Liberian bishop points up global focus during opener
Bishop John G. Innis of Liberia spoke during the opening worship service.
The opening service included a performance by Liturgical Dancers, directed by Angela Norris Johnson. The service, held inside the sanctuary of First United Methodist Church, Dallas, also included the blessing of summer interns as commissioned ambassadors and conference representatives.Photos by John A. Lovelace
For its opening worship service under the theme “God Is Doing A New Thing,” the 2011 North Texas Conference returned to one of Methodism’s earliest locations in Texas — First UMC, Dallas.
The venerable sanctuary, whose predecessors date to 1838, sprang to new life as more than 100 United Methodist-related summer interns received blessings as commissioned ambassadors of Christ and conference representatives.
The service had an international and ecumenical flavor, with hymns from Kenya, South Africa and Scotland and music or text from Lutheran, Episcopalian and nondenominational sources.
The evening’s speaker, United Methodist Bishop John G. Innis of Liberia, personified the international realities of United Methodism. From a country ravaged by a 14-year civil war that ended only eight years ago, he enlivened the congregation several times with the familiar assertion that “God is good,” followed by the response “all the time!”
Elected a bishop in 2000, he leads a conference of about 800 churches with 200,000 members. Ganta United Methodist Hospital, many of the churches in the conference and United Methodist University, in the capital city of Monrovia, were damaged during the war.
Methodism in Liberia dates to the 1840s. Its political turmoil is said to be between slaves freed from the United States in the 19th century and members of indigenous ethnic tribes.
Bishop Innis referred to the most recent years of conflict as “a Dead Sea” and declared that “God’s people must turn back to God because new life comes from God.” Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a United Methodist, addressed the church’s 2008 General Conference in Fort Worth.
Bishop Innis had been scheduled to preach at the NTC’s 2010 sessions in Wichita Falls but was prevented from doing so by illness. He holds degrees from the University of Liberia and from St. Paul School of Theology in Independence, Mo.
The evening’s offering and two other special gifts were designated to the Imagine No Malaria campaign.
In a goodwill gesture, North Texas Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe presented Bishop Innis with two cameras to bolster the Liberian Methodist’s communication ministry.
Bishop Bledsoe and Bishop Innis led a service of communion, assisted by staff members and volunteers from the host church.