A UMNS photo by Linda Green
The commission meets to discuss how its member churches can work together.
Nov. 23, 2004
By Linda Green*
(UMNS) — A little-known historically black Methodist denomination has
joined a group of other Methodist traditions working to foster
cooperation and unity.
Union American Methodist Episcopal Church joined the Commission on
Pan-Methodist Cooperation and Union during the commission’s Nov. 19-21
meeting. The Union American denomination has been described as an
“invisible strand” of African Methodism, and its roots parallel the
three better-known black Methodist churches.
6,000-member church has congregations in the New England states,
Jamaica and Liberia. It was founded in 1805 by Peter Spencer and William
Anderson, both lay preachers, who led 40 blacks out of predominantly
white Asbury Methodist Church in Wilmington, Del.
church began in the same way as other African Methodist traditions in
the United States, with members being denied the rights of prayer and
communion and suffering racial injustices, said Bishop Linwood Rideout,
one of three bishops in the Union American Methodist Episcopal Church.
The other bishop in attendance was Michael Molder.
were first known as the Church of Africans,” Rideout said. “We are
known as an invisible strand of African Methodism because our founder
was never given the recognition that he deserved.”
said joining the commission is important because his church will become
more acquainted with other Methodist bodies, and those will become
familiar with “our rich heritage, our history.”
Union American church’s polity is similar to those of the African
Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion, Christian
Methodist Episcopal and United Methodist churches, he said. “We are
Methodists. Our polity is not too far from your Book of Discipline. It
is derived from Methodists. We had a Methodist founder.”
to “Invisible” Strands in African Methodism, written by Lewis V.
Baldwin in 1983, “one of the most serious gaps in our knowledge of
Afro-American religious history is our almost total ignorance of the
African Union Methodist Protestant and Union American Methodist
Episcopal Churches.” While both denominations have been in the
mid-Atlantic region since the early 19th century, scholars, as well as
professional church historians, sociologists and theologians, are not
fully aware of their existence, Baldwin wrote.
churches, he wrote, have survived their histories as invisible branches
within the larger sphere of African Methodism. While the African
Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion and Christian
Methodist Episcopal churches are more recognized at national and global
levels, the churches founded by Peter Spencer “remained both small and
regional,” he noted.
After hearing about the Union church, the commission overwhelmingly welcomed it into membership.
Bishop Linwood Rideout
“It is important
to be visible and get to know other branches of Methodism and get to
know brothers and sisters whose faith is based on the same thing,”
38-member commission has nine representatives from four strands of
American Methodism – African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist
Episcopal Zion, Christian Methodist Episcopal and United Methodist.
Established by the 2000 general conferences of each denomination, the
group consists of two subcommittees – program ministries and union –
that do the commission’s work.
Methodist participation in the Commission on Pan-Methodist Cooperation
and Union is supported in part by the Interdenominational Cooperation
Fund. This fund nurtures the denomination’s work in ecumenism through
the commission as well as the ministries of Churches Uniting in Christ;
the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA; the World
Council of Churches; and the World Methodist Council.
commission’s goals are spelled out in its mission statement: “As
members of the family of Methodism, we are called to move toward union
by redefining and strengthening our relationship in Jesus Christ.” The
group works to foster cooperation among its member denominations in
evangelism, missions, publications, social concerns and higher
commission has had an ongoing struggle around issues related to union –
what union is, what it would look like and how to proceed toward it.
That continued to be the case at the group’s Nov. 19-21 meeting, but the
commission affirmed its commitment to explore where God is leading it.
members adopted “Beyond Repentance: Creating Communities of Peace and
Justice” as their theme for the next four years. The theme alludes to
the acts of repentance services that United Methodists carried out at
their 2000 General Conference and at annual conference gatherings.
commission will spend its energies on what the member churches can do
together, said Bishop E. Earl McCloud of Atlanta, the group’s
chairperson and a leader in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
a community worship service at Smith Chapel African Methodist Episcopal
Church, United Methodist Bishop Violet Fisher challenged the commission
and the members of its churches to “get up and step out.”
Bishop Violet Fisher
In a sermon on
“Living on the Edge of Possibility,” Fisher expressed her understanding
that God participates in everyday experiences and situations and has a
plan for both the church and the Commission on Pan-Methodist Cooperation
noted that God sent Moses to deliver the Israelites from bondage, and
he led the people into the Promised Land. In that vein, she told the
commission to move beyond what it can see and understand and trust God
on the journey.
told the Methodists that they can no longer be sideline Christians in a
main street world. For too long, negative factors such as lack of
resources and loss of membership have been viewed by some people as
impediments to ministry.
is calling the church to stand up. God is calling us to take our place
in society and to move forward,” she said. Living on the edge of
possibility, she said, means embracing new visions.
is calling us to stand in new places, to write new visions and dream
new dreams,” she said. “We must therefore arise to the occasion. We must
not allow the threat or challenges of any kind — social or political —
to intimidate us.”
*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.