Celebrating 50 years of The United Methodist Church

Over the next four months leading up to the 2018 Indiana Annual Conference Sessions, we will report on this new vision formed in 1968, the changes that came about due to the merger, and how it shapes who we are today as United Methodists. These accounts are a project of the Commission on Archives and History of the Indiana Conference. 

If you have questions or would like to contribute with comments or stories, please contact Riley Case, rbcase1@gmail.com.


 

(Barnes UMC, 1986) 

Recognizing 50 years of The United Methodist Church

The decision for the merger proved to be simple and clear. However, determining how the two denominations would function as one seemed daunting. Each of these faith traditions was complete with different rituals and structures, and the new denomination had to account and plan for connecting the resources and nuances of each of the preceding denominations. Preparing for this included looking at two sets of bishops, superintendents, and staff; two camping programs; two organizations for women; two youth organizations; two mission boards; two Sunday School publishing companies; hymn books; two pension programs; and much more.

These practical challenges far outweighed the theological and missional issues. Despite the fact that the two denominations shared a common Wesleyan theology and a universal episcopal system of church government, each had developed its own unique habits. Questions such as, "What do we call the group that does evangelism?", "How do we make appointments?", and "What hymns do we love best?" were also to be determined.     

The General Church structure in its entirety needed to be relaunched, complete with new boards and agencies. Additionally, new boundary lines for districts and conferences were established for the annual conferences. This issue was not a concern for areas with little EUB presence however, Indiana, like Ohio and Pennsylvania, had a strong history in the EUB. 

Throughout the many decisions, committees determined that the five Indiana conferences would reorganize as two. Together the two conferences would total 1,682 churches and 413,740 members. The prevailing philosophy for the new conferences was that this was a new church for a "modern" day and while it was good to maintain as many traditions as possible, the merger was an opportunity to start afresh with a new vision and new ways of doing things. 


Archives and History: Why the EUB & Methodist Union made good sense

The preceding groups that made up the two denominations shared a common heritage of pietism from Germany and fervor of revival from England. And doctrinal backgrounds of Arminian (Arminius was a Dutch theologian who questioned strict Calvinism) and Wesleyan (from John Wesley). While early leaders came from different denominational backgrounds — Francis Asbury originally Anglican; Philip Otterbein, German reformed (influenced by Mennonites); and Jacob Albright, a Lutheran influenced by Methodists. The leaders all shared a zeal of evangelism that transcended their denominational loyalties and ignited their followers. 

They represented the beginnings of what would be called in history “The Second Great Awakening.” Methodism was successful primarily among English-speaking people. But there were a number of German-speaking people concentrated primarily in Pennsylvania and the mid-Atlantic states who were also involved in the awakening. They were influenced by Methodist preaching but needed pastors who could minister in their own language. Philip Otterbein, who was a friend of Francis Asbury, helped to form a group known as the United Brethren in Christ. While Joseph Albright helped to form a group known as the Evangelical Association. Both churches were patterned after Methodist doctrine and polity (how the church is organized, in this case, with bishops).

For a number of years both the Evangelicals and the United Brethren reflected their German heritage and ministered largely to German-speaking people migrating to America. As the 19th century progressed, both groups, along with the Methodists, began to direct a religious culture influenced by revivalism and perhaps described best as American evangelicalism. 

It was soon realized that what groups held in common transcended what separated them. This commonality led to earlier mergers. In 1939 the Methodist Episcopal Church (the Northern church) and the Methodist Episcopal Church South and the Methodist Protestant Church united in a new denomination called “The Methodist Church.” In 1946 the United Brethren in Christ Church united with the Evangelical Church to form the Evangelical United Brethren Church (EUB). Even at that time, there were persons  who began to say: "Let's take the logical next step and unite with the Methodists."

By the 1960s the time was right.

These historical sketches are a project of the Commission on Archives and History of the Indiana Conference. If you wish to add comments and/or stories contact Riley Case, rbcase1@gmail.com.


What about doctrine?

As with any merger or union of large institutions challenges may arise in how the succeeding organization will operate and from which of the preceding organizations will it gain the bases of its practices. One the tricky issues to be worked out before the union of the Evangelical United Brethren and the Methodist Episcopal Church became official was doctrine. 

While both groups were Wesleyan, and in fact, both the United Brethren Church and the Evangelical Church had in their earliest days adopted Confessions of Faith with affirmations borrowed from the Methodist Articles of Religion, there were still some unique differences. Some EUBs assumed the new united church could merely write new Articles of Religion based on the two denominations' statements.

Not possible. The Methodist doctrinal standards were written into the Constitution by an action of the 1808 General Conference and could not be altered except by constitutional amendment (which would be almost impossible to accomplish).  A special and highly regarded commission was appointed in 1968 to find a solution. Headed by Dr. Albert Outler of Perkins the commission suggested that both the Methodist Articles of Religion (as well as Wesley's Sermons which are also part of the standards) and the EUB Confession of Faith be adopted as the doctrinal foundation for the new denomination.

But there was more: the commission prepared an interpretative statement entitled Our Theological Task to be included in the Discipline which would put the confessional statements in historical context and allow for new interpretations of doctrine. 

These suggestions were overwhelmingly approved at the 1972 General Conference by a vote of 923-17.  A number of new ideas were introduced to the church in the document, Our Theological Task.  

1) Pluralism: The church would allow for a variety of theological viewpoints to co-exist

2) The Quadrilateral: the authority in doctrinal matters would rest on a four-way test of Scripture, Tradition, Experience, and Reason

3) The Conciliar Principle: Just as the church universal (especially the Catholic Church) had depended on ecumenical councils to make authoritative (and sometimes new) interpretations of truth, so would United Methodist official councils such as the General Conference, would continually be able to make authoritative interpretations of doctrine (an example is our present statement on Baptism).

Within a few years the doctrinal statement would come under criticism.  Pluralism was coming to mean that "anything goes" and that United Methodists did not have standards in any meaningful sense. The quadrilateral seemed to downgrade the importance of Scripture and was being misused. The Conciliar Principle was not really part of the United Methodist ethos and no one could figure out how it was supposed to function.

In 1984 the General Conference appointed a new doctrinal task force to correct the frailties. The present statement was adopted at the 1988 General Conference. The word "pluralism" and the idea of conciliar principle disappeared. The quadrilateral was clarified so that Scripture was primary and tradition, experience, and reason were not independent sources of truth but were related to Scripture. Unlike the Articles of Religion, the statement Our Theological Task can be reviewed and amended by the General Conference.

These historical sketches are a project of the Commission on Archives and History of the Indiana Conference. Stay tuned. If you wish to add comments and stories, contact Riley Case, rbcase1@gmail.com.


The social creed

Social Principles - 1908

The Evangelical United Brethren and Methodist Episcopal Church merger took place at a time of great social upheaval (1968). 

A number of groups wanted the new united church to take a strong prophetic social stance in the times of student unrest, Woodstock, as well as the unpopular Vietnam war. While the EUBs had nothing similar to a Social Creed they did have resolutions and statements that appeared in EUB Disciplines. 

The Methodists, on the other hand, had operated on or off with a social creed ever since 1908, when an unofficial group called Methodists Federated for Social Service in the Northern church prepared a "creed" that was adopted by the General Conference and placed in the 1908 Discipline. The statement was perhaps more a statement of social principles than a creed. The thrust of the first creed was strongly about labor and economics: abolition of child labor, rights of workers, including release from employment one day in seven, and principles of arbitration and negotiation for workers. The creed was then adopted shortly after by the Federal Council of Churches and the Southern church.

In the 1920s and 30s the creed, still under the auspicious guide of the Methodist Federation, became highly critical of capitalism and as a result of a conservative backlash, the 1936 General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Protestant Church adopted no social creed at all.    

However, with the merger of three Methodist bodies in 1939 the social creed made another appearance. The Uniting Conference of 1940 adopted a creed with less stringent criticism of capitalism. Again, however, by 1952 the creed had again become controversial. The General Conference broke ties with the Methodist Federation and created a new board (the Board of Social and Economic Relations) to shepherd the creed.

When the merger talks began between EUBs and Methodists, there was tremendous excitement about using the merger as an opportunity to address socially and morally the Church's positions in the rapidly changing social scene of the 1960s.  Though the EUBs did not have a history of a unified statement on social issues they were as enthusiastic as the Methodists in the development of something new.

Bishop James Thomas chaired the Commission on Social Principles that would guide the newly unified United Methodist Church. The new statement differed from all previous statements in that it was labeled Social Principles. It started with a theological preamble and ended with a short creed-like statement appropriate for congregational worship.  It is fair to say that no legislation before the 1972 General Conference generated more debate, discussion, and revision than the Social Principles statement.   

When finally adopted it was considered progressive and forward-looking. The United Methodist Church was the first major Protestant denomination to have a thorough and comprehensive statement on the principles that informed church thinking in moral and social issues.

In light of the present discussions in the church on human sexuality, the Social Principles addressed for the first time the matter of sexual orientation with a strong statement supporting the sacred worth of all persons. It was at that time an amendment from the floor added a sentence which stated: "However, the practice of homosexuality is not compatible with Christian teaching." And because of this amendment, much debate is fueled by what seems to be contradictory language. This statement continues to be near the center of the challenges facing denomination and the work of the Commission on the Way Forward and how the Church addresses the matter of human sexuality.    

These historical sketches are a project of the Commission on Archives and History of the Indiana Conference. If you wish to add comments and/or stories contact Riley Case, rbcase1@gmail.com


The EUB - Methodist union and the Central Jurisdiction

United Methodists across the Indiana Conference will observe the 50th anniversary of the unification of the Evangelical United Brethren and Methodist Churches, held in 1968. One of the major developments that came about as the result of the merger was the elimination of the Central Jurisdiction of the Methodist Church. The Central Jurisdiction helped in organizing black Methodist churches that existed alongside, but separate, from the main body of predominantly white conferences in the United States.

This arrangement came about as the result of the 1939 merger of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church South, and the Methodist Protestant (MP) Church. In the days of segregation, the Central Jurisdiction was seen as a convenient compromise in the plan of unifying the two churches to make the merger more palatable to the concerns of the South.

The Methodists were the first denomination to successfully reach and Christianize blacks in America, both slave and free. Methodist camp meetings were likely the first institution in America where blacks and whites could congregate on more or less equal terms. But racial injustice was, and is, hard to overcome. As blacks were made to feel like second-class citizens, though they were brothers and sisters of the Church, two primarily black groups withdrew from the Methodist Episcopal Church to form new denominations — the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) in the New York area, and the African Methodist Church Zion in the Philadelphia area. Despite these losses, blacks still made up 20% of the Methodist Episcopal membership by 1820. In 1870, the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (CME), another black Methodist denomination, was formed by freed slaves. Launched with 67,889 members, the denomination grew to 366,613 by 1922.       

By 1964, African American Methodist membership totaled 373,395. Since the unification of the Evangelical United Brethrens and the Methodists would require extensive restructuring, it was only logical to reevaluate the inequity of the Central Jurisdiction model and move to full inclusion of black churches in the newly formed geographical conferences. 

In the early 1960s, black churches of the Lexington Conference had already merged into the Indiana conferences. In other parts of the country, the churches were merged into the geographical conferences in the years between 1968-1972.   

These historical sketches are a project of the Commission on Archives and History of the Indiana Conference. If you wish to add comments and/or stories contact Riley Case, rbcase1@gmail.com


Local Communities

As we continue to remember and mark the 50th anniversary of the unification of the Evangelical United Brethren( EUB) and Methodist Churches to form The United Methodist Church, we recognize the opportunities created throughout our local churches as two denominations became one. 

Throughout the country, the Methodist presence overwhelmed the EUB. However, Indiana’s rich history demonstrated a more balanced presence that presented years of fruitful ministry in both EUB and Methodist congregations. The unification of the two now provided Indiana with 1,682 churches and 413,740 members. 

As the denomination began to live into its new identity, questions emerged on how to move forward in areas where multiple EUB and Methodist congregations existed. For instance, smaller towns such as Claypool, Indiana with a population of 458 was home to both an EUB church and Methodist, just blocks apart. Larger communities also posed challenges. In Elkhart, a city of 43,000, now had 14 congregations with 14 pastors making up their own ministerial association. 

The main challenge presented was the fact that despite there being many churches, a large number of churches were no longer strategically located. Areas existed where there were abundances of churches but not an abundance of people and vice versa. 

As these concerns were brought up during committee meetings, the interest of good stewardship presented a need to merge churches or yoke parishes. This endeavor came with mixed results. However, a successful merger in Elkhart between four churches in close proximity proved to be most fruitful. The congregations of former Methodist Protestant, Grace, former Methodist Episcopal, Simpson, former Evangelical, Albright, and former United Brethren, Good Shepherd joined together to form a new church start in Concord Township, Faith United Methodist Church, which came under the direction of Rev. Larry Kurtz and Rev. Frank Beard, who now serves as the bishop of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference. Today, the congregation worships nearly 500 persons each Sunday. 
 

Text in image: 

United Bretheren among earliest settlers in eastern

Indiana during territorial period. Original structure,

built in 1831, one of first United Bretherren

churches in Indiana. Evangelical United Bretheren

Church joined Methodist Church to become United

Methodist Church, 1968. Listed in National Register

of Historic Places, 1995.

 

These historical sketches are a project of the Commission on Archives and History of the Indiana Conference. If you wish to add comments and/or stories contact Riley Case, rbcase1@gmail.com