United Methodist Church Is Formed Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church, both formed by earlier mergers of Methodist congregations, met in general conference in Dallas and combined their churches to form the United Methodist Church in 1968.

Summary of Event

The United Methodist Church (UMC) was formed in Dallas, Texas, on April 23, 1968, with the merger of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church Evangelical United Brethren Church (EUBC) in the United States. Both churches had their origins in the Protestant Methodist movement in England, a movement founded by John Wesley. Wesley is considered the founding father of American Methodism as well. After visiting the first Methodist churches in colonial America, he sent preachers from England to help the churches grow. He soon appointed Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke as the first two American Methodist bishops. United Methodist Church Methodist Church [kw]United Methodist Church Is Formed (Apr. 23, 1968) [kw]Methodist Church Is Formed, United (Apr. 23, 1968) [kw]Church Is Formed, United Methodist (Apr. 23, 1968) United Methodist Church Methodist Church [g]North America;Apr. 23, 1968: United Methodist Church Is Formed[09750] [g]United States;Apr. 23, 1968: United Methodist Church Is Formed[09750] [c]Religion, theology, and ethics;Apr. 23, 1968: United Methodist Church Is Formed[09750] [c]Organizations and institutions;Apr. 23, 1968: United Methodist Church Is Formed[09750] Wesley, John Asbury, Francis Coke, Thomas Mueller, Reuben H. Outler, Albert Cook Wicke, Lloyd C.

Schisms and divisions occurred within the growing American Methodist movement because of social, cultural, and political differences. A major schism developed after German-speaking congregations separated from the main institution and organized the Church of the United Brethren in Christ. All the various churches throughout Methodism’s history, however, generally followed the Wesleyan Methodist doctrines and beliefs.

The movement toward reunifying American Methodists in 1968 began early in the twentieth century with two significant mergers. First, on May 10, 1939, the Methodist Protestant Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church, North and South, formed the Methodist Church. Second, in 1946 the United Brethren in Christ reunited with the Evangelical Church to form the EUBC. In 1956 the two congregations began negotiations that would culminate in the 1968 formation of the UMC.

Negotiations for reunification took twelve years, in part because church leaders had to decide how to organize and govern such a large church (about eleven million members at the time). Leaders had to define a common theology, and they had to reach agreement on the church’s positions on social and political issues. A major concern was the all-black central jurisdiction of the Methodist Church. The EUBC rejected any plan that retained practices of racial segregation. Finally, it was agreed that the united church would disband the central jurisdiction and abolish segregation at the annual conference level within four years (by the 1972 general conference). These agreements helped clear the way for the proposed merger to be the order of business for the 1968 general conference.

Bishop Lloyd C. Wicke led the delegates representing the Methodist Church, and Bishop Reuben H. Mueller headed the delegation from the EUBC. The Methodist Church delegates voted 749-40 for merger, and the EUBC voted 325-88 for merger, thus creating the UMC. Work began immediately. Attendees first had to approve the constitution that was adopted in 1966, and do so in accordance with negotiated agreements. (UMC was made into an organization that mirrored the structure of the U.S. government, with legislative, executive, and judiciary branches.) The general conference was designated the legislative body and given sole authority to speak for the UMC. Changes in the constitution and laws of the church made by this body would be recorded in The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, The (religious text) which would be revised and reissued every four years (following each general conference). Any nonlegislative resolutions passed by the general conference, which provide guidance to the churches but are not considered church law, would be recorded in The Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church, Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church, The (religious text) likewise revised after each conference. All resolutions would expire after eight years unless passed again by subsequent general conferences.

The United States region was divided into five jurisdictions: northeastern, southeastern, north central, south central, and western. The main purpose of the jurisdictional conferences, scheduled to be held every four years, was to elect and appoint bishops, who would, as one body, act as the executive branch of the church. An elected bishop would be chief administrator over the annual conferences of local churches within his or her established episcopal area. The resident bishop of an annual conference area becomes the official supervisor of all personnel—clergy, ordained elders, and deacons, in whatever ministry they were appointed—within that conference. Overall, the UMC council of bishops would supervise the business and temporal practices, as well as spiritual interests, of the entire church. A nine-member judicial council was created as the judiciary branch, or supreme court, of the church, set to rule on cases involving ordained clergy, elders, or deacons who violate church law as set forth in the UMC constitution and The Book of Discipline.

Albert Cook Outler, a noted Wesleyan scholar who had taught at Yale, Duke, and Southern Methodist Universities, was appointed to lead the team that developed UMC’s official statement of theology. The theological documents embodied in the Doctrinal Standards of the United Methodist Church include the Twenty-five Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church, the Confession of Faith, the General Rules of Methodist Societies, and Wesley’s Sermons on Several Occasions. Sermons on Several Occasions (Wesley) The church recognized two sacraments: baptism and open communion.

The basic beliefs of the church were defined thus: God exists as a Trinity—Father, Son (the Lord Jesus Christ), and Holy Spirit; holy Scripture, that is, the Old and New Testaments, constitute the inspired word of God; and salvation comes from God by divine grace through faith. The UMC general rules require members to obey the edicts of God the Almighty Father, abstain from activities prohibited by God’s laws, and actively engage in activities that promote the social and spiritual welfare of all people.

The general conference of 1968 committed the UMC to active promotion of civil rights and social welfare. The conference also established a general commission on religion and race relations to oversee the merger process and to ensure that no persons were excluded from membership on the basis of race, color, national origin, or economic status. A social principles study commission was appointed to develop a social creed or statement of social principles, or both, for the church, to be adopted at the 1972 general conference. UMC allocated $25 million for world service and $20 million for a reconciliation fund to further promote unity among all Methodist groups.

Significance

After 1968, UMC sought to serve human needs by establishing and maintaining seminaries, other educational institutions, hospitals, orphanages, community centers, and summer camps. The church established and funded missions in more than one hundred countries by the end of the twentieth century. UMC also joined in the worldwide ecumenical efforts of the National Council of the Churches of Christ and the World Council of Churches.

The social creed commissioned by the 1968 conference was adopted at the next general conference (1972) and was published in all successive issues of The Book of Discipline and The Book of Resolutions. The creed affirmed the church’s objectives to promote civil rights, social welfare, the rule of law and justice, and individual freedom. In addition to the permanent commission on religion and race relations, UMC formed commissions on the status and role of women, United Methodist men, and Christian unity and interreligious concerns, all charged with helping to formulate church policy on social and cultural issues in relation to church law.

From its inception in 1968, UMC has steadily moved away from its strict Wesleyan discipline toward more liberal positions on social and political issues, a move that has caused controversy among liberal and conservative Methodists in the local churches. The most controversial issue has been same-gender unions. Lesbians and gays have been welcomed as members in churches, and some have been ordained to serve in the ministries, but clergy who perform same-gender marriages have been held to be in violation of church law. Other divisive issues include the church’s pro-choice position on abortion, its program of aiding convicted sex offenders, and its support for gun-control laws. Continuing conflict over these issues has threatened the unity achieved by the merger in 1968. United Methodist Church Methodist Church

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Andrews, Dee E. The Methodists and Revolutionary America, 1760-1800. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000. Traces the development of Methodism in America from its roots in English Methodism, including the churches established by German-speaking people in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jones, Donald G. The Sectional Crisis and Northern Methodism: A Study in Piety, Political Ethics, and Civil Religion. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1979. Discusses social and moral controversies in which the Methodists have been involved.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kirby, James E., et al. The Methodists. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1996. Connects the founding of the United Methodist Church with John and Charles Wesley’s Methodist movement in England.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Matthews, Rex D. Time Tables of History for Students of Methodism. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 2007. A comprehensive history of the Methodist movement, written especially for students. Places in context the social, political, and cultural history of Methodism, from 1700 to 2004.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Melton, J. Gordon. The Encyclopedia of American Religions. Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research, 1999. Sets forth the groups and basic tenets of American Methodists along with other religious institutions.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Norwood, Frederick Abbott. The Story of American Methodism: A History of the United Methodists and Their Relations. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 1989. Recounts the leadership, formation of churches, growth, divisions, and mergers of American Methodists.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rowe, Kenneth E. The Place of Wesley in the Christian Tradition. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1976. Series of scholarly essays celebrating the publication of the Oxford edition of the works of John Wesley.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Tuell, Jack M. The Organization November 9, 2006, of the United Methodist Church. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 1973. Defines the founding mission, beliefs, policies, and organizational structure of UMC.

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