LOUISVILLE, K.Y. -- Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke about her Methodist faith in personal terms Saturday, telling a gathering of Methodist women that their conference felt like a "homecoming" and how the church's obligation to serve others has guided her personal and professional life.
"I have always cherished the Methodist Church because it gave us the great gift of personal salvation but also the great obligation of social gospel," Clinton said at the annual United Methodist Women Assembly here. "And I took that very seriously and have tried, tried to be guided in my own life ever since as an advocate for children and families, for women and men around the world who are oppressed and persecuted, denied their human rights and human dignity. "
Clinton told the 7,000 women who gave her a rousing welcome at the Kentucky International Convention Center that Methodist women know how to "get things done," including taking on the responsibility of serving their communities and the less fortunate.
"So it’s really like a homecoming to be here with all of you from across our country and around the world to celebrate the great web of passion and connection that ties all Methodists together," she said. "To honor the good you are doing in your communities and that is being done through you throughout the world. To recommit ourselves to living the gospel and putting our faith into action.”
Clinton referenced the conference's theme, "Make it Happen," saying it was apt because it's "what women do every day." She also referenced the biblical story of the loaves and fishes -- "the first great potluck supper" -- and said it contains a lesson on the responsibility of helping those in need.
"I think this is more important than ever," Clinton said. "We are living in a time when too many people feel disconnected, when too many of our neighbors are struggling to find their footing and follow their own dreams."
Clinton also spoke of how her faith shaped her as a child and the importance of the Methodist church she attended in Park Ridge, Ill. She was a member of the altar guild that cleaned the altar before Sunday services, and Clinton said it made her feel as though she was part of the service.
“I loved that church," she said. "I loved how it made me feel about myself. I loved the doors it open to the understanding of the world. I loved how it deepened my faith."
Clinton said her parents had different ways of worshiping. She recalled how her father, a gruff, self-made, independent man, would pray before bed, "humble on his knees before God every night." Her mother taught Sunday school.
Growing up, Clinton said, she tried to reconcile her father's "self-reliance and independence" and mother’s "concerns about social justice and compassion."
As she has in the past, Clinton spoke of the importance of Don Jones, who led a youth group at the park Ridge church and became her spiritual mentor.
Jones, who died in 2009, helped open Clinton's eyes to injustice and gave her books to read and discuss. He brought Clinton and other teenagers to visit inner-city churches in Chicago, where all the teens would sing and read the Bible -- and discover that they were all very much the same.
"He was the first person that I’d ever met who taught me and my other young compatriots to embrace the idea of faith in action that is so central to our United Methodist creed," Clinton said Saturday.
Yvette Richards, president of the United Methodist Women, said Clinton declined an honorarium and paid her own travel expenses.
A lifelong Methodist, Clinton has spoken and written openly about her faith in the past but has not addressed it in recent years.
Clinton’s 1996 book “It Takes a Village and Other Lessons Children Teach Us” has an entire chapter devoted to religion, and speaks about how she and Bill Clinton were struck by the profound spiritual questions their daughter Chelsea and her friends raised. She also addressed the United Methodist General Conference in 1996.
“The Church was a critical part of my growing up, and in preparing for this event, I almost couldn't even list all the ways it influenced me, and helped me develop as a person, not only on my own faith journey, but with a sense of obligations to others,” she said in 1996, adding that Methodism “has been important to me for as long as I can remember.”
Burns Strider, who served as Clinton’s faith adviser during her 2008 presidential run, said Clinton hasn’t shied away from faith -- she’s just been very busy.
“She’s been out and about the planet working and doing things and speaking out, especially on things that Methodists would categorize as social justice issues,” Strider said. “And this is a homecoming.”
Clinton’s address coincides with the launch of Faith Voters for Hillary, a Web site established to woo voters of faith for Clinton should she run for president in 2016. It is a complement to the Twitter account @Faith4Hillary, which was created last year and has more than 34,000 followers.
The idea was the brainchild of Strider, who is vice president of the SuperPAC American Bridge, and Rick Hendrix, a Nashville businessman. Faith Voters for Hillary is going to start a PAC and is not affiliated with American Bridge or the “Ready for Hillary” effort.
Clinton also alluded Saturday to the initiatives she has undertaken, particularly as secretary of state and at the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation, to help others. She touched on efforts to reduce the rate of women who die while pregnant or giving birth and to help the victims of human trafficking, as well as the "No Ceilings" initiative to empower women that she launched last year.
The keynote address comes in a busy week for Clinton: In recent days, she has given a speech at the University of Connecticut and delivered in Boston what could be construed as a pep talk to herself ahead of a potential presidential run in 2016. She headed from Louisville to Sedona, Ariz., where she will participate in a conversation with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) at the McCain Institute for International Leadership. The Saturday afternoon event was closed to the press.