From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Commission on Christian Unity chooses Pickens as leader

From "NewsDesk" <NewsDesk@UMCOM.ORG>
Date Mon, 22 Mar 2004 13:54:39 -0600

March 22, 2004	News media contact: Linda Bloom7(646) 369-37597New York7
E-mail: 7  ALL-AA-I{116}

NOTE: A head-and-shoulders photograph of the Rev. Larry Pickens is available

By Linda Bloom*

NEW YORK (UMNS) - An Illinois pastor and lawyer who sits on the United
Methodist Judicial Council, the denomination's top court, has been named top
staff executive of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and
Interreligious Concerns.

The Rev. Larry Pickens, 45, who also was a commission member from 1988 to
1992, will begin his new position as general secretary July 1. His
nomination, announced March 22, was approved by commission members; final
approval will be needed from the denomination's General Council on Ministries
this spring. 

He succeeds the Rev. Bruce Robbins, who left the commission at the end of
2003 after 17 years of service - 13 as its top executive. Bishop Melvin
Talbert has been serving as the interim executive.

Bishop Albert "Fritz" Mutti of Topeka, Kan., commission president, pointed to
the "rich experience" Pickens has had in ecumenism. 

"Larry Pickens has a deep commitment to the unity of Christ's church and a
deep concern about furthering interfaith dialogue," he said.

 Pickens believes unity is an issue that must be addressed both within and
outside the denomination.

"In our church, we need a healing presence," he told United Methodist News
Service. Because of discord around areas of disagreement, the church needs "a
forum that can help us address those in a way that is affirming of

The Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns helped foster
conversation in two areas during the last four years. The agency sponsored a
series of dialogues on homosexuality and also encouraged church members to
participate in the "Act of Repentance for Racism," which was adopted by the
2000 General Conference to address historic discrimination against
African-Americans. General Conference is the church's top legislative

Pickens has had his own experience with unity issues. The African-American
pastor currently serves in a cross-racial appointment at First United
Methodist Church in Elgin, Ill., a predominantly white congregation in a
community that includes a growing Hispanic population. "It really takes an
effort to build community in a diverse setting," he noted.

On a broader level, Pickens wants to help the denomination sustain better
relationships with other faith groups. "I believe in a post-9-11 world," he
said. "The whole question of interfaith dialogue has changed. It has created
the need for us to inform our people about Islam and other faiths."

He hopes to address relationships with the Orthodox - especially through the
World Council of Churches, where he has experience as a former assembly
delegate and holder of a certificate in ecumenical studies from its Bossey
Institute - as well as with Roman Catholics and with denominations involved
in Churches Uniting in Christ. Through Churches Uniting in Christ, nine
denominations, including the United Methodist Church, are seeking ways to
find more unity of purpose.

How the United Methodist central conferences - membership areas in Africa,
Asia and Europe - deal with other faiths also is important. "There's a need
for sensitivity around some of the wider ecumenical and political
circumstances in which our central conferences live," he explained.

Pickens wants the commission to develop a closer relationship with the World
Methodist Council, which represents Methodists and related denominations in
132 countries. He has served as a delegate to past World Methodist
Conferences in Nairobi and Singapore.

A 1980 graduate of North Park University in Chicago, Pickens earned a master
of theology degree in 1982 and a master of divinity degree in 1985, both from
Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston. In 1988, he received a
doctorate in ministry from Chicago Theological Seminary.

Before becoming senior pastor at First Church in Elgin in July 2001, he was
pastor at Maple Park United Methodist Church from 1998 to 2001 and Gorham
United Methodist Church from 1988 to 1998. He also was an associate pastor at
St. Mark United Methodist Church from 1985 to 1988. All three churches are in

He went to law school "with the intent of doing more in terms of community
development and housing," earning his degree from DePaul University College
of Law in January 1997. He was admitted to both the Illinois and South
Carolina Bar that year and to the trial bar of the U.S. District Court of the
Northern District in 1998.

Later, Pickens said, he became interested in European Union law, which he
believes will be helpful regarding central conference issues. He also was a
delegate to a "people-to-people" seminar on the legal system of South Africa
and participated in an international conference on family law in Havana,

Within the church, his best-known legal roles have included spending the last
four years as a member of the Judicial Council and, in 1999, serving as
counsel to the Rev. Greg Dell during a clergy trial, where Dell was charged
with performing a same-sex union ceremony. 

His role on the Judicial Council has given him a better understanding of
church polity and how it works and the opportunity to be "actively involved
in how our law is interpreted," he said.

Pickens and his wife, Debra, have a 10-year-old daughter, Jessica.

# # #

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.


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