BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (AP) -- For the first time, a woman has assumed the office of president of the United Methodist Church's Council of Bishops.
Bishop Sharon A. Brown Christopher of the Illinois Area took office on May 3.
Christopher, 57, was ordained in 1972. She said her selection ''is an expression of the heart of the United Methodist Church, a church of open hearts, open minds and open doors.''
The president normally serves for one year and presides at all meetings of the council and the executive committee. She also represents the council at official functions and serves as the spokeswoman after the body has acted.
The 150 bishops of the 8.4 million-member UMC also issued a statement last week vowing that clergy who ''abuse children or who are sexual predators'' will not be ''shielded or protected.''
In the declaration, the bishops committed themselves to ''prevent and eradicate sexual abuse and misconduct'' from all levels of church life.
The bishops' secretary, Sharon Rader of Wisconsin, said the issue was put on the agenda before recent publicity over sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests.
The denomination had directed all units to institute abuse prevention policies by the year 2000 to cover all clergy and lay employees.
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