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coro-rotuloContributing writer Ted Parks made this final report from Bayamon, where the Disciples of Christ in Puerto Rico concluded their Centenary Convention on Feb. 15.  Look for articles from Parks later this week on DisciplesWorld’s website and in the April issue of the magazine.

Puerto Rican Disciples crowned a century of gatherings as a body of believers Sunday afternoon with the closing service of their Centenary Convention in the Rubén Rodríguez Coliseum in Bayamón near San Juan. With music provided by a 300-voice chorus and the event potentially bringing together 104 Disciple congregations and six mission points from across the island, the 100th convention contrasted the first gathering, when the members of a handful of churches — the fruit of a still nascent mission effort by North American Disciples — also met in Bayamón. Though no official figures were announced, attendance at the Sunday event was likely more than 3,500 people.

General pastor Esteban González Doble preached at the concluding service, emphasizing once more the convention’s theme of unity. González explained that talking about unity should come as no surprise for a gathering of Disciples, with oneness a cherished and essential element in Disciples thought and practice. But the general pastor moved quickly from the importance of unity in general to the importance of unity for Puerto Rico, telling the convention that the island nation “urgently” needed a church that modeled oneness in a fragmented society.

After the general pastor spoke, the assembly observed the Lord’s Supper, with ushers clad in white shirts carrying baskets of pre-packaged communion elements up and down stairs to various levels of coliseum seating. General minister and president for North American Disciples, Sharon Watkins, led the benediction, her words translated into Spanish by Church Extension vice-president Gilberto Collazo.

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discipulin1An update from contributing writer Ted Parks, who is in Bayamón covering the Puerto Rican Disciples’ Centenary Convention.

Organizers of the Puerto Rican Disciples’ Centenary Convention held the Friday night service — focused on youth — in the Rubén Rodríguez Coliseum in Bayamón, the city west of San Juan where the convention began Thursday. Among those welcoming the crowd entering the stadium was “Discipulín,” a mascot dressed in a red felt costume shaped like the Disciples chalice with the familiar white cross for a nose.

Nearly 1,900 people attended the Friday youth service. Eliezer Ronda Pagán, the speaker — probably in his late 20s — preached about power, using references as diverse as the cartoon show ThunderCats, Alexander Campbell’s statement that division among Christians is evil, and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have  a Dream” speech to encourage his young Disciples audience to see power in scripture as a divine gift enabling the church to work for oneness.

With “A Church that Lives and Celebrates Unity” the convention theme, Saturday’s program featured presentations by an “ecumenical panel” composed of the Roman Catholic archbishop of San Juan, a Church of God bishop, a Lutheran pastor, and the president of the Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico. The Church of God and Lutheran leaders addressed ecumenical relations by telling their own very personal stories, both leaders describing how education and travel opened their eyes to the importance of unity.

In an emotional moment, Idelfonso Caraballo, the Church of God panelist, publicly asked forgiveness for his tradition’s failure to acknowledge other believers as part of the body of Christ. The convention audience at the Buena Vista Christian Church, host of the Centenary Convention, responded with applause and shouts of “Glory to God!” In another show of unity, Lutheran pastor Marysol Díaz invited Monsignor Roberto González to address her congregation during its next celebration of Reformation Day.

DisciplesWorld contributing writer Ted Parks is in Bayamón, Puerto Rico covering the Convención Centenaria, which runs from Feb. 12-15. Here’s his first update.

The Centenary Convention of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Puerto Rico opened Thursday, February 12, in Bayamón, a city some seven miles from San Juan.

Having traveled in Mexico, and other parts of Spanish America, I have noticed the uniqueness of Puerto Rico when compared to its Latin neighbors. Many people I know are not aware that Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the United States and that Puerto Ricans are American citizens. Arriving on the island the night before the Convention’s start, I drove from the airport in the Chrysler I rented at Budget and ate “Moons over My Hammy,” an egg, ham, and cheese sandwich at Denny’s, where the menu was in English. I paid for dinner in dollars.

While the history of Puerto Rico constrasts that of other nations in the region, the spirit here — despite the heavy American influence — is like other parts of the Hispanic world I’ve visited. Worship is fervent, animated by the steady beat of the worship group’s conga drums. Puerto Rican Disciples experienced a charismatic renewal movement in the first half of the last century that they call the “Avivamiento,” and the transforming energy from that moment remains.

In Thursday’s opening meetings, Esteban González Doble singled out three Disciples churches celebrating more than a century of history, the oldest founded in 1900, the second, in 1906, and the third in 1908.

González was consecrated to a second term as general pastor on Thursday night in a packed service at Buena Vista Christian Church in Bayamón. The consecration service capped the first day of the historic Centenary Convention.

According to the Puerto Rican Disciples’ website, the first convention in 1909 marked 10 years of Disciples outreach in Puerto Rico, with the first missionaries arriving April 23, 1899.

Ted Parks also writes for the Disciples of Christ Historical Society, the Christian Chronicle, Associated Baptist Press, and other publications. He is an associate professor of Spanish at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn.

Verity Jones, DisciplesWorld editor and publisher, will be in Washington D.C. covering Barack Obama's inauguration

Verity Jones

From Verity Jones, DisciplesWorld editor and publisher, who was at the inaugural prayer service yesterday:

I sat in the south transept balcony with other members of the press for Wednesday’s Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service at which the Disciples General Minister and President Sharon E. Watkins preached.  I had a grand view.  I’ve already written extensively about Watkins’ sermon.  You can read all about her profound and important message for the President and the nation’s leaders in my special report on www.disciplesworld.com.  You can read the sermon itself online.

What doesn’t get said in the news story is how fabulous Waktins looked, how confidently she carried herself, how proud she made this Disciple feel about being a member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) today. Her message was delivered pitch-perfect, a brilliant balance between her down-home Midwestern way of communicating and her gift for articulating a strong prophetic message for the people.  Watkins took the crowd immediately with that off the cuff remark about how nice the sermon’s salutation, “Mr. President,” sounded. Unafraid of the positive and warm response, she continued, “Let’s try this one on, Madame First Lady.” The delighted congregation applauded. Those of you who tuned in know what I’m talking about.

Interesting moments that may not have been on camera: The Clintons entered through the north transept of the Cathedral about 20 minutes before the service started.  All of the religious dignitaries were seated in the north transept, and the Clintons worked that crowd, like they always do, even shaking the hand of Rick Lowery, Sharon Watkins’ husband, before finding their seats. I had a nice view of that interchange, by the way.  Very touching.

Another: In worship services, apparently, the president and the vice president are not announced and no “hail to the chief” is played.  So… the Bidens, then the Obamas just kind of wandered in through the north transept just before the service began.  They were purposeful, no crowd working for these guys until after the service.  But still, it was almost like they were just arriving for church.  I liked that.

And another: Michelle Obama is very impressive. She did not hesitate to initiate the hand clapping during the congregational singing of “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” The other five on her row – her husband, the Bidens, and the Clintons sang, but no hand-clapping. Hands properly folded in lap for those guys. And when she noticed they weren’t clapping, she didn’t stop. She is her own person and I think she will teach us all, women and men, children and adults, people of all colors, races, and backgrounds, a thing or two about the power of confidence.

Oh, and I wonder what her flat black shoes sparked in the fashion media. I tell you, if I danced at 10 balls in high heels all night like she did Tuesday, I’d be wearing house slippers the next day. Flat shoes were just right.

I suppose because this was church (even if worship with the president in a cavernous cathedral is not much like the kind of worship I usually engage), but I suppose that because this was church, I was even more moved today by these historic happenings than I was yesterday at the swearing-in ceremony. That a word from the church was heard today by this man and this administration at this memorable and remarkable moment, somehow filled me with peace for the day, and hope for the future. It was extraordinary, really.

Or it could’ve been that on Tuesday I was just much too cold to produce any tears of emotion!  But today, they flowed like a mighty river and ever flowing stream (a phrase we’ve heard so much this week, too much I wonder?).

A technical note:  I am no photographer and I know it, though I do try for the sake of DisciplesWorld. My camera was not working today. We had already made a plan that DisciplesWorld would use Associated Press photos of the service for our news report because I didn’t think I would have a good enough seat to see. But then I did, and I didn’t get photos of this amazing event.  I’m bummed, really disappointed. Anyway … AP photos and those taken by Wanda Bryant Wills of the Disciples’ Communication Ministries AFTER the service ended will be added to our story and Facebook page when they are available.

Actor Stephen Baldwin

Actor Stephen Baldwin

An update from Verity Jones, DisciplesWorld editor and publisher, who is in DC for the inauguration:

I’m leaving for the Western States Inaugural Ball in a few minutes, but I wanted to post an update on the day’s events.  It was simply amazing to be in that crowd of 1.8 million people witnessing and celebrating this historic event.  The feeling was electric, positive. The crowd was as polite and excited as I’ve ever seen.

My seat gave me a view of the stage on the steps of the Capitol, even thought it was partially obscured by a tree!  I was able to move forward for President Obama’s speech and got some nice photos.  Sharon Watkins and Rick Lowery had equally wonderful seats.  They even spent the morning before the inauguration with the Obama family in the traditional pre-inaugural prayer service.  We’ll have to find out from them what that was like!

Stars, stars, everywhere.  For this little Okie from Muskogee, it was kind of thrilling, though not as thrilling as the main event, of course!  But I saw Bruce Springsteen and Stephen Baldwin and some other actors whose names I can’t remember … yet.  Actress Ellen Burstyn was in my row!  Such fun.  Wesley Clark passed me at one point. And Supreme Court Justice John Roberts’ family sat in front of me.  Were they embarrassed by his flub up?  I couldn’t tell!  And of course I could see Rick Warren and Aretha Franklin and Rev. Joseph Lowery from my seat.  And the poem was wonderful, too.  What an honor it was to be there.  Photos will come soon.

Tomorrow is the reason I came to D.C.  The national prayer service starts at 10:00 am.  I am looking forward to hearing our General Minister and President wow President Obama and all the nation!  Yeah Disciples!

An update from Verity Jones, in Washington D.C.:

DisciplesWorld's Verity Jones with CNN's Roland Martin

DisciplesWorld's Verity Jones with CNN's Roland Martin

I spent this morning talking to Steven Gentle, the pastor of National City Christian Church, while our General Minister and President Sharon Watkins conducted a few telephone interviews in the next room with print and radio reporters including CNN, AP, and NPR.  Watkins is bringing lots of media attention to Disciples.  Her appearance at the national prayer service on Wednesday may even be televised.  National City Christian Church is preparing to host a large group of Disciples from South Carolina who are coming with their regional minister, Sotello Long, to attend the inauguration.  Grown-ups sleeping on mattresses meant for teenagers in a church hall!  How’s that for dedication.

Other Disciples in D.C. are busy celebrating Martin Luther King Day.  Of course, this year’s celebration links King’s legacy to Obama’s Inauguration.  Disciples of note — Michael Kinnamon, Rita Brock, and Joan Brown Campbell — will participate in an Interfaith Peace Service at All Souls Unitarian church later this afternoon. More Disciples will gather at Michigan Park Christian Church for a dinner and celebration this evening.

The city, meanwhile, is in the process of lock down.  At 3:00 pm, most of the streets within a two mile corridor surrounding the National Mall will be closed to cars.  Only pre-approved buses, taxis, and limos will be allowed in.  National Guardsmen can be seen on every corner, even outside National City Christian Church.  They say they are practicing for tomorrow!

Last night, I attended the African American Church Inaugural Ball along with my sister, Serene Jones, the president of Union Theological Seminary in New York City, the birthplace of Black Theology.  Disciples were well represented at the ball.  Watkins and her spouse Rick Lowery, along with Cynthia Hale and her mother Janice, April Johnson, Delores Carpenter, Sotello and Dee Long, Lois Artis, and Michael Paige.  It was quite the event.  Luminaries such as Jesse Jackson, Desmond Tutu, and Marian Wright Edelman were present.  CNN commentator Roland Martin was the master of ceremonies, and even actor Chris Tucker made an appearance.  Singer Jessye Norman closed the event.

I’ll be posting updates to Twitter and photos to our Facebook page, in addition to the blog and news stories on DisciplesWorld.com. Keep up with the happenings in D.C. this week!  I have a GREAT ticket to the swearing in ceremony.  I should actually be able to see!

An update from DisciplesWorld editor and publisher Verity Jones, who left Sunday for Washington, D.C.:

I’m off to Washington, D.C., today to the historic inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States.  I’m going on behalf of DisciplesWorld in order to cover the national prayer service on Wednesday Jan. 21, at which our own Sharon E. Watkins, the Disciples’ general minister and president, will preach.  We just learned that Cynthia Hale, pastor of Ray of Hope Christian Church in Decatur, Ga., will also participate in the service. The newly inaugurated president and vice-president will be in attendance as well, of course.

I’m thrilled beyond belief, for Disciples, for our nation.  I’ll be up in the balcony of the National Cathedral for the prayer service with all the other reporters, so I’ll have a bird’s eye view of the service.

I’m going to Washington, D.C., today, however, to find out what Disciples in D.C. are doing to recognize and celebrate the inauguration.

I’ll also attend the swearing in ceremony on Tuesday!  Look for me on television.  I’ll have on a black coat and tan hat — I’ll really stand out from the crowd.

Jones will be providing updates on Twitter, Facebook, the NewsMuse blog, and on DisciplesWorld’s website, throughout the week.

Verity Jones, DisciplesWorld editor and publisher, will be in Washington D.C. covering Barack Obama's inauguration

Verity Jones

DisciplesWorld Publisher and Editor Verity A. Jones will travel to Washington, D.C., next week to provide special coverage of Disciples participating in the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States.

She’ll be posting updates on the News Muse blog and on our website, www.disciplesworld.com. You can also follow her on Twitter. Check our Facebook page for photos and subscribe to our RSS feeds there (and if you notice quirks with the RSS feeds please email me at news@disciplesworld.com).

If you’ll be in DC for an inauguration events, let us know what you’re doing and how to reach you.

Oh yeah – and be sure to wish Verity a Happy Birthday tomorrow, Jan. 14. How old is she, you ask? [evil laugh] I’ll never tell! [especially since I’m older.]

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