- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 28, 2002

The nation's four Methodist denominations one predominantly white and three serving black churchgoers have stepped back from an earlier goal of merging into one religious body.
Delegates to a "pan-Methodism" conference, representing 12 million church members, agreed that cooperation rather than structural merger was the only way forward.
"This is probably the wise thing to do. It lowers the anxiety level among churches that have worried about too much change," said United Methodist Bishop Fritz Mutti of Kansas, chairman of the commission on Pan-Methodist Cooperation and Union.
"We're having to reframe what we mean by 'union,'" he said in an interview Tuesday. "We're working hard to find ways to cooperate together."
The idea is to "move toward union" in a common faith held by the United Methodist, African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion and Christian Methodist Episcopal churches, the commission said.
In July, when the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church was the last of the four to reject a structural merger plan, the vision of a single, racially integrated Methodism with the same bishops and finances effectively died.
The meeting in Los Angeles last week of the pan-Methodist commission confirmed the end.
"We all want to be what we are," the Rev. George W. Maize, an AME Zion pastor from Los Angeles, said in presenting his Committee on Models of Union report at the meeting.
Still, he said, "We need some model to become unified without losing our identity."
While there are no doctrinal differences among the groups, they have openly talked about United Methodists being predominantly white and wealthy and the three black denominations being smaller and poor.
Even with a financial-type merger of the Methodist groups, black clergy worried about opportunities with a preponderance of white bishops and churchgoers felt a loss of traditions.
"We define racism as prejudice that has power, so the onus has been on United Methodists," said Bishop Mutti, who is "optimistic" about new kinds of four-way cooperation.
Already, the bishops from the four churches have met seven times. Two voting delegates from the black Methodist groups sit on every United Methodist agency board.
A major source of funds going from United Methodists to the three sister churches had been the Campaign for Children in Poverty.
Meeting in Los Angeles, the 36-member commission affirmed the eight theological agreements of the four bodies and listed 21 potential areas of cooperation, including evangelism, social projects, publications and missions.
The new agenda will include national interracial meetings of Methodist men and a pan-Methodist student gathering in Albuquerque, N.M., on Dec. 28.


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