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Council's new president hopes to be catalyst for bishops

5/5/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

NOTE: A photograph is available. For further coverage of the United Methodist Council of Bishops' meeting, see UMNS stories #243, 253, 255, 256, 258, 264, and 266-268.

DALLAS (UMNS) - Bishop Ruediger Minor sees his election as president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops as an important symbol for the international body.

"Most people look at the United Methodist Church as a U.S. denomination," he said. "Now the presiding bishop is from another country." Though he is not the first bishop from outside the United States to become president, he is the first from a former Soviet bloc country.

Minor, 64, was elected president during the council's April 28-May 2 semiannual meeting in the Dallas suburb of Addison. He had served the previous year as president-elect and succeeds Bishop Sharon A. Brown Christopher, whose one-year term ended May 2.

The new president leads the denomination's Eurasia Area, which spans eight time zones. His offices are in Moscow.

In an interview, Minor noted that the council's executive committee also has other members from outside the United States. "The world view has been present always, and for this year (it) may be more visible."

The council comprises 50 active bishops in the United States; 18 bishops in Europe, Asia and Africa; plus 75 retired bishops worldwide. They are the top clergy leaders in the nearly 10 million-member church.

Minor believes his personal history is important for the council.

"I hope that some of my experience and history I can bring into this service as a certain ferment, maybe even catalyst … for seeing things in different ways," he said. For example, some churches - especially mainline ones - have felt that their voice has been ignored by the political powers, but he has had experience in dealing with that kind of problem, he said. "For me, this is nothing new at all."

The bishop earned a doctorate in church history at Leipzig University in his hometown of Leipzig, Germany, and went on to the United Methodist Theological Seminary in the former East Germany. He was elected bishop in 1986. Six years later, as communism was crumbling around Eastern Europe, he was put in charge of a new United Methodist mission to the former Soviet Union. The area eventually became an annual conference.

Minor credited the denomination with opening "a window to the world" for the church in the East during the communist era. Since then, during the last 12 to 13 years, he said he has seen new activities and renewal in the church in Eastern Europe. With new tensions in the world today, it's important that the church keep its connections, he said.

Upon being elected council president, Minor presented Christopher and Bishop Sharon Zimmerman Rader, the group's secretary, with copies of the new Russian United Methodist hymnal, Mir Vam ("peace be with you").

At the council's closing worship service, Minor told the bishops that rough weather might be in the forecast, but Jesus is in the boat with them. He used the story of Christ calming the storm while the disciples trembled in fear that their boat would capsize.

"Common Christian tradition has it that the boat is the church," he said. What happened among the disciples before they decided to awake Jesus? he wondered. "Would they not have had a crisis management team?"

With the boat listing because of the wind, some of the disciples would have tried stabilizing it by leaning overboard, he said, but "they could not agree if the wind was blowing from the right or the left."

In a History Channel series on shipwrecks, Minor noted that model ships were placed in a water tank to simulate wrecks. "Friends, how often do we think we are the disciples in the boat, swamped … when indeed we are just playing a simulation in the water tank?"

For the disciples, however, the need was real, and they finally awakened Jesus, who said, "Why are you afraid, you of little faith?"

"The ship of the church is a fragile little boat," he said. "However, the Lord is with it."

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