From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
UMNS# 04551-'Invisible' church joins Pan-Methodist commission
Tue, 23 Nov 2004 18:18:31 -0600
'Invisible' church joins Pan-Methodist commission
Nov. 23, 2004 News media contact: Linda Green * (615) 7425470*
NOTE: Photos, audio and a related report, UMNS #552, are available at
http://umns.umc.org. Photographs can be found at the Photo Gallery link.
By Linda Green*
DALLAS (UMNS) - A little-known historically black Methodist denomination has
joined a group of other Methodist traditions working to foster cooperation
The Union American Methodist Episcopal Church joined the Commission on
Pan-Methodist Cooperation and Union during the commission's Nov. 19-21
meeting. The Union American denomination has been described as an "invisible
strand" of African Methodism, and its roots parallel the three better-known
black Methodist churches.
The 6,000-member church has congregations in the New England states, Jamaica
and Liberia. It was founded in 1805 by Peter Spencer and William Anderson,
both lay preachers, who led 40 blacks out of predominantly white Asbury
Methodist Church in Wilmington, Del.
The church began in the same way as other African Methodist traditions in the
United States, with members being denied the rights of prayer and communion
and suffering racial injustices, said Bishop Linwood Rideout, one of three
bishops in the Union American Methodist Episcopal Church. The other bishop in
attendance was Michael Molder.
"We were first known as the Church of Africans," Rideout said. "We are known
as an invisible strand of African Methodism because our founder was never
given the recognition that he deserved."
Rideout said joining the commission is important because his church will
become more acquainted with other Methodist bodies, and those will become
familiar with "our rich heritage, our history."
The Union American church's polity is similar to those of the African
Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion, Christian Methodist
Episcopal and United Methodist churches, he said. "We are Methodists. Our
polity is not too far from your Book of Discipline. It is derived from
Methodists. We had a Methodist founder."
According to "Invisible" Strands in African Methodism, written by Lewis V.
Baldwin in 1983, "one of the most serious gaps in our knowledge of
Afro-American religious history is our almost total ignorance of the African
Union Methodist Protestant and Union American Methodist Episcopal Churches."
While both denominations have been in the mid-Atlantic region since the early
19th century, scholars, as well as professional church historians,
sociologists and theologians, are not fully aware of their existence, Baldwin
The churches, he wrote, have survived their histories as invisible branches
within the larger sphere of African Methodism. While the African Methodist
Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion and Christian Methodist Episcopal
churches are more recognized at national and global levels, the churches
founded by Peter Spencer "remained both small and regional," he noted.
After hearing about the Union church, the commission overwhelmingly welcomed
it into membership.
"It is important to be visible and get to know other branches of Methodism
and get to know brothers and sisters whose faith is based on the same thing,"
The 38-member commission has nine representatives from four strands of
American Methodism - African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal
Zion, Christian Methodist Episcopal and United Methodist. Established by the
2000 general conferences of each denomination, the group consists of two
subcommittees - program ministries and union - that do the commission's work.
United Methodist participation in the Commission on Pan-Methodist Cooperation
and Union is supported in part by the Interdenominational Cooperation Fund.
This fund nurtures the denomination's work in ecumenism through the
commission as well as the ministries of Churches Uniting in Christ; the
National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA; the World Council of
Churches; and the World Methodist Council.
The commission's goals are spelled out in its mission statement: "As members
of the family of Methodism, we are called to move toward union by redefining
and strengthening our relationship in Jesus Christ." The group works to
foster cooperation among its member denominations in evangelism, missions,
publications, social concerns and higher education.
The commission has had an ongoing struggle around issues related to union -
what union is, what it would look like and how to proceed toward it. That
continued to be the case at the group's Nov. 19-21 meeting, but the
commission affirmed its commitment to explore where God is leading it.
Commission members adopted "Beyond Repentance: Creating Communities of Peace
and Justice" as their theme for the next four years. The theme alludes to the
acts of repentance services that United Methodists carried out at their 2000
General Conference and at annual conference gatherings.
The commission will spend its energies on what the member churches can do
together, said Bishop E. Earl McCloud of Atlanta, the group's chairperson and
a leader in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
During a community worship service at Smith Chapel African Methodist
Episcopal Church, United Methodist Bishop Violet Fisher challenged the
commission and the members of its churches to "get up and step out."
In a sermon on "Living on the Edge of Possibility," Fisher expressed her
understanding that God participates in everyday experiences and situations
and has a plan for both the church and the Commission on Pan-Methodist
Cooperation and Union.
She noted that God sent Moses to deliver the Israelites from bondage, and he
led the people into the Promised Land. In that vein, she told the commission
to move beyond what it can see and understand and trust God on the journey.
She told the Methodists that they can no longer be sideline Christians in a
main street world. For too long, negative factors such as lack of resources
and loss of membership have been viewed by some people as impediments to
"God is calling the church to stand up. God is calling us to take our place
in society and to move forward," she said. Living on the edge of possibility,
she said, means embracing new visions.
"God is calling us to stand in new places, to write new visions and dream new
dreams," she said. "We must therefore arise to the occasion. We must not
allow the threat or challenges of any kind - social or political - to
*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville,
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
United Methodist News Service
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