Happy Birthday! The UMC Celebrates 50 Years of Ministry
By: Sherri Gragg
On April 23, 1968, the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren joined to form The United Methodist Church. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Uniting Conference.
A New Denomination is Born
As the ecumenical movement gained strength in the late 1960’s, the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren committed to form a new denomination in the service of Christ. The two denominations shared important similarities. Philip Otterbein, co-founder of the United Brethren, was a friend of Francis Asbury. Additionally, the doctrinal statements for the two denominations were closely aligned. In the conviction that “we are stronger together,” the two denominations committed to working through any remaining differences in a spirit of humility and compromise. The Rev. Albert Outler, in his sermon to the Uniting Conference, challenged the more than 10,000 listeners in attendance to join together in mutual respect and love. “True unity,” he preached, “not only allows for diversity, but requires it.”
Racial Integration was Key
Bishop Scott Jones, whose father was a delegate in the 1968 Uniting Conference, believes that one of the most definitive decisions of the conference was to abolish segregation within the new denomination. Before the conference, African American Methodists were relegated to the Central Jurisdiction. The 1968 Conference began the process of racially integrating the new denomination. “It was a response to the 1968 Civil Rights movement,” Jones said. “People believed it was time to unify across race. It took a few years (to complete the process), but eventually our Texas Conference was fully integrated.”
The Rev. Dr. Wallace Shook, a retired minister of the Texas Annual Conference who attended the 1968 Conference, felt the elimination of racial divisions was one of the highpoints of the Conference. “I was privileged to be part of the Texas Annual Conference committee that worked on the merging the Central Jurisdiction with the Texas Annual Conference,” Shook recalls. “It was an amazing experience to work with representatives of the Central Jurisdiction through that process.”
As a District Superintendent for the Texas Annual Conference, Shook considered it a privilege to have one of the two former Evangelical United Brethren churches in the Texas Conference as a part of his district. “They were a delightful group of people. I enjoyed them so much,” Shook said.
Inspirational History, Hopeful Future
The United Methodist Church has flourished in the fertile soil of unity carefully prepared and tended by men and women who committed themselves to God and each other during the 1968 Conference. Without fail, those who remember the day recall a poignant moment at the end of the ceremony in which Evangelical United Brethren Bishop Reuben H. Mueller and the Methodist Bishop Lloyd C. Wicke joined hands and led the congregation in a statement of unity. For the past fifty years the United Methodist Church has built upon that foundation to reach the ends of the earth for the Kingdom of God.
It was a future that Outler could almost see the morning he addressed the Conference. “Here we are this morning,” he proclaimed, “gathered together from over the world and from all sorts and conditions of men- to celebrate a birthday, our birthday as The United Methodist Church…The aura of every newborn thing is an aura of hope. And so, it is with us today. We stand here on a threshold. A new horizon looms ahead.”