ST. LOUIS — More than 40,000 delegates, church leaders and visitors from around the world will be gathering in St. Louis for a convention of the oldest predominantly black denomination in North America.
The African Methodist Episcopal Church is holding its quadrennial convention at the Americas Center starting Thursday and running through July 11.
The church meets every four years to enact laws, assign bishops, and review policies. It claims 2 million members in three dozen countries in Africa, Europe, and more recently, Asia.
St. Louis convention officials said the event will have a $30 million economic impact.
Presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain were invited to speak. Late Thursday, the Obama campaign said he will address the convention Saturday. McCain remains uncommitted. Delegates may consider a position on gay marriage, and a high-profile church abuse case.
Sylvester Laudermill was defrocked after church investigative committees in St. Louis and Los Angeles accused him of child sexual abuse. He won an appeal of the church ruling two years ago. A final decision on whether he may lead an A.M.E. church again will be made here.
While the A.M.E. Church is historically and predominantly black, it has made inroads with whites and Hispanics in the U.S., and with India's Dalits, or "untouchables," societal pariahs who often are subjected to discrimination.
Host Bishop John Richard Bryant has said 21 Christian congregations of Dalits in India are seeking to become part of the A.M.E. Church. Two delegates will represent them when their request is considered at the convention.