By J. Richard Peck

FORT WORTH, Texas (UMNS) - Meeting once every four years, 992 delegates from United Methodist churches in the United States, Africa, Asia and Europe, opened their 10-day legislative sessions with the singing of "O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing" and "Are We Yet Alive."

Some 5,500 visitors, conference officials and choir members observed the pageantry from the galleries of the Fort Worth Convention Center.

The two-hour service featured praise bands, a full orchestra, choirs, music, prayers and Scripture in many tongues, and symbols of the Christian faith using ordinary elements of glass, wood, bread, fruit of the vine and water.

On the 40th anniversary to the day when the Evangelical United Brethren Church united with the Methodist Church to create The United Methodist Church, and within 40 miles of where it happened, delegates from 129 annual conferences and 50 countries met to establish policies for the 11.5 million-member denomination and to declare positions on social justice issues.

Focused on the theme "A Future with Hope: Making Disciples for the Transformation of the World," delegates gathered about a Communion table made from trees salvaged from Gulfside Assembly in Waveland, Miss.

Iowa Area Bishop Gregory Palmer and Houston Area Bishop Janice Riggle Huie officiated at the Communion service.

Bishop Huie's sermon sounded a clear call that, even in the midst of a world filled with AIDS, malaria, violence, global climate change and fear, United Methodists are called to live a life with hope - resurrection hope.

Bishop Huie said that the word "hope" was becoming a "marshmallow word. It sounds soft.

"Resurrection hope transforms lives and changes the future," the bishop said.

Some 1,500 petitions were considered in 13 legislative committees before they were brought to the full plenary sessions for final action. Those committees did there work during the first week.

The Council of Bishops met prior to the opening of General Conference and elected Alabama-West Florida Area Bishop Larry M. Goodpaster as president of the council effective in 2010. Iowa Bishop Gregory Palmer was elected last November to serve a two-year term as council president following Houston Area Bishop Janice Riggle Huie, who leaves office at the close of General Conference.

Peck serves as an editor for UMNS during General Conference