even our fear. We are in this together. We need you, Methodists. We need you as Methodists. And, I believe, you need us."

A number of Methodist and ecumenical guests were present at the service and the United Methodist Council of Bishops recognized one of them, the Rev. John L. McCullough, executive director of Church World Service since 2000, with its 2012 Ecumenical Award.

The award is presented once every four years in honor of a denominational member who has made outstanding contributions to strengthen Christian unity and interreligious relations.

A United Methodist pastor and graduate of the Boston University School of Theology, McCullough has served churches in the U.S. and Kenya and is a former staff executive with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

Many United Methodist congregations annually partner with Church World Service, an international humanitarian agency, through the CROP Hunger Walks, which raise funds to end hunger in the United States and developing countries.

In her introduction, Bishop Sharon Zimmerman Rader, the council's ecumenical officer, called McCullough "an amazing United Methodist advocate for ecumenism," citing his leadership in CWS work in Africa and the organization of delegations to Colombia, Guinea, Israel/Palestine and North Korea as examples.

"John McCullough leads efforts to eradicate hunger and poverty across the globe," she said.

"I am grateful to the people called United Methodist for your ecumenical witness and spirit," McCullough told the General Conference. "It is in joining efforts that we find the cup of justice rather than leaving people thirsting for basic human rights."

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at http://twitter.com/umcscribe.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, (813) 574-4837 in Tampa, Fla., through May 4; after May 4: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.