WJ 2012: Opening Worship (Memorial Service)
July 19, 2012
By Cate Monaghan
Director of Communications, Cal-Nevada
A bishop who resigned the episcopacy, the first African American woman bishop, a bishop who worked with Cesar Chavez, and a bishop who protected the home of a Japanese family sent to an internment camp all were remembered at the Western Jurisdictional Conference's Opening Worship – a memorial/Communion service.
Bishop Mary Ann Swenson of the Los Angeles Area (and host Conference, California-Pacific) preached the sermon, "Bringing Justice to Victory."
"The Church, under God, is the hope of the world," she said. "That hope is the hope for food, for health, for justice, for equality, for all – and in the eyes of God, all means all. Only that is equality: when all stand equal. Only then is justice brought to victory."
The four bishops of the jurisdiction who have died since the 2008 jurisdictional conference – Edward W. Paup, Leontine Ruth Turpeau Current Kelly, William W. Dew, Jr. and Melvin E. Wheatley, Jr. – all were champions of the disenfranchised.
"They not only lived, but led us, through that tension between the 'is' and the 'ought,'" Swenson said, referring to the gap, identified by Scottish philosopher David Hume, between the 'is' – the world as it exists, "in all its broken, beautiful, flaming despair and glory" – and the world as it ought to be.
"For many, that's all there is, and we are to play it out as it is: there is no potential for change, no chance it could be any different. In other words, there is no hope for transformation," Swenson said.
"What Leontine preached and what Bill and Ed and Mel poured their lives into, is that when we propose the transformation of the world, what we are talking about, what we are doing, what it comes down to, is accomplishing justice – and doing so in a particular way."
Bishop Minerva Carcaño of the Phoenix Episcopal Area (Desert Southwest Annual Conference) eulogized Ed Paup, former bishop of the Seattle Area who left the episcopacy to head the General Board of Global Ministries. He served only one year in that capacity before being diagnosed with a brain tumor that forced his resignation. He was, Carcaño said, "a grand scale thinker. He believed that God's call to us was to respond to and care for all of God's people, everywhere. He yearned for The United Methodist Church to reclaim its Wesleyan DNA and once again be 'a movement people.' Ed's vision for the 21st century was that the Church would focus in deliberate and concrete ways on overcoming poverty, which he considered a deadly disease; improving global health; [and] creating new places where people could gather to experience and share faith in our Creator God, who cares for all of creation."
Visibly moved, Bishop Melvin Talbert (retired) spoke of his close friend of many years, Leontine Kelly, who died June 28, 2012. "She served as an active bishop for only four years," he said, "but she made up for lost time. She packed more into those four years than anyone could ever imagine." After citing some of her accomplishments – the second woman to be elected a bishop in The UMC, the first woman to be elected a bishop in the Western Jurisdiction, and "the first African American woman to be elected bishop of any major communion in the world" – Talbert finished with the simple words, "She's gone. But not forgotten."
Bishop Warner H. Brown, Jr. of the San Francisco Episcopal Area (California-Nevada Annual Conference) said that Bill Dew "was passionate in his witness for social justice." In partnership with Cesar Chavez in the 1960s and 1970s, he championed the rights of farm workers in California, Brown said, "and he has been a voice for full inclusion within our Church – one of those 15 bishops who spoke out at General Conference in 1996, passionate for our Church to be all it might be ... indeed, he sought to challenge all of us to be the best we could be."
Bishop Roy I. Sano (retired) said of Mel Wheatley, "As he promoted justice, practiced kindness, and walked humbly in faith with his God, Bishop Wheatley sought to make sure no one. Would be excluded from the fullness of God's reign and realm." The congregation heard that in addition to being a pioneering advocate of full exclusion, the bishop moved into the home of a Japanese family to protect it from vandals when they were ordered to an internment camp during World War II.
At the beginning of her sermon, Bishop Swenson quoted Dr. Ernest Fremont Tittle of First UMC of Evanston, Illinois, who said in 1948: "'Methodism thinks of the church as having a responsibility not only for the individual life but also for the character of civilization…It feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, cares for the sick and the morally wounded…
'The church under God is the hope of the world.'"
"Bishops Wheatley, Dew, Paup and Kelly lived in that hope for justice, and embodied that hope," Swenson concluded. "They saw not only the injustice and worked for equality, but like the Matthean community of early Christians, they recognized in Jesus a powerfully alternative way to transform the world – a different way to bring equality into the world."