Pan-Methodist bishops to reflect on work together
Feb. 15, 2007
NOTE: Photographs are available at http://umns.umc.org.
A UMNS Report By Linda Green*
Three decades ago, The United Methodist Church's highest legislative assembly directed the denomination's bishops to work with other Methodist Episcopal leaders on developing a more cooperative spirit in fulfilling the mission and ministry of Methodism.
That conversation in 1976 helped launched quadrennial "consultations" of the bishops of four American branches of the family of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, and in 1978 led to the formation of what is known today as the Commission on Pan-Methodist Cooperation and Union, to plan those gatherings.
The commission is the result of the 2000 merger of the Commission on Pan-Methodist Cooperation and the Commission on Pan-Methodist Union and was organized to address mutual concerns of the African-American Methodist and United Methodist families. Among the concerns: cooperative church expansion, training of local church leadership, coordinated prison ministries, the family and its cultural identity, the impact of societal factors, coordinated church administration services and shared facilities.
The Ninth Consultation on Methodist Bishops will convene March 11-13 in Atlanta, where bishops of the United Methodist, African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion and Christian Methodist Episcopal churches will reflect on their past, work together in the present and plan for the future. Together, the 94 active bishops in the pan-Methodist family lead more than 14 million congregants across the globe.
"It is a gathering for the bishops, who share a common heritage, doctrine and theological perspective, to investigate possibilities for mutual ministries and cooperative ventures that could enhance the work of their respective churches," said the Rev. Darryl Coleman, a member of the Commission on Pan-Methodist Cooperation and Union and pastor of Mother Liberty Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Jackson, Tenn.
The four traditions also will formally welcome the Union American Methodist Episcopal Church, an African-American branch of Methodism, into the pan-Methodist family.
One body, many members
A community gathering at West Mitchell Christian Methodist Episcopal Church will open the convocation. While the meeting is designed for the bishops, the gathering includes the membership of the pan-Methodist bodies from across the city and surrounding areas. There will be worship, preaching, singing, celebrating communion and presentations to increase awareness of the mission and ministry of pan-Methodism.
The bishops will look back at the progress and challenges of the last three decades and focus on planning and direction for the future, said Mary Love, executive secretary of the 38-member Commission on Pan-Methodist Cooperation and Union and a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.
Working under the vision of "one body, many members," the commission's purpose is to help family members of Methodism move toward union by redefining and strengthening relationships in Jesus Christ. The commission works to foster a spirit of cooperation in the areas of evangelism, missions, publications, social concerns and higher education.
In the United States, the Methodist Episcopal Church organized in 1784. In the nine decades that followed, American Methodism experienced division and separation, as black Methodists created their own denominations in response to racism and other injustices that existed in the main Methodist bodies.
Byrd Bonner, the director of the United Methodist Church Foundation and a longtime member of the commission, affirms the commonalities - in polity, ministries, sacraments, creedal commitments, and organization - that the pan-Methodist churches share. But "the sin of racism has brought about division between and within us in various ways," said Bonner of San Antonio.
The consultation will enable the bishops "to delve deeper into the implications of those divisions" and, in conjunction with the Commission on Pan-Methodist Cooperation and Union, "seek a balance of the redress of the egregious sins of the past with the rich history and ministry that carry us all together into the future," he said.
Love sees tremendous value in bringing together every four years the 50 active United Methodist bishops, the 10 active episcopal leaders of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, the 11 members of the active episcopacy of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the 21 active heads of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the two bishops of the Union American Methodist Episcopal Church.
In addition to fellowship and personal sharing, the consultation provides a way to identify issues that each of the Methodist bodies can address as a Methodist family and commit to doing things together, said Love of Charlotte, N.C.
Bishop Nathaniel Jarrett, president of the commission and a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Chicago, noted that the processes of the consultation allow the bishops "to have a stronger common voice to address issues that challenge our day. We are at a crossroads, so we need to examine what has been done, gain clarity and provide for a focused ministry for the future," the bishop said.
The bishops will have a chance to set an agenda together, according to Coleman. "The consultation provides a unique opportunity for the judicatory heads to come together and set a common agenda for not only addressing the needs of their members but also impacting some of the pressing issues presently facing our national and global community."
The theological implications of the consultation "are rooted in Jesus' prayer for his disciples at the close of the Upper Room Discourse, and as recorded in John 17:11b," said commission member Letitia Williams-Watford, a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Montgomery, Ala. "Jesus' heartfelt desire for his disciples is that we experience unbroken unity, that we 'may be one' even as he and the Father are one."
During the three-day consultation, the bishops will gain an increased awareness of the work and history of pan-Methodism and focus on the meaning of full communion.
United Methodist Bishop William Oden will lead the communion discussion. He said he will focus the discussion by asking: "(Are) our denominations in full communion with each other, and if not, how do we do so?"
As the ecumenical officer for the United Methodist Council of Bishops, he said, "It is my hope that the whole meeting will be undergirded by our common theological heritage as members of the Wesley family."
Looking to the future
According to Oden, "there needs to be clarification of common goals and strategizing on what we can do together not only in the United States but in other parts of the world where we exist, particularly in Africa."
Seven years have passed since The United Methodist Church apologized to the African-American Methodist churches for the racism and injustices that caused them to divide from the main Methodist church.
During the 2000 General Conference, the delegates engaged in a service of repentance and reconciliation. The African-American Methodist churches announced they would be "fruit inspectors" because it not enough to apologize without a commitment to change.
"The consultation gives our episcopal leaders an opportunity to inspect some fruit in the presence of all," Bonner said. "The consultation will give our bishops an opportunity to share some current commitments that each have made both as to the structure and mission of the larger church."
More information about the consultation and pan-Methodism are available by contacting Love at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (704) 599-4630.
*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