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Pan-Methodists re-evaluate board roles

Bishop Earl McCloud (left) of the African Methodist Episcopal Church listens to United Methodist Bishop Melvin Talbert during the March 6-8 meeting of the Pan-Methodist Commission. UMNS photos by Linda Green.

By Linda Green*
March 12, 2008 | LOUISVILLE, Ky. (UMNS)

Bishop Ann Sherer talks with Lula Howard during the meeting in Louisville.

The African Methodist Episcopal Church has withdrawn its support of a resolution affirming full communion with the other denominations in the Pan-Methodist Commission, and it is reconsidering having representatives on United Methodist agencies.

Speaking at the March 6-8 meeting of the Pan-Methodist Commission, Bishop Earl McCloud, the ecumenical officer for the AME Church, said the withdrawal was based on a series of events, primarily those that led up to the dismissal of the Rev. Larry Pickens as leader of The United Methodist Church's ecumenical agency.

Last November, the commission adopted a resolution affirming full communion and mutual support of the churches in the Pan-Methodist Commission. But since then, the bishop said, "I've changed my mind."

"I do not agree presently with the resolution and will not take it to our General Conference" for adoption, he said. Other pan-Methodist denominations will consider the resolution at their General Conference gatherings in 2008 and 2010.

The 40-member body includes representatives of The United Methodist Church and five historically African-American Methodist churches: the African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion, Christian Methodist Episcopal, Union American Methodist Episcopal and African Union Methodist Protestant denominations.

Established in 2000 by the top legislative bodies of the African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion, Christian Methodist and United Methodist churches, the commission works to foster cooperation among its member denominations in evangelism, missions, publications, social concerns and higher education.

Following the 2000 General Conference's Acts of Repentance, where The United Methodist Church apologized for actions that caused blacks to leave its predecessor churches in the 18th and 19th centuries, representatives of the historically black pan-Methodist churches were placed on the boards of directors of United Methodist agencies.

Those members who have served for eight years reported to the commission that their experiences had been educational and filled with opportunities to "see The United Methodist Church in action," said Juanita Bryant, a representative from the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.

Members who served on the Commission of Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns questioned the process that led to the dismissal of Pickens, who was the agency's first African-American chief executive. Last December, the three pan-Methodist representatives on that agency were unhappy enough with the process that they left the commission meeting after Pickens' dismissal.

No inkling

A chief concern, according to McCloud and Lula Howard of the AMEZ Church, was that the full commission never had a chance to vote specifically on whether to re-elect Pickens. "I never had an inkling to what was going on," Howard said.

Instead, members were presented with a motion from the commission's personnel committee to elect retired Bishop Fritz Mutti as the temporary leader and to initiate a search for Pickens' replacement.

"I was hurt," Howard said. "I have seen people dealt with on personnel issues before but never in the manner that this was handled." Her concern was whether Pickens, who had only been on the job four years, was being compared with his predecessor, who left at the end of 2003 after 17 years of service, including 13 years as its top executive. She also wondered if personal vendettas had led to Pickens' dismissal.

Nebraska Bishop Ann Sherer, president of the Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, said she could not legally talk about the process or personnel matters, but she told the commission that "our relationship with each another is vital." She said she wanted to find ways to address their concerns.

"We live in a culture which in essence is white privilege and racism, and I know that," Sherer said. "I also know that when you have an internal personnel process, you have to follow that process."

She added that the presence of pan-Methodists on the Christian Unity commission and other boards is needed. "You have made real contributions to our community."

Questions about roles

"It was a gracious invitation by the part of The United Methodist Church to ask us to serve, but I don't see our church becoming more involved in this. I'm questioning within my own heart and soul the real value since they (the United Methodists) have been doing this and we haven't, (and) whether it is something we ought to continue," McCloud said.

Some members of the Pan-Methodist Commission questioned their participation on the boards and agencies because it exposes them to some of the inner workings of a denomination.

Bishop Nathaniel Jarrett of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church preaches.

Others said that, because of different church structures, United Methodists have not yet been able to serve on the boards of the other pan-Methodist churches.

"While it is my responsibility to put AMEs there (on the United Methodist boards), I would do not that again," McCloud said. "There are some positives to this program, but I think the negatives outweigh the positives."

AMEZ Bishop Nathaniel Jarrett, the Pan-Methodist Commission's chairman, said the Pickens situation had adversely impacted the commission. He asked if pan-Methodist participation on United Methodist boards and agencies should be revisited in the future. "The intent was good and it may still be, but at some point we need to talk about it again," he said.

Byrd Bonner, a United Methodist representative to the commission , said the placement of pan-Methodists has been a mandate of The United Methodist Church for the last eight years, and "The United Methodist Church would be much less whole and led by the Holy Spirit" if AME representation was absent from the boards and agencies.

"Nobody ever thought it would be a bed of roses," he said, "but it is a two-way street." He added that stress points often lead to a deeper faith journey.

A snowstorm prevented Bishop Fritz Mutti, interim leader of the Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, from attending the meeting. In a March 10 letter to the Pan-Methodist Commission, he said, "Our relationships, strained as they are, still hold the possibility of reconciliation and hope for our four communions. I pray every day that God will bless our common effort and enable us to bear meaningful witness to our Lord Jesus Christ."

What the Lord requires

A highlight of each commission meeting is a community-wide worship service hosted by a pan-Methodist congregation. Broadway Temple African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church was the site of the March 7 gathering. Jarrett provided the keynote sermon.

Jarrett, who is retiring from the episcopacy this summer, used the service to give the commission its marching orders for the future. Basing a double question on Micah 6:8, he asked: What does the Lord require of you, and does the Lord require too much of us?

"The Lord has directed us to be where we need to be not only as a commission but as a Methodist people," he said. The commission has come full circle in its journey as a pan- Methodist organization seeking to understand the common ministry to which it has been called. "We find ourselves back where we started 29 years ago...."

The commission is the result of the merger of the Commission on Pan Methodist Cooperation and the Commission on Pan-Methodist Union. Since 1996, the commission has had an ongoing struggle around issues of cooperation and what union means.

In 2007, the bishops attending the Consultation of Methodist Bishops in Atlanta voted to remove the words "cooperation" and "union" from the commission's name, making it the Pan-Methodist Commission. The commission works under the vision of "One body, many members."

"Our aim at the beginning and our aim now is a cooperative ministry witnessing together as a people called Methodists," Jarrett said. For nearly 30 years, the commission members, in a variety of forms, have consulted, envisioned and worked together, but the commission may have been asking the wrong questions "in seeking answers that could never satisfy the longings of our souls," he said.

While commission members often wrestled with what was required and expected of one another, the question, Jarrett said, should have been: "What does the Lord require of us?"

The answer, he said, is to do justly, love mercy and kindness, and walk humbly with God. Jarrett proceeded to define and elaborate on each requirement and told the commission that God has something in store for it.

"The commission can't work it out, theologize it out or think it out," he said. "Why don't we do just do what the Lord requires, and if we meet his requirements, he will take us where we need to be and do for us what we need to have done."

In other activities, commission members:

  • Refined the commission's report to the 2008 General Conferences of the AME, AMEZ and UM churches and the 2010 General Conference of the CME church.
  • Updated the commission's "One Voice" brochure to include two communions – African Union Methodist Protestant and Union American Methodist Episcopal –that have joined the commission.
  • Scheduled the next meeting for Nov. 21-22 in Louisville, Ky., and named Quinn Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church as host for the community worship service.

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

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

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