|Pastor recalls historic Uniting Conference of 1968|
A UMNS Report
By John A. Lovelace*
June 11, 2007
When The United Methodist Church celebrates its 40th anniversary in
2008, it will have "traveled" 30 miles-from its 1968 birthplace in the
Dallas Convention Center to the Fort Worth Convention Center, the site
of the 2008 General Conference.
Evangelical United Brethren Church Bishop Reuben H. Mueller
(left) and Methodist Bishop Lloyd C. Wicke join hands on April 23, 1968,
at the Uniting Conference forming The United Methodist Church. A UMNS
photo courtesy of the General Commission on Archives
Few people can recall the scene on April 23, 1968, when the 10.3
million-member Methodist Church and the 750,000-member Evangelical
United Brethren Church united to become The United Methodist Church.
The Rev. R. Bruce Weaver of Dallas has a unique perspective on the
Uniting Conference of 1968 and the 40 years that have followed.
As a district superintendent in the Fort Worth-based Methodist
Central Texas Conference, he was a first-time delegate to General
Conference and also chaired his conference's delegation that spring.
"There were five of us," he recalls. "The other four were all
seasoned veterans in the conference, and I felt mighty insignificant in
their presence. I had lots of learning and growing up to do in a few
short months. It was a thrilling journey and provided an opportunity to
learn more about The Methodist Church."
Historic photographs captured the moment when Methodist Bishop Lloyd
C. Wicke and EUB Bishop Reuben H. Mueller clasped hands over a table
laden with symbolic documents: Holy Scripture, hymnals, the Book of Discipline, Book of Worship
and the 307-page Plan of Union. In unison, the two bishops, 1,300
delegates and upwards of 10,000 visitors and guests recited these
"Lord of the Church, we are united in Thee, in Thy Church and now in The United Methodist Church. Amen."
Bishop James K. Mathews later called it "one of the great church assemblies of the (20th) century."
According to Weaver, becoming accustomed to using the name 'The
United Methodist Church' was a bit challenging because of the concern
that the Evangelical United Brethren Church would get lost among the
Methodist Church folk.
"As I recall, not much opposition arose, especially in the South," he
said. "There was only one EUB congregation in the Dallas-Fort Worth
Area, Trinity church in Wichita Falls. Serving in Wichita Falls later, I
learned that Trinity United Methodist Church had made the adjustment
probably better than most members from the former Methodist Church."
A delegate speaks during a plenary session of the historic
assembly. A UMNS photo courtesy of the General Commission on Archives
To catch a glimpse of what that "great assembly" faced and what it
accomplished, no source excels the pages of the two former churchwide
periodicals-the family-oriented monthly Together magazine and the bi-weekly Christian Advocate magazine for ordained clergy.
In an advance story in April 1968, F. Paige Carlin, then managing editor of Together,
noted that the new church would be "the second largest and most truly
national in distribution of members throughout the country." He said the
Uniting Conference also faced challenges such as the issues of the
Vietnam War, black power, poverty, crime, urban unrest, violence,
revolutionary changes in popular morality, and the crisis of the rich
versus the poor around the world.
Carlin pointed out that uniting the two churches had been "in the
making" almost 10 years and that General Conferences of the two churches
separately had approved the Plan of Union in 1966, leaving tidying up
to a joint union committee headed by Methodist layman/attorney Charles
Parlin of New York and EUB clergyman Paul Washburn, who became a bishop.
The magazine's July 1968 issue carried a full report from Dallas under
the headline "A Union-and Much More." It was described as "the largest
religious merger in U.S. history."
The magazines Christian Advocate and Together recorded the celebrated events. Also shown is a Uniting Conference delegate handbook. A UMNS photo by
"The feeling of unity was not dissipated," Together magazine
reported, "in subsequent days of sometimes heated debate" by Uniting
Conference delegates. The article said lines were not divided along
Methodist and EUB lines, but between progressives and conservatives from
both churches. Special interest groups identified included Methodists
for Church Renewal, dating to 1964, and Black Methodists for Church
Renewal, organized earlier in 1968.
The ordained clergy's Christian Advocate issue of May 16,
1968, editorialized that two themes dominated actions of the Uniting
Conference: church renewal and world missions. It also noted creation of
the new churchwide Commission on Religion and Race and the expected
naming of an African American as its general secretary, the first of his
race to head a general church agency in either denomination. The Rev.
Woodie W. White soon was chosen to head Religion and Race, and he was
elected a bishop in 1984.
The magazine observed that flags of 53 countries adorning the Dallas
Convention Center represented the reach of United Methodist work. Editor
James M. Wall commented that the uniting service principal speaker, Dr.
Albert C. Outler from Perkins School of Theology, displayed his "usual
salty wit" in likening the uniting of two churches to Pentecost and in
apologizing for the absence of fire and glossolalia.
Looking back, looking ahead
Late in the conference, delegates realized that the work of actual
uniting could not be completed in 1968. A special session of General
Conference was approved for 1970 to last only five days and have a
budget of $500,000. It later met in St. Louis.
Bishop Eugene M. Frank of the St. Louis area delivered the final
sermon, and Bishop William C. Martin of Texas pronounced the
benediction. Then the 40-year, 30-mile trek from Dallas to Fort Worth
The gathering morphed from being the Uniting Conference to constituting
the new denomination's first General Conference. A significant
difference was a cutback in the number of delegates from 1,300
representing the two separate churches-1,000 Methodists, 300 EUBs-to
1,000, the maximum in former Methodist practice. Seated on that final
day were 850 former Methodists and 130 former EUBs.
A young guest listens along with delegates to the proceedings. A UMNS photo
courtesy of the General Commission
on Archives and History.
"My observation now is that very few current members know much about
the merger, especially in the southern United States," Weaver said,
adding that it took time for the pension boards and other agencies to
merge, but they eventually did.
"The question today is: 'Was it helpful to both groups, given the
fact that we now have about 4 million fewer members combined than was in
both groups in 1968?'" Weaver asked. "My observation after 40 years is
Other concerns facing the church in 1968 focused on restructure of boards and agencies-issues still under discussion today.
According to Weaver, perhaps the concerns then could have been better
addressed just as they should be addressed in 2008. "Spend the time,
energy and funds on making disciples for Jesus Christ," he said. "I
wonder how much continually restructuring the denomination during the
past 40 years has contributed to the erosion of membership."
Noting that it is destructive to hold on to the past, Weaver said there
were those in1968 who tried to protect vested interests in cultural and
racial power. Even though the segregated Central Jurisdiction was
eliminated, many delegates used parliamentary procedures and local
structures to inhibit the merger of several racial influences in
The Fort Worth Convention Center, 30 miles from the birthplace
of The United Methodist Church, is the site of the church's 2008
legislative assembly. A UMNS photo by
"Looking toward the 2008 General Conference in Fort Worth, I sense
that whereas 'unity' was a primary focus in 1968, dissension,
divisiveness and scrambling for power will be at the center of all
debates on the various issues of the church. It would seem that we in
the church would take our cue from Jesus and learn to respect each other
with love and peace toward all," Weaver said.
"Perhaps all of United Methodism should recover John Wesley's
Aldersgate Street experience reported in his own words: 'While he was
describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in
Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed.' May that be our hope and
prayer for the delegates assembling in Fort Worth in 2008."
*Lovelace, who has covered eight General Conferences of The United
Methodist Church, covered the April 23, 1968 uniting service as an
associate editor of Fort Worth-based All-Church Press, a
nondenominational newspaper for local churches. He joined the General
Church Periodicals staff in 1968 as news editor of Together and Christian Advocate magazines and in 1973 was founding editor of NEWSCOPE. He joined the United Methodist Reporter staff in 1981 and retired as editor in 1997.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com .
Voting Session, 1968 Uniting Conference
Dramatic Musical Presentation, 1968 Uniting Conference
United Methodist Commission on Archives and History
General Conference 2008