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United Methodist bishops meet with president, open door for future

 



 
May 3, 2005          

By Tim Tanton*
 
WASHINGTON (UMNS)—Five United Methodist bishops made a pastoral visit to President George W. Bush on May 3 in a meeting that they said opened the door for future conversations and work with the White House.
 
The bishops had a private, 10-minute meeting with the president and some of his staff, then joined a larger group of religious leaders meeting with Bush at the White House.
 
During their private session, the bishops presented Bush, a fellow United Methodist, with a Bible signed by the Council of Bishops, and they shared a moment of prayer with him. They told the president they are praying for him, that they share his commitment to building a better world, and that they are committed to finding ways to work together on common concerns, said Bishop Peter Weaver, president of the council.
 
"We believe ... that some doors have been opened," Weaver reported later to the Council of Bishops, which is meeting May 1-6 in Washington.
 
Weaver led the delegation, which also included Bishop Janice Huie, president-designate of the council; Bishop Ernest Lyght, council secretary; and host bishops John Schol of the Washington (D.C.) Area and Charlene Kammerer of the Richmond (Va.) Area.
 
The president was “very cordial, very friendly,” said Weaver, who also leads the denomination’s Boston Area. “He was interested in things we were doing in the United Methodist Church. At one point, he said, ‘I’m proud to be a Methodist.’”
 
Bush said he “was very delighted to be meeting with us,” noted Schol, who has been involved in building relationships with White House officials for several months.
 
Huie led the bishops in a moment of prayer with the president. “He was eager to have prayer,” Schol said of Bush. “We joined hands in a circle and prayed together.”
 
The bishops had two objectives in meeting with the president, Weaver said. First, they wanted the visit to be a pastoral call in the tradition of similar visits dating back to 1789, when the first American Methodist bishops, Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke, presented a Bible to President George Washington. The bishops wanted to let Bush know they were praying for him.
 
Second, they wanted to continue building on a relationship with the White House that would be productive with the “fruits of human justice, peace and hope,” Weaver said afterward.
 
“We are looking forward to finding ways to work together on common issues, such as AIDS in Africa,” Weaver said.
 
The Bush administration has committed $15 billion to combating AIDS, and the delegation commended the president for the initiative, Weaver said. Months earlier, Weaver had participated in a meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice about the administration’s strategy for fighting the disease.
 
The delegation’s agenda “was not to cover a laundry list of issues” with the president, Weaver said.
 
A number of issues surfaced during their time with Bush, particularly in the larger meeting with leaders from the Presbyterian, Episcopalian, United Church of Christ, American Baptist and Disciples of Christ traditions.
 
“He did express his hope for peace,” Weaver said. “He did talk about a wide range of subjects, including the Israeli-Palestinian situation, the war in Iraq (and) issues in Sudan.”
 
During discussion about AIDS in Africa and conditions in Zimbabwe, the United Methodist Church's Africa University was mentioned. Weaver said the president expressed appreciation that a United Methodist university was in Africa, and Lyght--a member of Africa University's board--invited Bush to visit the school in Mutare, Zimbabwe.
 
The bishops were upbeat after the meeting. “We were very appreciative and hopeful in terms of continuing to develop a relationship with the White House,” Schol said.

The White House has invited Weaver to represent the Council of Bishops in offering a prayer at the National Interfaith Prayer Breakfast on May 5 in Washington. The president and his staff also invited the bishops to keep communications open and to call when they see opportunities to work together, Weaver said.
 
The Council of Bishops comprises the United Methodist Church’s top clergy leaders. The denomination has more than 10 million members in the United States, Africa, Europe and Asia.
       
*Tanton is managing editor for United Methodist News Service.
 
News media contact: Diane Denton, (615) 207-9314, or Tim Tanton, (615) 415-0147.

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