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Happy birthday, UMC: Denomination marks 50 years since merger

Happy birthday, UMC: Denomination marks 50 years since merger
Evangelical United Brethren Church Bishop Reuben H. Mueller (left) and Methodist Bishop Lloyd C. Wicke join hands on April 23, 1968, symbolizing the merger between the two denominations. 1968 file photo courtesy of the United Methodist Commission on Archives and History

By Allison Trussell and Dr. Phillip Stone

The United Methodist Church turns 50 years old this month.

On April 23, 1968, Bishop Reuben H. Mueller of the Evangelical United Brethren Church and Bishop Lloyd C. Wicke of the Methodist Church joined hands over symbolic items and said, “Lord of the Church, we are united in thee, in thy Church, and now in The United Methodist Church.”

With that pronouncement, The United Methodist Church became the second-largest denomination with nearly 12 million members worldwide.

The Evangelical United Brethren Church, or EUB, had been formed in 1944 by the merger of the Evangelical Church and the Church of the United Brethren in Christ. The EUB Church traced its origins to work among German-speaking settlers at the same time as the Methodists were working among the English-speaking settlers. In 1968, there were about 750,000 members of the EUB Church, though there were no congregations in South Carolina.

Bob Lear, head of the Church Bureau of Methodist Information, wrote in the May 2, 1968, Advocate that “the ceremonies in Dallas were the conclusion of conversation that began as early as 1803 and mark the first union among the denominations participating in the Consultation on Church Union.”

The Uniting Conference followed the approval of Plan of Union by the General Conferences of both churches in 1966. That plan was perfected at the 1968 conference by a joint committee.

South Carolina’s two Annual Conferences were represented by 20 delegates: the Rev. Adlai C. Holler, the Rev. C. LeGrande Moody Jr., the Rev. Francis T. Cunningham, the Rev. R. Wright Spears, the Rev. W. Wallace Fridy, the Rev. Samuel R. Glenn, the Rev. Victor Hickman, the Rev. Eben Taylor, W. J. Ready, J. Emmett Jerome, Harry Kent, Spencer M. Rice, J. Carlisle Holler, Dr. Charles F. Marsh, Roy C. Moore and W. L. Brannon represented the white conference, and the Rev. Warren M. Jenkins, the Rev. C. Jasper Smith, R. J. Palmer and Richard E. Fields represented the African-American conference.

The May 9 Advocate invited delegates to offer their impressions on the two-week conference.

Holler, the previous editor of the Advocate, wrote, “We are off to a good start but it will require heart searching and patience as we adjust … and strive to find the guidance for the new structure. … Our emphasis will continue to be on developing people to that they may become good witnesses for Christ.”

Spears and others emphasized the worldwide role of the new church: “Methodism has assumed a wide role, by uniting with the Evangelical United Brethren, in ecumenicity. What an opportunity in the total world Christian movement!”

The 1968 conference also ended segregation within the church. Although the northern and southern branches of Methodism had reunited in 1939 to form The Methodist Church, African-American congregations remained segregated in a separate Central Jurisdiction. The uniting of the two denominations saw the abolition of the Central Jurisdiction.

From 1968 to 1972, the two South Carolina conferences, black and white, operated side by side, with Bishop Paul Hardin Jr. serving as bishop of both conferences.

South Carolina completed the merger of its black and white conferences in June 1972.

Cunningham noted the challenges facing the new church: “Because we live in a world of ferment, the Church is in ferment. We are a world Church. Let us accept the inevitability of controversy, love each other, seek the facts, and express our convictions as Christian brothers across all dividing lines created by man.”

Although the new church was created in 1968, delegates realized all the work of restricting board and agencies could not be completed, and a special session of General Conference was held in 1970 in St. Louis.

Annual Conference plans to recognize the 50th anniversary of the church during its June meeting in Greenville.

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