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I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.


As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.


-- John 17:20-21, NRSV

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COMMENTARY: Pan-Methodist Full Communion, A Healing Step Forward PDF Print E-mail

by The Rev. Dr. Stephen J. Sidorak, Jr.*

General Secretary

 

We have a shameful history of blatant racism that led to the break-up of American Methodism into multiple denominations beginning in the late 18th Century. This separation remains a morally inexcusable part of our collective past that has direct impact on inter-church relations today. 

 

There is some solace in the fact that there has been demonstrable dedication within The United Methodist Church to preserve a special relationship with the historic African-American Methodist churches.  This has been expressed through the Pan-Methodist Commission, comprised of five historically African American denominations and the United Methodist Church.  The Commission exists in part to be a repairer of the breach.  The unwavering will to overcome such a relational rupture is courageous testimony to the sincere yearning for racial reconciliation. 

 

The ongoing fragmentation of Methodism along racial lines undermines the unity of these churches, severely tests our commitment to “connectionalism,” reawakens extremely painful memories and continues to separate us one from the other.  The “color line” that has been drawn has long been a blot on our denominational conscience. 

 

The United Methodist Church institutionally and liturgically repented of its sin of racism and officially conducted acts of repentance at two General Conferences.  In 2000 the act focused on  “those who left”; in 2004 on “those who stayed behind.”  Members of the predominantly African-American Pan-Methodist churches and African-American members of The United Methodist Church have graciously forgiven “seventy times seven.”  Our church should be forever grateful for such undeserved forgiveness and acknowledge the constant need of setting our still segregated house in order, lest grace be cheap.

 

The persistence of racism and its “church-dividing” nature as well as the pernicious effects of “white privilege” have been a focus of attention for the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns.  We must remain mindful of the ecumenical dimensions inherent in the legacy of denominational racism.  I trust United Methodist angst and anguish over racism offers testimony to other denominations how seriously we take the divisions among the “People Called Methodists.”  Even now, let us recognize that our primary membership in a denomination is secondary to our relatedness in Christ.  We know that what we might do together is important, but we understand who we are together is paramount.  We treasure the togetherness we already have in Christ Jesus our Lord by water and by blood—and appreciate its givenness.  We dare not say to one another, “I have no need of you.”

 

My hope for the ecumenical future is that we would celebrate the richness of the oneness we enjoy in Christ Jesus our Lord and work for the oneness of the witness God would have us bear to the world in and through the Pan-Methodist Commission.  This is the vision behind the proposed 2012 General Conference legislation on full communion.

 

“O Happy Day” it will be when the six churches of the Pan-Methodist Commission enter into a new, formal relationship of full communion with one another.  There is a distinct possibility that new life for the Commission itself might be a consequence of full communion.  The decision by the bishops of all six denominations to meet together every other year rather than every four years is another sign of the potential for revitalization.  I am optimistic about the prospects for the Pan-Methodist Commission.  Becoming full communion partners with all the other member churches of the Pan-Methodist Commission, who have previously approved it, will be one more step toward the healing of relationships.

 

On Ecumenical Day at General Conference, let us anticipate our own approval of Pan-Methodist full communion and celebrate it with the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Union Methodist Protestant Church and the Union American Methodist Episcopal Church.

 

Thanks be to God!



* Sidorak, an ordained elder in the Rocky Mountain Conference of the United Methodist Church, is general secretary of the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns with offices in New York.

 

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