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Quest for Unity (1945–1968)

 

As the war ended, the churches actively worked to secure world peace and order. Many laity, pastors, bishops, and church agencies supported the establishment of a world organization to serve as a forum for the resolution of international social, economic, and political problems. In April 1945, their labors contributed to the founding of the United Nations.

During this era, there were at least three other important matters that occupied the attention of the churches that now compose United Methodism. First, they maintained their concern for ecumenism and church union. On November 16, 1946, in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, The Evangelical Church and The United Brethren Church were united into The Evangelical United Brethren Church following twenty years of negotiation. At the time of union, the new church included about 700,000 members.

The Methodist Church was also interested in closer ties with other Methodist and Wesleyan bodies. In 1951, it participated in the formation of the World Methodist Council, successor to the Ecumenical Methodist Conferences that began in 1881. Methodists and the Evangelical United Brethren became active members of the World Council of Churches, founded in 1948, and the National Council of Churches, founded in 1950. The two churches also cooperated with seven other Protestant denominations in forming the Consultation of Church Union in 1960.

Second, the churches demonstrated growing uneasiness with the problem of racism in both the nation and the church. Many Methodists were especially disturbed by the manner in which racial segregation was built into the fabric of their denominational structure. The Central Jurisdiction was a constant reminder of racial discrimination. Proposals to eliminate the Central Jurisdiction were introduced at General Conferences from 1956 to 1966. Finally, plans to abolish the Central Jurisdiction were agreed upon with the contemplated union with the Evangelical United Brethren in 1968, although a few African American annual conferences continued for a short time thereafter.

Third, the churches debated women’s ordination. The issue was critical in the creation of The Evangelical United Brethren Church. The Evangelical Church had never ordained women. The United Brethren had ordained women since 1889. In order to facilitate the union of these two churches, the United Brethren accepted the Evangelical practice, and women’s ordination was stopped. Methodists debated the issue for several years after their unification in 1939. The Methodist Church began ordaining women in 1956. In that same year, women were granted full clergy rights and could be elected as members in full connection to an annual conference.

From The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church - 2016. Copyright 2016 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.