United Methodism as a World Church, 1968-
In 1968, The Evangelical United Brethren and The Methodist Church united. Full clergy status for women was included in the plan of union. Since then, an increasing number of women have been admitted to the ordained ministry, appointed to the district superintendency, elected to positions of denominational leadership, and consecrated as bishops. In 1980, Marjorie Matthews was the first woman elected to the Church’s episcopacy.
When The United Methodist Church was created in 1968, it had approximately 11 million members, making it one of the largest Protestant churches in the world. Since then the church has become increasingly aware of itself as a world church with membership and conferences in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the United States. While worldwide membership in The United Methodist Church has grown since 1968, membership in Europe and the United States has declined, offset by significant growth in Africa and Asia. In Africa, The United Methodist Church has expanded episcopal areas to include East Africa, Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire, East Congo, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and South Africa.
Changes in worship style, the rise of the charismatic movement, the growth of nondenominationalism, and the emergence of megachurches have all challenged the church as it entered its third century. Most trying, The United Methodist Church has had to negotiate cultural shifts with regard to gender and sexuality, especially in the United States and Europe. Conflicts over homosexuality, marriage, and abortion have continued uninterrupted nearly since the formation of the denomination. These debates have opened up large domestic, international, and ecumenical rifts over the church’s doctrine and discipline.
The United Methodist Church continues to represent the confluence of three streams of tradition: Methodism, the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, and The Evangelical Association. With other churches that are also members of the body of Christ, it humbly and gratefully offers up its praise to God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit for creating and sustaining grace. It seeks further grace as it ministers to the world.
1. The Methodist Episcopal Church ordained women as “local elders” starting in 1924. However, The Methodist Church (1939) did not grant full clergy rights to women until 1956.
From The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church - 2016. Copyright 2016 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.