From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Two black Methodist denominations moving toward union

From NewsDesk <NewsDesk@UMCOM.UMC.ORG>
Date 16 May 2000 13:22:31

May 16, 2000 News media contact: Thomas S. McAnally·(615)742-5470·Nashville,
Tenn.     10-31-71B{239}

By United Methodist News Service

Two historically black Methodist denominations are looking toward a possible
marriage, after an on-again, off-again courtship that has spanned more than
a century.

If a plan of union is approved by the African Methodist Episcopal Zion
(AMEZ) and the Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) churches' general
conferences, a new Christian Methodist Episcopal Zion Church with a
membership of more than 2 million members could become a reality as early as

Bishops and representatives of both churches formally approved a plan of
union in Louisville, Ky., April 11. AMEZ delegates will be the first to
consider the plan during their General Conference in Greensboro, N.C., July
26-Aug. 4.  If adopted there and ratified by a two-thirds majority of the
denomination's annual conferences, the plan will go to the CME General
Conference in Atlanta in 2002. 

If ratified by a two-thirds votes of the CME annual conferences, the
denomination will have a called session overlapping the last three days of
the 2004 AMEZ General Conference in Charlotte, N.C. 

At their special session, the CME delegates would elect two additional
bishops, increasing their number of active bishops to 12 to match the total
of bishops in the AMEZ church.  The senior bishops of both denominations
would then convene the inaugural General Conference of the new church.

Several attempts have been made through the years to bring the two
denominations together. Early in the 1900s, an attempt at merger failed. In
1918, representatives of the two churches, along with the African Methodist
Episcopal (AME) Church, met in Birmingham, Ala., and produced what came to
be known as the "Birmingham Plan."   The CME General Conference passed the
plan but annual conferences didn't ratify it. 

Later, principles of union were adopted by delegates to the CME General
Conference of 1986 and the AMEZ General Conference of 1988, but the plan
remained dormant for nearly 11 years. In March 1999, while meeting in
Atlanta at the Consultation of Methodist Bishops, the AMEZ and CME bishops
discussed the possibility of union again. They decided to meet in Houston at
the World Methodist Council Millennium Event in November, and that meeting
resulted in a reaffirmation of the 1988 Principles of Union. A task force
was created to draft a plan of union, and a timeline was proposed.

After the committee had agreed on a plan of union at the April meeting in
Louisville, senior AMEZ Bishop Cecil Bishop of Charlotte and senior CME
Bishop Nathaniel L. Linsey of Cincinnati issued a statement reflecting on
the "journey that brought the two churches to this juncture."

The committee was able to reach agreement on a plan of union, the bishops
said, because of a "clearer understanding of the call of God in Jesus Christ
through the prompting of the Holy Spirit that the time had come for these
two churches to be one." They also pointed to the value of unified witness
and the elimination of duplicate structures and programs.

The AMEZ Church has 1.2 million members, and the CME has 886,000, according
to World Methodist Council figures. The largest African-American Methodist
denomination is the AME Church, with 2 million members.

The three denominations are participants with the United Methodist Church in
the National Council of Churches and the Consultation on Church Union.
Representatives from the three black Methodist denominations and the United
Methodist Church are also discussing possible union, but observers are not
predicting that will happen in the foreseeable future. 

The predominantly white denomination counts 383,000 African Americans among
its 8.4 million members in the United States. The four denominations have
cooperated on many programs and projects in recent years through a
Commission on Pan-Methodist Cooperation.

At the recent United Methodist General Conference in Cleveland, the
denomination formally apologized for the racial indignities that prompted
African Americans to leave the parent denomination and also for the racism
involved in creating and maintaining a segregated Central Jurisdiction in
the former Methodist Church from 1939 to 1968. The General Conference
delegates approved a constitutional amendment on racism, which must be
ratified by a two-thirds aggregate vote of the annual conferences. Resources
are being developed to encourage United Methodists to understand the
turbulent history that prompted African Americans to leave the predominantly
white denomination.  

The Methodist Episcopal Church was formally organized at a Christmas
Conference in 1784. Three years later, following a racial incident at
Philadelphia's St. George Methodist Church, former slave Richard Allen
founded the AME Church, a denomination that would practice racial equality.

In 1796, the AMEZ Church was founded in New York City, prompted by
dissatisfaction among people of color regarding their mistreatment at John
Street Methodist Church. 

The Colored Methodist Episcopal Church, later to be known as the Christian
Methodist Episcopal Church, was founded in 1870. CME founders were members
of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, while they were slaves. After the
Civil War, freed slaves did not consider membership in their former masters'
church either desirable or practical.  They requested their own separate and
independent church.  
# # #

NOTE: Some information for this story was provided by Juanita Bryant,
executive secretary of the CME Church, and Mary A. Love, administrative
secretary of the Commission on Pan-Methodist Cooperation and Union. 

United Methodist News Service
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