Sunday, October 22, 2017

History of The United Methodist Church

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The Union of the Evangelical United Brethren and the Methodist churches formed The United Methodist Church in 1968.

The Evangelical United Brethren Church, established in 1946, represented the union of two U.S.-born denominations: the Evangelical Church and the Church of the United Brethren in Christ.  Both originated among German-speaking people in the colonies during the great spiritual awakening of the late 18th century.

The two fellowships and the Methodist Church were similar, particularly in terms of church polity and evangelistic zeal.

Jacob Albright, a lay preacher in eastern Pennsylvania, gathered followers in the early 1800's.  These "Albright people" formed the Evangelical Association,  later to become the Evangelical Church.  The Rev. Philip Otterbein, ordained by the German Reformed Church, started the United Brethren movement in the late 1700's. 

Meanwhile, the Methodist movement, which had begun in England in the early 1700's under Anglican clergyman John Wesley and his followers, had spread to Ireland and the colonies.  Wesley did not officially organize a new church, but sparked a renewal movement within the Church of England.

Methodist classes and congregations met in the United States beginning in the 1760's.  Around Christmas 1784, some 60 ministers gathered in Baltimore and organized the Methodist Episcopal Church.  The word "episcopal" refers to the church's administration by bishops.  The denomination, which grew rapidly, was known for its circuit-rider pastors on the frontier.

In the late 18th century, racism in the church caused some groups of African-American Methodists to leave and form their own denominations, the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the African Methodist Episcopal Church Zion.  In 1870, another division in the parent church led to the creation of a third black Methodist denomination, known today as the Christion Methodist Episcopal Church.

As the church continued to grow, philosophical differences and division were inevitable.  In 1830, a group, which insisted on lay representation in church government, separated and became the Methodist Protestant Church.

In 1844, the Methodist Episcopal Church split over the issue of slavery.  The offspring denomination was the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.  The north and south churches reunited in 1939, compromising on the race issue by creating a segregation system.  The Methodist Protestant Church was part of the merger.  Alongside the five geographic jurisdictions,  an overlapping Central Jurisdiction was formed for African Americans.  The 1968 merger of the Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren churches dissolved the Central Jurisdiction.