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The merger of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church in 1968 brought together two traditions but also provided an opportunity for the Methodists to leave behind a heritage of segregation. 1968 file photo courtesy of the United Methodist Commission on Archives and History.

1968 file photo courtesy of the United Methodist Commission on Archives and History

The merger of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church in 1968 brought together two traditions but also provided an opportunity for the Methodists to leave behind a heritage of segregation.

Focus on 50: Resources for the anniversary of The United Methodist Church

 

We invite you and your congregation to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the April 23, 1968 union of the Evangelical United Brethren Church and The Methodist Church, the union that created a new denomination, The United Methodist Church. 

The celebration of our anniversary as a denomination is also the focus for Heritage Sunday, which is observed on Aldersgate Day (May 24) or the Sunday preceding that date. Heritage Sunday, May 20 this year, is an annual celebration of our history, how it has shaped us and how it continues to shape the way we live out our mission. This year Heritage Sunday also falls on Pentecost, giving us even more reason to celebrate.

We encourage you to use the period between the anniversary of union on Monday, April 23 and Heritage Sunday, May 20 to help your congregation learn more about our rich history. To help you, we have provided some interesting historical facts below you can use or adapt for use in email or print newsletters or on your church website. We’ve also included some sample social media posts as well as ideas for celebrating the history of your own congregation. Be sure to use the hashtag #UMC50 in your social posts and to point your congregation to www.UMC.org/UMC50 where they can learn more.

 

The United Methodist Church is turning 50!

April 23 marks our 50th anniversary as a denomination. In 1968, at the Uniting Conference in Dallas, the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church (EUB) merged to form a new denomination, The United Methodist Church. 10.3 million Methodists and 750,000 members of the EUB Church merged into one of the largest Protestant denominations in the world, representing 53 countries. 

Wait, isn’t the church much older — like more than 200 years old?

Well, yes and no — it’s complicated! Our roots go back to the original churches — The Methodist Episcopal Church of America — which began in 1784. Since that time, multiple splits and mergers have occurred. The current iteration, The United Methodist Church, dates back to 1968 when The Methodist Church joined with the Evangelical United Brethren Church (EUB). The EUB Church was formed in 1946, by the merger of the Evangelical Church (formerly the Evangelical Association) and the United Brethren in Christ, a church with roots reaching back to 1767 that formally organized in 1800. The Evangelical Association was formally organized in 1800 by German-speaking Christians. The founders of both churches were influenced by John Wesley and the Methodist movement.

Sample social post:
The United Methodist Church celebrates its 50th anniversary on April 23. Do you know when our church was founded? #UMC50 #UMC UMC.org/UMC50

Application ideas for your local congregation
This is a perfect time to help educate your members about the history of their local congregation. Highlight an interesting fact about your own church’s history alongside denominational history.

Learn more

 

United Methodist Roots

The Methodist Church
John Wesley was a priest in the Church of England. After his spiritual awakening in 1738, he and his brother Charles created groups, called societies, of “Methodists” whose members followed a daily routine of spiritual disciplines and acts of service. 

As these societies gained popularity and spread, lay leaders like Richard Strawbridge, Barbara Heck and Philip Embry began Methodist societies in America. In 1769, Wesley sent missionaries to America to serve these societies, but during the Revolutionary War, all but one of these British preachers — Francis Asbury — returned to England. 

By 1784, Wesley began ordaining lay preachers in America to spread the Methodist movement. In doing so, he realized that he was essentially creating a new church apart from the Church of England. In that same year, a conference of Methodist preachers was held at Lovely Lane Chapel in Baltimore, Maryland, on Christmas Eve. The name Methodist Episcopal Church in American was adopted for the new body, and Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke were elected superintendents (what would later be called bishops) of the newly formed church. 

The Evangelical Church and the United Brethren in Christ Church
During the early years of The Methodist Church, two other churches made up almost entirely of German-speaking people were forming. 

The first was founded by Philip William Otterbein and Martin Boehm. Otterbein, a German Reformed minister, and Boehm, a Mennonite bishop, preached an evangelical message and experience similar to the Methodists. Their followers formally organized into the Church of the United Brethren in Christ in 1800. 

A second church, The Evangelical Association, was started by Jacob Albright, a Lutheran farmer from eastern Pennsylvania who had been converted and nurtured in a Methodist society. Albright and a group of his converts officially organized in 1803, creating the Evangelical Association. 

After a division and reunion in 1922, the Evangelical Association (later Church) would merge with the United Brethren in Christ in 1946 to become the Evangelical United Brethren Church. 

A Brief Timeline

  • 1784 — The first American Methodist Conference was held on Christmas Eve at Lovely Lane Chapel in Baltimore, Maryland. The name Methodist Episcopal Church was adopted, and Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke were elected superintendents (later bishops). 
  • 1800 — United Brethren in Christ Church was founded with Otterbein and Boehm as bishops. This church became the first denomination to originate in America. 
  • 1830 — The Methodist Protestant Church would be formed after splitting from the Methodist Episcopal Church over the role of laity in the church. 
  • 1844 — The Methodist Episcopal Church South splits from The Methodist Episcopal Church over the issue of slavery.
  • 1894 —The Evangelical Association splits into the conservative, mostly German speaking Evangelical Association in the Midwest and the more progressive, English-favoring United Evangelical Church in the East.
  • 1922 — The Evangelical Association and the United Evangelical Church reunite to become the Evangelical Church.
  • 1939 — The Methodist Church was formed when the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church South and the Methodist Protestant Church reunited to form a single denomination. As part of the union, churches were divided into administrative units called jurisdictions, five of which were based on geography. The Southern church agreed to union only after a compromise created a jurisdiction based exclusively on race, which was called the Central Jurisdiction.
  • 1946 — The Evangelical Church and the United Brethren merged to form the Evangelical United Brethren Church. The two denominations began merger discussions in 1926, but the United Brethren’s long-standing ordination of women was a major obstacle. When the two finally joined, United Brethren women clergy — who had been ordained for 60 years — were forced to give up their clergy rights. 
  • 1968 — On April 23, the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church united to become The United Methodist Church. With the merger, The United Methodist Church abolished a painful part of its history of segregation. The EUB, which was not segregated, made the dissolution of the Central Jurisdiction a condition for union. 

Sample social post:
The United Methodist Church has its roots in the long history of the Methodist Church, but also in the Evangelical United Brethren Church, which grew from German-speaking, Methodist-influenced denominations. Do you know the roots of our congregation? #UMC50 #UMC UMC.org/UMC50

Application ideas for your local congregation
This question provides another perfect opportunity to lift up the history of your own congregation alongside the history of the denomination. Was your church started as a United Methodist church or does it have a much older history? Was it part of one of the predecessor churches in the Methodist or EUB tradition? Do you have current members who remember that time and could share something about it?

Learn more

 

Where did The United Methodist Church get its name? 

When John and Charles Wesley were students at Oxford University, they began meeting with a group of other young men for intellectual and spiritual improvement. They followed a “method” or routine of religious practices and rules of living. Others began to refer to them as the “Methodists,” a name initially meant as a taunt. The name stuck and has continued to be part of our name from the days of the earliest Methodist societies in England.

The “United” in our name comes from The Evangelical United Brethren Church, which merged with The Methodist Church in 1968. It also refers to the uniting of the two denominations into one.

Next time you are tempted to shorten the name and simply say you are “Methodist,” remember that doing so fails to honor part of our rich heritage as United Methodists!

Sample social post:
The name United Methodist comes from the merger of The Methodist and The Evangelical United Brethren churches 50 years ago. Do you know how your church got its name? #UMC50 #UMC UMC.org/UMC50

Even if you are a “First” United Methodist Church or named for the street where your church is located, you still have an interesting story to tell. Why did the founders choose the location? Did your congregation move from an earlier location? If you are a “First,” you might talk about your founding and how your church and neighborhood has changed over the years. 

Learn more

 

When did the Cross and Flame become the symbol of The United Methodist Church and what does it mean?

The Cross and Flame was adopted as the official emblem of the newly formed United Methodist Church in 1968 following the union of The Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church. 

The insignia combines two traditional symbols that relate to Christ (the cross) and to the Holy Spirit (the flame).

The symbolism of the flame has several levels of rich meaning. It recalls the unifying presence and power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:3), the event we mark as the birth of the Christian Church. The dual tongues of a single flame represent the union of two denominations into one. Finally, the flame reminds of us the transformative experience in the life of John Wesley when he sensed God’s presence and felt his heart “strangely warmed” at Aldersgate.

Sample social post:
The flame in The UMC emblem represents the presence of the Holy Spirit, Pentecost and the birth of a new church. The two tongues of flame represent the merger of Methodist and EUB. #UMC50 #UMC UMC.org/UMC50

Application ideas for your local congregation
Are there important symbols in the life of your congregation — particularly if your congregation was once part of a predecessor denomination of The United Methodist Church? If so, consider highlighting this symbol or logo and how it shapes — or did shape — your congregation’s identity. 

Download the logo and learn more about how to use it

 

Notable firsts in The United Methodist Church

In 1980, the Rev. Marjorie Matthews became the first woman elected bishop — not only of The United Methodist Church, but also of any mainline Christian church. She became a symbol of progress for women in ministry, paving the way for others to serve in leadership. 

Bishop Matthews entered ministry in her early 50’s after working as a secretary for an auto parts manufacturer and raising a son as a single parent. In 1976, she was appointed a district superintendent — only the second woman to serve in that role – in the West Michigan conference. After her election as bishop in the North Central Jurisdiction, she presided over the Wisconsin Area until her retirement in 1984.

Other leading women and men whose achievements in ministry are notable in the history of The United Methodist Church are:

  • 1984: The Western Jurisdiction marks three firsts in its episcopal elections: The Rev. Elias G. Galvan becomes the first Hispanic bishop; the Rev. Leontine T.C. Kelly, the first African-American woman bishop; and the Rev. Roy I. Sano, the first Asian-American bishop.
  • 2004: The Western Jurisdiction elects the Rev. Minerva G. Carcaño as the first Latina bishop.
  • 2005: The Rev. Rosemarie Wenner of Germany becomes the first woman elected bishop in the central conferences.
  • 2008: The Rev. Joaquina Filipe Nhanala is elected the first female United Methodist bishop in Africa.

Sample social post:
As we celebrate 50 years since the forming of The United Methodist Church, we look back at the first woman to be elected bishop of any mainline Christian church, United Methodist, Bishop Marjorie Matthews. #UMC50 #UMC umc.org/umc50

Application ideas for your local congregation
As you lift of some of these firsts for your congregation, also consider noting some of the notable events from the life of your own congregation. For example, when did your congregation first have a woman clergyperson? Who was the first woman who served as chairperson of your administrative council/board?

Learn more

 

Snapshot of The United Methodist Church*

  • There are 12.6 million members of The United Methodist Church around the world, in 136 countries.
  • Around the world, there are approximately 48,000 United Methodist churches (32,000 in the U.S.).  
  • The United Methodist Church is in mission in more than 120 countries.
  • Including apportioned dollars, U.S. churches gave a total of $938 million for denominational mission in 2016.
  • Each year there are approximately 125,000 Volunteers in Mission worldwide.
  • 350 missionaries supported through the church.
  • There are 97 United Methodist-related community centers and other national mission institutions in the United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

*Most recent data available is from 2016. 

The impact of our giving and ministry

Together, United Methodists do remarkable ministry around the world. We care for survivors recovering from earthquakes and storms; we invest, long term, in vulnerable communities; we implement the most effective solutions to diseases like malaria; we equip the next generation to lead the church and society. In all of this, we share the good news of Jesus Christ.

$70M: Donated for disaster response, locally and internationally in 2017.

Sample social post:
Together, United Methodists do remarkable ministry around the world. Did you know that U.S. churches gave $938 million in 2016 (including apportioned dollars)? #UMC50 #UMC UMC.org/UMC50

Application ideas for your local congregation
How has your church’s giving or ministry had an impact on your local community or the larger church? How have your apportionments contributed to ministries in your conference and the denomination?

Learn more