From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Pan-Methodist group visits historic Philadelphia churches

From NewsDesk <NewsDesk@UMCOM.ORG>
Date Wed, 5 Dec 2001 14:46:14 -0600

Dec. 5, 2001 News media contact: Joretta Purdue7(202) 546-87227Washington

NOTE: A photograph is available with this story.

By Joretta Purdue*

PHILADELPHIA (UMNS) - Representatives of four Methodist denominations
participated in a community gathering and worship service in the mother
church of the African Methodist Episcopal Church during their fall meeting,
Nov. 28-Dec. 1.

A tour of the Mother Bethel AME building was led by a descendant of the Rev.
Richard Allen, the denomination's founder. The church includes historical
displays and a crypt containing Allen's remains.   

Before attending the community gathering and service at Mother Bethel,
members of the Commission on Pan-Methodist Cooperation and Union visited
another historic church. St. George's United Methodist Church claims to be
the world's oldest Methodist church structure in continuous service. 

It was at St. George's in 1787 that Allen and other people of color left
after being insulted during a service of worship. The building is still in
use today and includes artifacts more than two centuries old. 

In 1791, four years after he left St. George's, Allen bought the land on
which the Mother Bethel Church stands. The land has been continuously owned
by African Americans longer than any other parcel in the United States. 

By 1794, Allen, a former slave who had been a Methodist lay preacher for
years, brought in a building that had housed a blacksmith shop. It was
renovated to become the first Bethel Church and home to the first AME
congregation. The current structure was built in 1889.

Although the AME Church traces its roots to the founding of Mother Bethel,
the denomination cites a conference called in 1816 by Allen as the birth of
the denomination. Black Methodists from as far away as Baltimore attended.
Allen had been ordained by Francis Asbury, a bishop of the Methodist
Episcopal Church, in 1799. Later, Allen was consecrated the first bishop in
the new AME Church. 

The pan-Methodist commission's service at Mother Bethel AME Church included
for the first time the hymn "Blessings" by Mark Gresham, with text by Mary
Elizabeth Moore, and a litany written by Mary A. Love, administrative
secretary to the commission.

The hymn and its prelude, "Make a Joyful Noise," were written for the
Campaign for Children in Poverty of the commission, which includes three
historically black denominations - AME, African Methodist Episcopal Zion
(AMEZ) and Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) - and the predominantly white
United Methodist Church.

The "Litany of Thanksgiving, Remembrance and Recommitment" has parts
designated for bishops, clergy and laity; for AME, AMEZ, CME and UM; for
members of the commission; and for all. It concludes, "We are committed to
working together and unity. To God be the glory. Amen."

The 36-member commission continued to grapple with the meaning of "union" in
the context of the four churches.

While people in the pew may understand union to mean merger, United
Methodist Byrd Bonner, an attorney from San Antonio, said he considers union
a "oneness that we have as a gift of God." 

"My mind has been focused on merger, and I have concluded we are not ready
to go there," said Bishop Clarence Carr, an AMEZ representative from St.
Louis. He suggested joint ordination services and more sharing of resources
among camps and colleges of the four denominations. His hope for unity
includes providing opportunities for young people to get acquainted and work
together, he said.

CME Bishop Paul A. Steward, Birmingham, Ala., said union should be about
"leading our congregations in relating all over the world."

United Methodist Bishop Fritz Mutti of Kansas suggested that the four
denominations implement provisions they already had agreed to, along with
four other Protestant bodies, in the long-term Consultation on Church Union

Bishop Melvin Talbert, ecumenical officer for the United Methodist Council
of Bishops, suggested adding that which is uniquely Methodist to the list to
which COCU denominations had agreed. He urged getting written covenants
established in specific locations.

One of the commission's standing committees subsequently listed models of
union as a part of the ongoing discussion. Covenant community was one of the
faith-based models. Others were considered witness-based models such as the
acts of repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation or a program to address
drug abuse or some other issue. 

The pan-Methodist denominations are united in a commitment to their
initiative on Children in Poverty. The Rev. Luther Smith Jr., a CME
representative on the commission and a member of the faculty at the United
Methodist-related Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, reported that all
the theological seminaries of the denominations have endorsed the

He said he has been teaching a course on children in poverty at the
seminary. An official, well-funded student organization has been created
with United Methodist Bishop Marshall "Jack" Meadors Jr. as faculty adviser.
In addition to circulating materials on the children's Sabbath and lobbying
in the state legislature for bills that would benefit children in poverty,
the group held an interfaith prayer breakfast Sept. 11 attended by more than
400 people. The event kicked off the Children's Sabbath emphasis. 

Smith circulated a children's resource book he is preparing for the four
pan-Methodist denominations.

Looking to the future, commission members discussed a meeting for men
similar to a 1998 Brother-to-Brother Convocation held in Atlanta.  A
steering committee was created, with a representative from each
denomination, to develop a plan and budget proposal to bring to the
commission's next meeting.

At its previous meeting, the commission decided to write letters to
Dillard's and Waffle House objecting to and asking about their policies in
regard to cases of alleged racial discrimination.  Both companies replied
with letters that were read to the group. 

The commission adopted a subcommittee's recommendation on how to respond to
current moral and ethical issues. It was agreed that the commission
chairperson will be the official spokesperson and that appropriate research
will be done on all issues. Between meetings of the commission, the
chairperson will consult with the executive committee and local
pan-Methodist leadership before responding to issues. No additional action
was taken on any specific situation.

The commission's next meeting will be in Kansas City, Kan., April 10-12. The
office of chairman of the commission was passed from Bishop Carr (AMEZ) to
Bishop Charles Helton (CME). He will be followed by Bishop Charlene Kammerer
(UMC) next fall and subsequently Bishop T. Larry Kirkland (AME).

# # #

*Purdue is news director of United Methodist News Service's Washington

United Methodist News Service
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