Monday, August 17, 2020

UMC Ecumenical Partnerships: A Brief Historical Timeline

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Mission Theologian at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

Having provided an overview of the bilateral and multilateral ecumenical relationships maintained by The United Methodist Church, I thought it would also be helpful to provide a timeline of significant developments within United Methodist (and predecessor) ecumenical relationships.

1881 – The first World Methodist Conference, which brought together 400 delegates from 30 Methodist bodies around the world, was held in London, England.

1908 – The Federal Council of Churches in America is formed, primarily to unite churches’ voices on labor issues. The Evangelical Association, Methodist Episcopal Church (MEC), Methodist Episcopal Church, South (MECS), Methodist Protestant Church, and United Brethren in Christ are all founding members. The new council adopts a social creed based on the Methodist example written by Frank North, and MEC Bishop E. R. Hendrix is elected the organization’s first president.

1909 – The Methodist Church in Japan becomes the first church body associated with American Methodism to become autonomous. It does so as part of a merger of MEC, MECS, and Canadian Methodist Church mission work. Missionaries from all three bodies continue to play a part in the life of the Methodist Church in Japan.

1910 – The World Missionary Conference is held in Edinburgh. It is chaired by US Methodist layman John R. Mott. Mott, with the help of others, uses the conference to launch a number of regional and mission-focused ecumenical organizations that would be the forerunners of the World Council of Churches.

1930 – The Methodist Church in Brazil, Methodist Church in Korea, and Methodist Church in Mexico become autonomous from the MEC and MECS. For Korea and Mexico, autonomy includes a merger of MEC and MECS work in those countries. The MEC and MECS adopt provisions into their Doctrines and Disciplines about their relationship to autonomous affiliated churches, with specific reference to Japan, Brazil, Korea, and Mexico. Affiliation is seen as a function of continued missionary presence and collaboration with the Board of Missions.

1931 – The World Methodist Conference agrees to organize a council to oversee work in between its decennial meetings.

1939 – The Methodist Church is formed through the ecumenical merger of the MEC, MECS, and Methodist Protestant Church.

1941 – The Methodist Church in Japan is forcibly merged into the United Church of Christ in Japan by the Japanese government. The Methodist Church (US) continues its relationship to the new denomination through the Board of Foreign Missions. The category of affiliated united church is subsequently created to recognize Japan’s new status.

1946 – The Evangelical United Brethren (EUB) Church is formed through the ecumenical merger of the Evangelical Church and the United Brethren in Christ.

1948 – The World Council of Churches is founded. John Mott is elected honorary president.

1950 – The Federal Council of Churches in America is reorganized as the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, or NCC for short, carrying out expanded forms of ecumenical collaboration.

1951 – The World Methodist Conference officially changes its name to the World Methodist Council, and conferences begin to be held every five years.

1960 to 1968 – A formal process is developed and spelled out in the Book of Discipline for an annual conference of the Methodist Church/UMC to become an affiliated autonomous or affiliated united church. That process involves central conference permission and coordination with COSMOS (the Commission on the Status of Methodism Overseas, later replaced by the Commission on Central Conference Affairs and then the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters).

1964 to 1972 – A wave of annual conferences outside the United States, especially in Asia and Latin America, become autonomous from The Methodist Church, the Evangelical United Brethren Church (EUB), and The United Methodist Church. For former annual conferences of the EUB, these moves to autonomy are the result of an intentional mission strategy. For former Methodist annual conferences, these moves to autonomy acknowledge the wave of decolonization sweeping much of the world. These newly autonomous churches sign agreements to maintain relationships as affiliated autonomous or affiliated united churches.

1968 – The United Methodist Church is formed through the ecumenical merger of The Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church. Talks with the Methodist Church in Britain produce a concordat between the two churches. Although the concordat is discussed at the UMC’s General Conference, it is not clear from the Daily Christian Advocate how much of the concordat is formally approved by the General Conference. A process for developing further concordats is later laid out in the UMC’s Book of Discipline (BOD) based on the work with the Methodist Church in Britain.

1972 – The affiliated autonomous relationship is redefined based on mutual recognition of members and ministers as part of a clarified “covenant relationship.” Thus, affiliation is no longer a function of missionary placement or relationship with the Board of Global Ministries. In addition, a process for previously autonomous bodies to join the UMC is added to the BOD.

1976 – Concordats with the Methodist Church in Mexico and the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas are approved. General Conference approves extending an invitation to other Methodist churches to consider concordat relationships.

1980 – The Methodist Church in India becomes autonomous. The previously autonomous churches in Sierra Leone and Nigeria, once part of the EUB, rejoin the UMC. A distinction is made in the BOD between autonomous churches and affiliated autonomous churches.

1985 – The Commission on Pan-Methodist Cooperation, which brings together the UMC and historically African-American denominations, is formed. The Methodist Church in Kenya, which comes from a British background and does not have historical ties to the UMC, enquires about becoming a concordat church. This request and other similar ones set of a re-examination of the UMC’s intra-Methodist ecumenical relationships.

1988 to 1992 – First in the Book of Resolutions (1988) and then in the Book of Discipline (1992), a new definition of and process for becoming a “covenanting church” is adopted. The initial intention was that both affiliated and non-affiliated churches could become covenanting churches as an alternative to concordat relationships. Primary responsibility for such covenanting relationships is clarified as belonging to the Council of Bishops, not Global Ministries. At least ten denominations would go on to sign covenants, the majority not previously affiliated.

1992 – The Methodist Church of Puerto Rico becomes autonomous and signs a concordat with the UMC that guarantees continued representation on UMC boards and agencies.

1992 to 2000 – As a result of a 1992 study committee, a Commission on Union is established in 1996 to explore union between the UMC and historically black Methodist churches. In 2000, this Commission is merged with the Commission on Pan-Methodist Cooperation to create the Pan-Methodist Commission.

2000 to 2001 – A number of Methodist churches that are not affiliated are invited to General Conference 2000 as affiliated churches. A follow-up committee develops a list of official affiliated autonomous and affiliated united churches in 2001, that list apparently having previously been lost.

2000 to 2008 – The BOD definitions of affiliated autonomous and affiliated united churches shift away from historical language about how these bodies were established to geographic language about their existence outside the boundaries of the jurisdictions (but not outside the boundaries of the central conferences, as some central conferences and affiliated churches overlap). BOD language also shifts from emphasizing mutual recognition of membership and ordination, mutual visitation, and cooperation in mission to emphasizing exchange of General Conference delegates (though the prior concerns are not deleted, just de-emphasized by rearranging the language). Specific mention of the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas and the Methodist Church in Mexico is added to the section on concordat churches. No mention of the Methodist Church in Puerto Rico is made in this section, though mention of MCPR continues to be made in the section on boards and agencies.

2008 to 2009 – A full-communion agreement between the UMC and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is ratified, first by the UMC General Conference and then by the ELCA.

2011 to 2015 – The Equmeniakyrkan (The Uniting Church in Sweden) is formed in 2011 through a merger of The United Methodist Church in Sweden, The Swedish Covenant Church, and The Baptist Union of Sweden. In 2012, The Uniting Church in Sweden is recognized as an affiliated united church, and in 2015, the UMC and The Uniting Church sign a full communion agreement.

2012 – A full-communion agreement among the members of the Pan-Methodist Commission is ratified.

2016 to 2018 – A full-communion agreement between the UMC and the Moravian Church (Northern and Southern Provinces) is ratified, first by the UMC General Conference and then by the Moravians.

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