Fifty years ago, Evangelical United Brethren (EUB) Bishop Rueben H. Mueller and Methodist Bishop Lloyd C. Wicke joined hands over a table laden with symbols---the Bible, hymnals, books of Discipline and a 307-page "Plan of Union." 1,300 delegates and 10,000 visitors met in Dallas, Texas on April 23, 1968 proclaiming the formation of the newly-constituted United Methodist Church. At the same time, the systematic racism of the former Methodist Church's segregating Central Jurisdiction began dismantling.
The support of the General Administration Fund helps curates the rich history of the United Methodist Church through the General Commission on Archives and History.
Returning from the holiday break, I found a copy on my desk of Albert Outler's sermon "Visions and Dreams" preached at the uniting General Conference. It was a reminder from a faithful staff member that it was time to begin preparations for Heritage Sunday, to be held this year on May 20. This year's theme is "JUBILEE: The 50th Anniversary of The United Methodist Church."
|A delegate speaks during the 1968 Uniting Conference in Dallas that merged the Evangelical United Brethren Church and the Methodist Church into The United Methodist Church. UMNS photos courtesy of the United Methodist Commission on Archives and History.|
Outler's sermon celebrates the April 23, 1968 birthday of The United Methodist Church with "an aura of hope," as the new church gathered at the "threshold of a new horizon."
Where once there were five different churches, now there is one. Differences that once kept us apart---language, race, folkways, piety, personality and differing practices of democracy have been overcome. Separated Christian brothers and sisters rooted in a shared ethos of personal and social holiness are joined as family.
The eyes of the whole Christian Church are on us at this moment, Outler said of April 23, 1968. "This is also the day the Lord has made, one for United Methodists to rejoice and be glad. . . . glad for the new chance God now gives us to be a church united, to be uniting, a church repentant, to be a church redemptive, a church cruciform in order to manifest God's triumphant agony for mankind."
Some will say that was then and this is now. Times have changed, and circumstances and issues with them.
I cannot help but be struck that at The UMC's 50th birthday, the mood of the church is anything but jubilation. Jubilees aren't on the agendas, church news or denominational blogs I read. What I sense there is more anxiety, edginess, defensiveness, anger, and negative predictions---more "coming-undone" than "coming-together."
I'm with Albert Outler---the eyes of the whole Church are on us.
In that context, I offer "Visions and Dreams" as required reading to remember and stoke the hope of our 1968 birthright---boldly choosing unity while the world around seemed set on pulling-apart.
Moving to and through 2018 and towards 2019 and a special General Conference, God give us a golden anniversary year.
By understanding the past, GCAH helps envision the future!
Rev. Fred Day, General Secretary, General Commission on Archives and History (GCAH)
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