United Methodists continue 'repentance' actions
2/12/2003 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York
By United Methodist News ServiceIn
2000, United Methodists officially pledged to follow a path toward
racial healing when the denomination's top legislative body, General
Conference, adopted the "Act of Repentance for Racism."
the 2004 General Conference draws near, the United Methodist Commission
on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, which sponsored the Act
of Repentance, is encouraging the denomination's annual (regional)
conferences to continue to respond to that call through both study and
The two major action items from the Act of Repentance
are the call for local congregations to engage in study sessions using
the commission's study guide, Steps Toward Wholeness: Learning and
Repentance, and for each annual conference to hold a liturgical act of
Actual participation by conferences "varies from
those who have done practically nothing to those who are taking it very
seriously," according to Ruth Daugherty, a former commission member who
is serving as a consultant for the project.
By the end of 2002,
31 annual conferences already had held an Act of Repentance worship
service. Another 29 have scheduled such services for their yearly
gatherings this spring and summer, and at least two are planning
services for 2004. Only two conferences have not yet indicated when they
will have the service, Daugherty said.
"Some of the conferences
have really been astounding in their plans," she added. The New England
Conference, for example, will present a policy statement at its annual
conference in June "which would give steps for various organizations and
groupings in the conference to continue work for reconciliation," she
Anne Marshall, an executive with the Commission on
Christian Unity, said she encourages conferences and local churches to
use the study guide before having the worship service when possible.
purpose of the study guide is to both acknowledge how church structures
have perpetuated racism and to learn to build bridges of trust and
understanding among people of various cultures. Ideally, groups of six
to 12 people each meet for six sessions for study and discussion. The
end result is to make "a commitment to continue the journey toward
wholeness" and determine what actions can facilitate that goal.
2000 resolution, "Act of Repentance for Racism," points out that the
United Methodist Church and its predecessors "have perpetuated the sin
of racism" for years and need to make amends for that institutionalized
racism, particularly against African Americans.
It was racism,
for example, that drove African Americans from Methodist churches as
long ago as 1787 and led them to form the African Methodist Episcopal,
African Methodist Episcopal Zion and Christian Methodist Episcopal
denominations. Even those who stayed were segregated further through the
establishment of the Central Jurisdiction in 1939, a non-geographic
jurisdiction that was abolished in 1968.
Many conferences have
featured speakers from the historic black denominations as part of their
liturgical act of repentance for racism. In the Desert Southwest
Conference, for example, the Rev. Benjamin Thomas, pastor of Tanner
Chapel AME Church in Phoenix, dared everyone present to "take this
evening beyond this room." The Northwest Texas and Florida conferences
also featured the history of American Methodism and of African-American
members in their worship services.
In North Alabama, Bishop
Robert Fannin told the Act of Repentance worship participants how the
event's planning team, meeting in the conference center cabinet room,
had noticed that none of the African-American Central Jurisdiction
bishops were included among the pictures of bishops who had served in
the conference. Since then, pictures of four of those bishops have been
added to the room.
During the service itself, video accounts of
the racist past of both Alabama and the United Methodist Church were
shown; testimonies were given by African-American church members; and
strips of sackcloth were draped over the shoulders of participants.
about resources for the Acts of Repentance for Racism is available
online at www.gccuic-umc.org or by calling the commission office at
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