Methodists pitch a message of joy to lead others to faith; Celebrate: Church members mix evangelism and fun in festivities, including hours at the ballpark.


The United Methodist bishop for the Baltimore-Washington area took the mound yesterday at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

It wasn't that the Orioles were in need of divine intervention. Bishop Felton Edwin May was there for a first-pitch ceremony as part of the United Methodists' God's Family event.

More than 3,000 church members wearing T-shirts bearing their familiar cross-and-flame logo attended the game last night. And before the game, the Methodists celebrated the diversity that makes up their nearly 220,000-member conference in a festival at the Inner Harbor's Rash Field featuring Caribbean steel drums, a Korean drum-and-dance troupe and gospel choirs.

The day's festivities were part of the bishop's Holy Boldness initiative, an attempt to more publicly and enthusiastically live out the Gospel faith, "to truly live out what we preach, not just at Camden Yards, but in all of Baltimore," May said. "Meeting human need where it exists."

To reach out to the needy, Methodist volunteers were collecting cleaning supplies, "soft" items such as diapers, linens and towels, and small tools that will be distributed to the victims of El Nino-caused weather disasters this year in the South.

"They'll go to Louisiana to replenish the UMCOR [United Methodist Committee of Relief] warehouse, which has been depleted because of all the tornadoes that went through the South this winter, and to prepare for hurricane season this summer," said the Rev. Edwin C. DeLong, the Methodist official who oversees churches in parts of Baltimore and Baltimore County and in Harford County.

Anyone who didn't get a chance to contribute yesterday can still do so by calling the Baltimore-Washington Conference office in Columbia at 1-800-492-2525.

DeLong said the Methodists started God's Family at Camden Yards last year, pairing a church festival with a baseball game, "as an opportunity to witness our faith outside the church building, in the marketplace, where people gather."

"It's a little bit of evangelism, a little bit of fun," he said.

The evangelism came in the form of music with religious themes, church literature and one of the more useful tracts you'll ever come across: a baseball score card with an invitation to join the Methodist Church that was distributed to Orioles fans before the game.

For 3-year-old Matthew Knowles-Tuell, the fun came in the form of a puppet show in the shade of a wooden pavilion that provided relief from the blistering heat.

"I think it's wonderful we can do this in a public place, proclaim our faith so the folks who might just happen to be walking by might catch the Spirit," said his father, Jim Knowles-Tuell. "I don't expect we'll win a whole lot of converts. But we may touch a few hearts, get something started."

Pub Date: 5/31/98

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