Home > Our World > News > News Archives by Date > News Archive 2007 > June 2007 > News - June 2007
Pastor recalls historic Uniting Conference of 1968

A UMNS Report
By John A. Lovelace*
June 11, 2007      

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
and History.

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.

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 binding words:

"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."

Historic assembly

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. 

A delegate speaks during a plenary session of the historic assembly. A UMNS photo courtesy of the General Commission on Archives and History. 

"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."

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 magazines Christian Advocate and Together recorded the celebrated events. Also shown is a Uniting Conference delegate handbook. A UMNS photo by
John Lovelace.

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 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 began.

A young guest listens along with delegates to the proceedings. A UMNS photo
courtesy of the General Commission
on Archives and History.

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.

"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 'maybe.'"

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."

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
John Lovelace.

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 Methodism.

"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 newsdesk@umcom.org .

Related Audio

Voting Session, 1968 Uniting Conference

Dramatic Musical Presentation, 1968 Uniting Conference


United Methodist Commission on Archives and History

General Conference 2008

Ask Now

This will not reach a local church, district or conference office. InfoServ* staff will answer your question, or direct it to someone who can provide information and/or resources.


*InfoServ ( about ) is a ministry of United Methodist Communications located in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. 1-800-251-8140

Not receiving a reply?
Your Spam Blocker might not recognize our email address. Add this address to your list of approved senders.

Would you like to ask any questions about this story?ASK US NOW

Original text