Pan-Methodist commission continues journey of becoming one
Nov. 21, 2006
NOTE: Photographs are available at http://umns.umc.org.
By Linda Green*
CHICAGO (UMNS) - Since 1996, the Commission on Pan-Methodist Cooperation and Union has had an ongoing struggle around issues related to union - what union is, what it would look like and how to proceed toward it.
"No more, but not yet" is the phrase the new chairman of the commission uses to describe the group's future work.
Bishop Nathaniel Jarrett of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church explained, "We live in existential tension" and "we are no more what we were, but, by the same token, we have not become what we will become and what we ought to become." Jarrett received the Pan-Methodist leadership gavel from African Methodist Episcopal Bishop E. Earl McCloud on Nov. 17.
The Pan-Methodist committee rejoices that it has overcome its earlier struggles and continues to move forward, Jarrett said, "and yet there is the tension of knowing that you still have a long way to go."
The group's historical reflections indicate both an unknown future and a commitment on behalf of five strands of American Methodism to explore God's leading in response to the call to become one.
The 38-member commission has representatives from four historic black churches --African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion, Christian Methodist Episcopal, Union American Methodist Episcopal -- and the predominantly white United Methodist Church.
Black Methodists created their own denominations in response to racism and other injustices that existed in the main Methodist bodies of their day. The Union American Methodist Church became a member of the commission in 2004.
Jarrett said the fact that there is a table with five American Methodist strands surrounding it indicates "some of the suspicion no longer exists and a real sense of fellowship is enjoyed."
Established in 2000 by the top legislative body of each denomination, the commission's purpose is to facilitate the Methodist family members' movement toward "union" by redefining and strengthening relationships in Jesus Christ. The commission works under the vision of "One body, many members." The group works to foster cooperation among its member denominations in evangelism, missions, publications, social concerns and higher education.
Jarrett said the Acts of Repentance that the United Methodist Church conducted with the African American Methodist bodies in 2000; the inclusion of Pan Methodists among directors of United Methodist boards and agencies; and the cooperation given through the children and poverty initiatives and drug abuse and prevention programs of the denominations demonstrate the "no more, but not yet" theme. "Things that we were doing individually, we have been able to do collectively," he said.
Before 2000, the commission was two separate groups; a commission on cooperation and a commission on union. Since then, Jarrett noted, the greatest accomplishment has been "our ability to continue in spite of disappointments, in spite of frustrations that are a part of not moving fast enough, not seeing the difference being made."
Jarrett will lead the commission through 2008. He outlined his vision of where "we ought to be and need to be," which includes structural shifts. He urged the commission to move "beyond the biblical oneness that we are in Christ," and work in practical ways that impact the quality of life for the people of God.
He invited the five communions "to be who and what we are, a Methodist people, and I would want us to be that in its fullest sense; in the sense of our holiness, in the sense of our social justice agenda and in the sense of all that it means to be a Methodist people."
Jarrett added that the sense of union and the reality before the commission at this time is not organic but a oneness that comes through a shared ministry.
Included in each meeting of the commission is a community-wide worship service hosted by a congregation of one of the Pan-Methodist communions. Coppin Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Church in Chicago was the site of the Nov. 17 gathering. AME Bishop Philip R. Cousin Sr. provided the keynote message.
Reminding the congregation of the 1960s' television game show "What's My Line," Cousin urged each individual to show the world that they are of a family in Methodism.
The premise of the program was for four panelists to try to guess unusual occupations of contestants or a product associated with them by asking questions. Those who were being questioned tried to stump the panelists.
"Sometimes in our churches, when we are brought before the panel of the world, we stump them because they never figure our line," Cousin said.
People are confused and upset by "our" disunity and divisiveness, jealousy and hardheartedness, which "make us seem like everything but what we are not," he explained.
The role of an ambassador is not to give policy, but to state policy that comes from the king, Cousin said, adding that an ambassador is not a diplomat. "A diplomat equivocates," he said, while an ambassador for Christ declares the policy that Jesus lives, saves, forgives, reconciles, and blesses.
"What a better place we would have if churches would begin to perform and to act as ambassadors and not diplomats," he added, 'if we would state the policy instead of trying to make the policy."
He told the Pan-Methodist congregation not to sell the product but to be the product. "We have to be representatives and not salesmen," Cousin said. "We are not hucksters selling religion in a bargain-basement fashion."
*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
United Methodist News Service Photos and stories also available at: http://umns.umc.org