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‘Invisible’ church joins Pan-Methodist commission

 


‘Invisible’ church joins Pan-Methodist commission

Nov. 23, 2004      

By Linda Green*

DALLAS (UMNS) — A little-known historically black Methodist denomination has joined a group of other Methodist traditions working to foster cooperation and unity.

The Union American Methodist Episcopal Church joined the Commission on Pan-Methodist Cooperation and Union during the commission’s Nov. 19-21 meeting. The Union American denomination has been described as an “invisible strand” of African Methodism, and its roots parallel the three better-known black Methodist churches.

The 6,000-member church has congregations in the New England states, Jamaica and Liberia. It was founded in 1805 by Peter Spencer and William Anderson, both lay preachers, who led 40 blacks out of predominantly white Asbury Methodist Church in Wilmington, Del. 
 
The church began in the same way as other African Methodist traditions in the United States, with members being denied the rights of prayer and communion and suffering racial injustices, said Bishop Linwood Rideout, one of three bishops in the Union American Methodist Episcopal Church. The other bishop in attendance was Michael Molder.

“We were first known as the Church of Africans,” Rideout said. “We are known as an invisible strand of African Methodism because our founder was never given the recognition that he deserved.” 

Rideout said joining the commission is important because his church will become more acquainted with other Methodist bodies, and those will become familiar with “our rich heritage, our history.”   

The Union American church’s polity is similar to those of the African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion, Christian Methodist Episcopal and United Methodist churches, he said. “We are Methodists. Our polity is not too far from your Book of Discipline. It is derived from Methodists. We had a Methodist founder.”

According to “Invisible” Strands in African Methodism, written by Lewis V. Baldwin in 1983, “one of the most serious gaps in our knowledge of Afro-American religious history is our almost total ignorance of the African Union Methodist Protestant and Union American Methodist Episcopal Churches.” While both denominations have been in the mid-Atlantic region since the early 19th century, scholars, as well as professional church historians, sociologists and theologians, are not fully aware of their existence, Baldwin wrote. 

The churches, he wrote, have survived their histories as invisible branches within the larger sphere of African Methodism. While the African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion and Christian Methodist Episcopal churches are more recognized at national and global levels, the churches founded by Peter Spencer “remained both small and regional,” he noted.

After hearing about the Union church, the commission overwhelmingly welcomed it into membership.

“It is important to be visible and get to know other branches of Methodism and get to know brothers and sisters whose faith is based on the same thing,” Rideout said.

The 38-member commission has nine representatives from four strands of American Methodism – African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion, Christian Methodist Episcopal and United Methodist. Established by the 2000 general conferences of each denomination, the group consists of two subcommittees – program ministries and union – that do the commission’s work.

United Methodist participation in the Commission on Pan-Methodist Cooperation and Union is supported in part by the Interdenominational Cooperation Fund. This fund nurtures the denomination’s work in ecumenism through the commission as well as the ministries of Churches Uniting in Christ; the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA; the World Council of Churches; and the World Methodist Council.

The commission’s goals are spelled out in its mission statement: “As members of the family of Methodism, we are called to move toward union by redefining and strengthening our relationship in Jesus Christ.” The group works to foster cooperation among its member denominations in evangelism, missions, publications, social concerns and higher education.

The commission has had an ongoing struggle around issues related to union – what union is, what it would look like and how to proceed toward it. That continued to be the case at the group’s Nov. 19-21 meeting, but the commission affirmed its commitment to explore where God is leading it.

Commission members adopted “Beyond Repentance: Creating Communities of Peace and Justice” as their theme for the next four years. The theme alludes to the acts of repentance services that United Methodists carried out at their 2000 General Conference and at annual conference gatherings.
 
The commission will spend its energies on what the member churches can do together, said Bishop E. Earl McCloud of Atlanta, the group’s chairperson and a leader in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

During a community worship service at Smith Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, United Methodist Bishop Violet Fisher challenged the commission and the members of its churches to “get up and step out.”

In a sermon on “Living on the Edge of Possibility,” Fisher expressed her understanding that God participates in everyday experiences and situations and has a plan for both the church and the Commission on Pan-Methodist Cooperation and Union. 

She noted that God sent Moses to deliver the Israelites from bondage, and he led the people into the Promised Land. In that vein, she told the commission to move beyond what it can see and understand and trust God on the journey.

She told the Methodists that they can no longer be sideline Christians in a main street world.  For too long, negative factors such as lack of resources and loss of membership have been viewed by some people as impediments to ministry.

“God is calling the church to stand up. God is calling us to take our place in society and to move forward,” she said. Living on the edge of possibility, she said, means embracing new visions.

“God is calling us to stand in new places, to write new visions and dream new dreams,” she said. “We must therefore arise to the occasion. We must not allow the threat or challenges of any kind — social or political — to intimidate us.”


*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

 


 

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