|Methodists celebrate ‘invisible’ church|
Church leaders from the member denominations of the Pan-Methodist
Commission celebrate worship March 20 during their meeting in
A UMNS photo courtesy of Mary Love.
A UMNS Report
By Linda Green*
April 30, 2009
The Union American Methodist Episcopal Church, a centuries-old black
Methodist denomination little noticed in church history, is alive and
Bishop Linwood Rideout
If there were any doubts, they were put to rest by the 1,000 church
members and friends who greeted the Pan-Methodist Commission in worship
and fellowship at its recent meeting in Wilmington, Del.
“We are not invisible,” said Bishop Linwood Rideout, one of three
bishops of the Union American Methodist Episcopal Church. “I don’t know
why people have not recognized our church, but we know that God has
recognized us because we are here and have been here for 196 years and
the church is alive and doing well.”
The commission came to Delaware to provide solidarity with and
affirmation to the African Methodist denomination founded by Peter
Spencer in 1805 in the mid-Atlantic region of the country. The Union
American church, whose roots parallel other well-known black Methodist
bodies, was introduced as an “invisible strand” of African Methodism in
a 1983 book by Lewis V. Baldwin.
Rideout said the commission’s arrival to his region was historic and
two-fold. It was the first time the 42-member body visited the area and
connected its black Methodist churches and The United Methodist Church
to the Union church. In 1813, the church, formerly known as the Union
Church of the Africans, became the first black incorporated church in
the Wilmington area. It began in the same way as other African
Methodist churches in the United States, with members suffering from
racial injustice and being denied the rights of prayer and communion.
Spencer organized 31 churches and erected a school for each church
before his death in 1843. While other African American Methodist bodies
moved across the country and then the globe, Spencer’s vision for his
church was relatively contained in the Delaware area, the bedrock of
the Methodist movement. Today, the 6000-member church has congregations
in New York, Connecticut, Canada, Delaware, Jamaica and Liberia.
Bishop Violet Fisher
“It is a great opportunity for our church to be more so discovered,”
Rideout said of the recent worship service and of the Pan-Methodist
Commission. “We have been in the lowlight for a long time but now since
the commission visited, we are on the map.
Jerald McKie of New York, a United Methodist member of the
commission since 1988, agreed. “A lot of people do not know about Peter
Spencer and his churches and it was wonderful to be in their place and
see the large number of people who were interested in the commission
and to meet the Union American Methodist Episcopal Church.”
The Pan-Methodist Commission was established in 1985 with
representatives from The African Methodist Episcopal Church, The
African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, The Christian Methodist
Episcopal Church and The United Methodist Church for the purpose of
exploring ways to cooperate and be a Methodist voice in the world. It
works to foster cooperation among its member denominations in
evangelism, missions, publications, social concerns and higher
The Union Church joined the commission four years ago. The African
Union Methodist Protestant Church, which split from the Union Church
over church politics, also joined the commission at the same time.
“Meeting different people in the different Methodist branches is
very enlightening,” Rideout said. Since the commission is about finding
ways of cooperating, he wants the entities “to come together as the
Methodist family and really challenge some of these problems that face
our communities.” He describes the commission as a worthy endeavor and
envisions it “doing what the Lord is calling us to do and unify
efforts, gifts, money, and everything we have to make a difference
An initiative on children and poverty is an ongoing cooperative
venture for the commission, which has provided booklets and seminary
programs. A $9000 collection taken during the Pan Methodist worship
service at St Paul UAME Church will aid the initiative’s emphasis on
children, domestic violence and breast cancer and a foundation or
structure for Pan Methodist seminary scholarships is being developed.
In addition, commission members also sent Bibles to the first
daughters, Sasha and Malia Obama.
Bishop Violet Fisher, Wilmington, retired, who was nurtured by both
the Union Church and African Union church when she began preaching and
teaching in 1962, was joyful that more Methodists, through the
commission, would become aware of the work and ministry of the
“I am so exited and elated that the commission wanted to come and
showed their affirmation for their sister bodies,” Fisher said. She was
the catalyst, who brought the two denominations to the attention of the
United Methodist Council of Bishops and to the Pan Methodist
“Those two churches have been an intricate part of my life. . .and
have been hospitable and supportive of my ministry as an evangelist,”
Fisher said. The original church of the African Union Methodist
Protestant Church was founded in the home of the mother of Fisher’s
godmother in West Chester, Pa. Fisher became a United Methodist pastor
in 1985 and was elected a bishop in 2000.
“I felt that we could not leave out a part of our body. They are a
part of our body and they are so excited about the commission,” she
said. “The commission is going to be blessed because all have
*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Linda Green, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
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African Methodist Episcopal Church
African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church
Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
Union American Methodist Episcopal Church
The United Methodist Church