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Methodists celebrate ‘invisible’ church


Church leaders from the member denominations of the Pan-Methodist Commission celebrate worship March 20 during their meeting in Wilmington, Del.
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 well.

 
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 education.

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 somewhere.”

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.


Jerald McKie
    

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 churches.

“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 Commission.

“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 connected.”

*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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Pan-Methodist commission urges 'full communion'

Resources

Pan-Methodist Commission

African Methodist Episcopal Church

African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church

Christian Methodist Episcopal Church

Union American Methodist Episcopal Church

The United Methodist Church

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