Annual Conferences and General Conference (MEC)

Francis Asbury
Francis Asbury

We’re getting close to the end of our story of the formation of the forerunners of The United Methodist church. We’ve explored the beginnings of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the United Brethren in Christ, and the Evangelical Association, all of whom came together in 1968 to form The United Methodist Church (technically, the United Brethren in Christ and Evangelical Association had already merged to form the Evangelical United Brethren, or EUB, which is what merged with The Methodist Church.) But there is a little way to go in our story yet. So let’s get back to it.

As the 18th century came to a close and the 19th opened, people were moving west – and this included Methodists — adherents, members, “mothers in Israel,” class leaders, exhorters, local preachers, and of course, circuit riders. These Methodists often found one another in a new settlement and began the organizing process for a new Methodist society. Such spontaneous starts nevertheless ran by the book— the Book of Discipline — under the guidance of a class leader and the nearest local preacher.

Other class-forming patterns began as a traveling preacher (e.g., circuit rider) heard of settlements beyond his present itinerant rounds and appointed preaching for himself and his junior “yokefellow” wherever he could find a willing household.

Thus the boundary of Methodism moved with western settlements and often as the very first phase of sociopolitical community formation. New classes and preaching places, stressing a circuit’s capacity, demanded additional preachers and circuits and eventually new conferences. So after reducing the number of conferences in the interest of communication, efficiency, and fraternal authority, the preachers in General Conference authorized their increase as the church exploded west, north, and south.

By 1804, having drawn these geographical and demographic boundaries, the MEC came to understand that a preacher actually belonged to a specific conference. Individual conferences, once convened primarily as instruments of mission and ministry, thereafter became social and political units, within which preachers increasingly lived out their itinerant careers.

Joshua Soule
Joshua Soule

Joshua Soule, who would eventually be elected a bishop in 1824, proposed a delegated conference and explicitly limited General Conference’s legislative power in several crucial areas, among them any alteration of the plan of an “itinerant general superintendency” or modification of “our present existing and established standards of doctrine.” Soule’s draft, with this set of “Restrictive Rules” at its heart, came eventually to be regarded as the constitution of the church, but it passed only after considerable debate and testing of alternatives. The Restrictive Rules are still in place today.

From their introduction the Restrictive Rules were recognized as a critical turn in the denomination’s history. Soule’s effort at precision unfortunately left several matters ambiguous for later historians to debate… What were the standards of doctrine? While Soule’s Restrictive Rules said General Conference cannot change our doctrine, what defines our doctrine? Were the Articles of Religion the intended reference as the manuscript minutes of General Conference seem to indicate or the fuller array of Wesleyan transmissions, Sermons and Notes Upon the New Testament in particular? Who would judge the constitutionality of General Conference actions? Was it the arbiter of its own decisions? Did plenary authority lodge now in General Conference in its “full powers to make rules and regulations” or remain in the whole body of preachers? And by making bishops presiding officers and no longer members of General Conference, had the church subjected the former to the latter? How would the bishops provide guidance on a connectional level?

Today, the United Methodist Church has agreed that the doctrine of our church is defined by the Articles of Religion, Wesley’s Notes Upon the New Testament, and his standard Sermons. This is why when you read the Articles of Religion in the Book of Discipline today, they still sound like they were written in the 18th century. They were! And they cannot be changed thanks to Joshua Soule’s Restrictive Rules. However, an interesting wrinkle was introduced when the EUB merged with The Methodist Church in 1968. The EUB Confession of Faith had been modernized along the way. So today’s Book of Discipline contains BOTH The Methodist’s Articles of Religion AND the EUB’s Confession of Faith. BOTH constitute our doctrine today, though the latter is much easier to understand.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at Methodist spirituality in the home and in camp meetings.

(Source: “American Methodism: A Compact History,” by Russell E. Richey, Kenneth E. Rowe, and Jean Miller Schmidt)

Entries from Bishop Asbury’s Journal for Fall, 1792

Francis Asbury
Francis Asbury

We’ve been talking about the Methodist General Conference of 1792, and the formation of the United Brethren in Christ and Evangelical Association in the late 18th, early 19th centuries. What was Bishop Francis Asbury up to during all this time? Let’s turn to his journal to find out…

Monday, August 27, 1792: Came to New York [ED – to John Street Church], and opened conference, twenty-eight preachers being present. We spent most of the afternoon in prayer; and nearly all the preachers gave an account of what each one had seen and felt since last conference. The young gave us their experience, and there were several who professed sanctification [ED – i.e., having reached “perfect love”]. Awful Hammett haunted us one day, requesting us to give him an honourable discharge from the connexion; but we shall publish him expelled – he is the Wheatley of America.

Friday, August 31, 1792: We had a solemn love feast, the lower floor of the house being nearly filled; several of the brethren professed perfect love; others had lost the witness.

My mind has been so bent to the business of the conference, that I have slept but little this week. Connecticut is supplied much to my mind, several very promising young men having been admitted to this conference. The societies are in harmony, but not as lively as they ought to be. I went to hear Dr. Livingston [ED- chief minister of the Reformed Dutch Church in NY], but was greatly disappointed: he had such a rumbling voice that I could understand but little in that great house. How elegant the building! How small the appearance of religion! Lord, have mercy upon the Reformed Churches! O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! I was obliged to my friend for renewing my clothing and giving me a little pocket money; this is better than 500 pounds per annum. I told some of our preachers, who were very poor, how happy they were; and that probably, had they more, their wants would proportionately increase [ED – I have found this to be true in my ministry! Ask me about the time I made my daughter, Lauren, quit school!] My soul is humble, and by grace is kept holy: I do the best I can, and leave the event to the Lord; if others do wrong, they must answer for themselves now, and at the day of judgment.

Sunday, September 2, 1792: We had a severe crossing the North River; it was as much as ever the horses could do to keep their feet. We came to Newark, and thence to Elizabethtown, in Jersey. I now began to unbend my mind, and became very heavy. I went upstairs, sat in my chair, rested my head, and slept solidly; but a kind friend would have me waked, which made me sick.

United Brethren and Evangelical Association Roots of The UM Church

Martin Boehm

There’s one piece of our United Methodist story yet untold. We need to backtrack a bit and bring that portion of our story up-to-date. Recall that in 1968, The United Methodist Church was formed in Dallas, TX, from the union of the Evangelical United Brethren (EUB) and the Methodist Church. The EUB was itself the product of the merger of the United Brethren in Christ and the Evangelical Association. (For background, the United Brethren in Christ was formed by Mennonite pastor, Martin Boehm, and German Reformed pastor, Phillip William Otterbein, whom we have met at several points in our story. Recall that Otterbein and Boehm had met at a religious meeting in Isaac Long’s barn in Lancaster County, PA. After hearing the Mennonite Boehm preach, the German Reformed Otterbein had declared, “Wir sind Bruder!,” meaning “We are brothers!” Further, Otterbein had laid hands on Francis Asbury at the Christmas Conference of 1784 when Asbury was ordained bishop.) The Evangelical Association was formed by German pastor, Jacob Albright. As United Methodists, we are spiritual descendants of all of these people.

So far, we’ve been mostly tracing the history of the Methodist side of the UMC. We need to go back and pick up the threads of the EUB. Many in our church today trace their roots to the EUB side of the family, perhaps some of our readers.

Phillip William Otterbein
Phillip William Otterbein

Lacking the crisis over orders and sacraments that the Methodist Episcopal Church experienced, and not requiring a transatlantic transfer of authority, the United Brethren in Christ evolved more gradually out of German Reformed and Mennonite contexts and continued that evolution slowly.

An important stage in the emergence of the United Brethren as a distinct movement and disengagement from the German Reformed occurred in the 1800 gathering of the “United Ministers.” The conferees agreed to meet annually; adopted a new name – United Brethren in Christ (UBC). They approved believer’s as well as infant baptism. (FUN FACT: As much as infant baptism has been a part of Methodist tradition, tracing all the way back to our Anglican roots, there is never-the-less an order for infant DEDICATION, distinct from infant baptism, in our UM Hymnal. This service traces to our EUB ancestry which has its roots in the Continent’s Reformed movement). They also selected their two founders, Phillip William Otterbein and Martin Boehm, as bishops. They also empowered them to appoint preachers to circuits upon consultation with pastors and circuits. This was the beginning of the modern “consultative process” in appointment making. They clustered circuits around three centers, later conferences: southeastern Pennsylvania, Maryland and northern Virginia, and the Miami River valley in Ohio.

Despite Boehm’s and Otterbein’s, election as bishops of the United Brethren in Christ in 1800, not until 1813, however, did they ordain any new preachers. It finally happened when Otterbein, after Boehm’s death in 1812 and anticipating his own, consecrated William Newcomer and two others, with the assistance of a Methodist elder, William Ryland.

United Brethren in Christ inaction on discipline finally stopped a series of negotiations with the Methodist Episcopal Church, carried on by the Baltimore Conference and formalized in letters between the two denominations from 1809 to 1814.

Jacob Albright
Jacob Albright

Like the UBC, the Evangelical Association (EA) developed gradually with no single transition crisis. Competing for German-speaking members with the UBC in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, the EA, like its leader and first bishop, Jacob Albright, emerged out of and remained in close association with the Methodists. Though catechized Lutheran, Albright found a spiritual home after his conversion experience with the Methodists and in the early 1790s professed commitment to the discipline, order, practices, and doctrine of the Methodists. Licensed as an exhorter by the Methodists, Albright began preaching in 1796, itinerating through German-speaking communities.

Theologically, Albright was influenced by pietism. He Insisted that salvation came through a renewed heart, not traditions, liturgies, and catechisms. He received ridicule from the Lutherans, Reformed, and Mennonites, and in 1797, Albright was excommunicated by the Lutherans.

Like his Methodist compatriots, Albright gathered converts into classes, held camp meetings, and raised up others to preach. He brought together class leaders in 1803 in the EA’s first formal trans-local assembly.  That organizing conference recognized Albright as leader, ordained him, commissioned two other preachers as associates, and constituted itself as a society.

The EA met in its first regular annual conference in 1807, a gathering of five itinerant preachers, three local preachers, and twenty class leaders. It elected and ordained Albright as bishop and asked him to prepare a German translation of the Methodist Episcopal Church Book of Discipline, “for the instruction and edification of the societies,” and to appoint the preachers to their circuits.

Unfortunately, Jacob Albright’s health failed and he died the next year in 1808. From the start the EA entertained hopes for unity either with the MEC or with the UBC. Such explorations, including the possibility of becoming the German conference of the MEC, went nowhere with Asbury over the EA’s persistent use of the German language and despite affinities. Though the EA and the UBC would eventually merge together to form the Evangelical United Brethren, full union with the Methodists would have to wait until 1968.

John Dreisbach
John Dreisbach

In 1816, John Dreisbach – Albright’s successor – convened the organizing General Conference of the Evangelical Association. It sustained the commitment to a German-only ministry, approved expansion into Ohio and upstate New York, authorized negotiations with the UBC, rearranged and improved the Discipline, and authorized a new hymnal. This General Conference also embraced a new name, Evangelical Association, the first American church body to adopt the term Evangelical in its name, something that was actually common in Germany.

Not until 1839 was the church’s second bishop, John Seybert, elected and consecrated, a bachelor known for frugality and simplicity and a former Lutheran. The new bishop began an aggressive plan of church expansion westward to Ohio and Indiana, Michigan and Illinois, even Canada.

In contrast to United Brethren, Evangelicals clung firmly to the German language well into the twentieth century.

Next time, we’ll return to looking at the expansion of the Methodist Episcopal Church through the eyes of its bishop, Francis Asbury.

(Source: “American Methodism: A Compact History,” by Russell E. Richey, Kenneth E. Rowe, and Jean Miller Schmidt)

Rapid Growth and Denominationalism

PS30 FRANCIS ASBURY PREACHING BY LAMP LIGHTAfter its formation at the Christmas Conference in Baltimore, the Methodist Episcopal Church exploded in size from 15,000 members in 1784, to more than ten times that at 150,000 in 1810. That was just 16 years! (By contrast, membership stood at nearly 11 million when The United Methodist Church was formed in 1968 by the merger of The Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren. Membership today is 7.3 million.)

With continued rapid growth and the westward expansion of America, by 1830, Methodist membership stood at close to 500,000 people. In the decade 1800–1810 Methodism had almost tripled in size.  By 1810 Methodists constituted 7.4 percent of the population in Maryland and 8.4 percent in Delaware. Imagine if nearly one out of every ten citizens of Texas today were a Methodist!

Increasingly, Methodists moved outward from the middle Atlantic and upper south states. In the competitive religious-free-for-all of the westward movement, Methodists, in their various permutations, weaned America from its predominantly Calvinist colonial nursing and ethnically-linguistically-racially closed confessional systems. In so doing, Methodism defined and modeled a new denominational order. That new order was voluntaristic, expansionist, and oriented to the expanding nation and evangelistically open.

Methodists, preaching prevenient grace and Wesley’s Arminianism, altered revivalism from Calvinism’s Continue reading

General Conference of 1792

General Conference of 1792
General Conference of 1792

It seems like forever since I did an update to our ongoing story of early American Methodism! During our trip this fall, among the Methodist historic sites we will visit are the two oldest, continuously operating Methodist churches – John Street in New York City and St. Georges in Philadelphia. Both have been in the contemporary news lately and I paused to post about them. First, I posted an article regarding the coming together of the Episcopalians and United Methodists at John Street UMC in March for a joint service of Holy Communion. And yesterday, the Methodist Roots of Mother’s Day, which included a stop at Old St. Georges.

And, once again, I’ve been away for a few days. I was in Lakeland, Florida, this week for a meeting of 2nd chair leaders (executive pastors and executive directors) of large United Methodist churches.

But now, “back to our story.”

After the founding of the Methodist Episcopal Church at the Christmas Conference in Baltimore in December, 1784, Methodism still needed connectional administrative, policy-making, and legislative authority. So the first General Conference of all the traveling preachers was called and met once again in Baltimore, November 1–15, 1792.

Book_DoctrinesAndDiscipline_CME_1874.jpgUnfortunately, no journal or minutes from this first General Conference survives. However, it did leave its record in the Book of Discipline, which it revised. Perhaps most important, it gave itself legislative power for the church, established itself as a permanent body, to convene again in four years (from which the very Methodist term “quadrennium” derives), “to which, all the preachers in full connection were at liberty to come.” The General Conference has been meeting every four years since. The next one is next year, 2016. Except now, the General Conference consists of about 1,000 delegates, half lay, and half clergy. How we got THERE, with full inclusion of the laity, is further along in our story.

Rev. James O'Kelly
Rev. James O’Kelly

The 1792 General Conference clearly worried some over the power it was lodging in the presiding eldership (district superintendents), for it limited the term of presiding elders in one place to four years (it is six years today). Perhaps motivating limitations on the presiding eldership were the political machinations and intense criticisms of the bishops by the presiding elder from the Virginia–North Carolina border, James O’Kelly. Here’s a name every Methodist history nerd should know – James O’Kelly – hero to every Methodist preacher who feels abused by the appointment system.

The second day of General Conference, O’Kelly placed a motion on the floor giving preachers who thought themselves “injured” by the bishop’s appointment the “liberty to appeal to the conference” and the right, if the appeal was sustained, to another appointment. This was a direct attack on the authority of the bishop. Despite the lack of any official minutes of the Conference, the tenor and intemperate tone of the “long” debate can be discerned in O’Kelly’s account of the event.

O’Kelly appealed to the ideology of republicanism— the rhetoric of the Revolution, of American liberty, of democracy. This republican imagery made considerable sense to some Methodist preachers. Should not an American church conduct itself along American principles? Had they not been injured by appointments? (Many preachers today feel the same way!!) Did not Coke and Asbury connive to increase their power? Had not the preachers been obliged to check episcopal tyranny already? Were not the preachers’ liberties in danger? Would it not be better safeguarded in conference rather than episcopal hands?

However, intemperately defended, O’Kelly’s motion failed. After the vote, James O’Kelly walked out with a party of supporters to form a rival Methodist movement – O’Kelly’s schism was the first of what would be many schisms in the American Methodist movement. Called the Republican Methodists, O’Kelly’s new church had considerable appeal, especially in lower Virginia and upper North Carolina, which is where O’Kelly’s district was located. Through more than a century of schisms and reunifications, the remnants of O’Kelly’s movement finds itself today in the Churches of Christ circle.

For a time the Methodist Episcopal Church seemed to be coming apart at the seams, barely a decade into its existence. O’Kelly’s movement proposed a polity protective of liberty, grounded in Scripture alone, and explicitly antislavery as O’Kelly explained in his apologetic writings. Also in 1792, William Hammett was in the process of drawing off Charleston Methodists into a church committed to following Wesley’s primitive Methodism, taking that as its name, and criticizing Coke and Asbury. (Interestingly, after John Wesley’s death, a British Methodist movement emerged in England by that same name, Primitive Methodists. I had the privilege of preaching in one of their churches during our trip to England in 2011.)

Richard Allen
Richard Allen

In the same time frame, Black Methodists under Richard Allen took important steps along the way toward independence, walking out of St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia (which we will visit) and establishing Bethel Church as an African congregation. Allen, and those who followed him out, believed the way Black Methodists were treated at St. George’s – forced to sit in the back of the church – was not consistent with either Methodist beliefs or the gospel.

Not all Black Methodists in Philadelphia followed Allen into Mother Bethel Church, however. A small group decided to give mother Methodism a little more time to treat them with dignity and respect and organized in 1794 as African Zoar.

Both the Allen movement and the Republican Methodists held up Methodism’s antislavery banner, championed liberty, and called for a more democratic church. These issues would not go away, and the schisms cost the MEC some of its most fervent opponents of slavery, most articulate exponents of liberty, and its most egalitarian spirits. Historian William Warren Sweet estimates that the overall losses suffered by the Methodist Episcopal Church in the 1790s to the Republicans, to William Hammett, to Richard Allen’s Black Methodists movement, and to other causes amounted to some 10,000— roughly 20 percent of the membership total.

Unfortunately, these schisms would not be the last, nor the most damaging.

Next time, we look at how Methodism contributed to a new phenomenon not known in the churches of Europe – denominationalism.

(Source: “American Methodism: A Compact History,” by Russell E. Richey, Kenneth E. Rowe, and Jean Miller Schmidt)

The Methodist Roots of Mothers’ Day

Ann Reeves Jarvis, the Mother of Mother’s Day
Ann Reeves Jarvis, the Mother of Mother’s Day

(For a brief video on the Methodist Roots of Mother’s Day, click here.)

May 10, 2015 marks the 101st anniversary of President Woodrow Wilson’s proclamation designating Mother’s Day as an official holiday. Wilson issued his proclamation in response to a movement started by Methodist Anna Jarvis to honor and recognize mothers. The holiday has its roots in Grafton, West Virginia.

Anna Jarvis, a native of the Grafton, West Virginia area, received her inspiration to create a day to honor mothers from her own mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis. The elder Jarvis was a long- time community activist in Taylor County, organizing local mothers into work clubs to help improve the health of area families and children in the 1850s. During the Civil War, these women contributed to the comfort and health of soldiers stationed in the area. After the Civil War ended, Jarvis held a Mothers’ Friendship Day, which sought to heal the wounds between neighbors in war-torn Taylor County.

Anna Jarvis
Anna Jarvis, the founder of Mother’s Day

After her mother’s death on May 9, 1905, Anna Jarvis sought to establish a day to honor mothers. She had often heard her mother speak and pray for someone to start such a day. Jarvis sought to establish the day as a way for sons and daughters to recognize the hard work of their own mothers.

Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church, Grafton, West Virginia, site of the first observance of Mother’s Day in 1908. Today, it is the International Mother’s Day Shrine, a museum dedicated to motherhood and the founding of Mother’s Day.
Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church, Grafton, West Virginia, site of the first observance of Mother’s Day in 1908. Today, it is the International Mother’s Day Shrine, a museum dedicated to motherhood and the founding of Mother’s Day.

In 1908, on the second Sunday in May, Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church, in Grafton, West Virginia, held the first official Mother’s Day observance at the urging of Anna Jarvis. The date of the service coincided with the Sunday nearest to the anniversary of the death of her mother. The location was chosen because Ann Reeves Jarvis taught Sunday School for over 20 years at the church, and was an active member. Although Anna Jarvis did not attend the service held that morning, she donated 500 white carnations to the 400 attendees.

Interior view of Andrews Methodist Church, Grafton, West Virginia.
Interior view of Andrews Methodist Church, Grafton, West Virginia.

Later that same day, a crowd of over 15,000 people, including Anna Jarvis, gathered in Philadelphia at Old St. Georges Methodist Episcopal Church to pay tribute to mothers. In the years following its initial observance, Jarvis promoted her holiday, which quickly gained popularity and spread to forty-five states and two territories by 1909. She also translated literature about Mother’s Day into over ten languages, which resulted in its spread internationally. Jarvis’ letter writing and promotional campaigns ultimately led to a Congressional Resolution and Presidential Proclamation in 1914, officially recognizing the second Sunday in May as a day to honor mothers. We continue to recognize this day as Mother’s Day.

(Source: blog post by Brandi Oswald, Graduate Student Assistant, West Virginia University, at

United Methodists in the News

IMG_8995Having written last time about the formal separation of Methodism from the Church of England at the Christmas Conference of 1784, and last time about the growing strain between American Methodism and the aging John Wesley back in England, I thought you might enjoy this bit of contemporary news. Here is something that took place just this past March at John Street Methodist Church in New York City (a church we will visit on our trip).

By Joanne S. Utley

In celebration of the ecumenical bonds developing between two denominations, members of the United Methodist and Episcopal churches came together to share in Holy Communion early this month at the John Street UMC in New York City.

Some 50 people joined New York Area Interim Bishop Jane Allen Middleton and Episcopal Bishop Stacy F. Sauls in the worship service to commemorate the churches’ recent interim eucharistic sharing agreement. The John Street church was chosen for its historic significance as the “mother church of American Methodism,” and the date – March 3 – is celebrated as the feast day of John and Charles Wesley in the Episcopalian tradition.

For the past 10 years, the United Methodist and Episcopal churches have been in talks to deepen their expression and practice of Christian unity. This move toward “full communion” involves two denominations developing a relationship based on a common confessing of the Christian faith – it does not mean that the denominations will merge. This relationship involves the mutual recognition of members, of ordained clergy, and the sacraments; the joint celebration of Holy Communion/Eucharist; and a common commitment to evangelism, mission, and service. Both the UMC and Episcopal Church already share full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, but not with one another.

In welcoming the gathering to the church he leads, Rev. Jason Radmacher noted that the early Methodists in New York were dependent upon the local Anglican parish for the sacraments. They would come to what was then the Wesley Chapel on John Street for worship, and then walk to St. Paul’s Chapel of the Trinity Parish to receive the sacraments.

That all changed after the American Revolution when the Methodists separated from the Church of England. The Methodist Episcopal Church was founded at the Christmas Conference of December 1784; the first proper Eucharist was celebrated at John Street in January 1785, with Bishop Thomas Coke presiding.

“May tonight help revive those ties that have lain dormant,” Radmacher said.

As he began his message, Bishop Sauls confessed that he, “like many Episcopal bishops,” had grown up as a Methodist. “My mother would be very proud to see me standing in a Methodist pulpit tonight,” he said as the gathering responded in laughter.  Sauls, who is the chief operating officer for the Episcopal Church, explained that he had not come to talk about Christian unity, but about how the church is using the power and authority it has been given to fulfill the gospel of Jesus Christ. He said that the main problem before the church is not a crisis of authority, but rather one of “powerlessness.” “We need to become powerless so that we can call upon the authority of God through the Holy Spirit,” he said. “The sooner we realize that, we will receive power over and above all our imagination.”

Sauls explained that the gospel comes as a surprise to many because the message of Jesus is found not in power, but in “our powerlessness.” “The one thing we need to do tonight is to call on the help and inward power of the Holy Spirit,” he said. “We [Methodists and Episcopalians] are not called together because of what we can give one another . . . we’re called to turn to the needs of the world.”

Following the sermon, Bishop Middleton, who began leading the New York Annual Conference on January 1, presided over the sacrament of Holy Communion. In a nod to the traditions of the two denominations, both grape juice and wine were served as part of the holy feast. “It was a great joy for me and, I think, for everyone present to join together the best of both our denominations in the celebration,” Middleton said after the service. “I believe John and Charles Wesley would be very pleased to see that we’re in a special relationship of shared communion.” The Wesley brothers, though branded as the founders of Methodism, never intended to break from the Anglican Church.

The liturgists represented both laity and clergy from the two denominations: Nicholas Birns, a member of Grace Episcopal Church, and the Very Rev. Kurt H. Dunkle, dean and president of The General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church; and Ann Wareham, a member of John Street UMC, and Rev. Denise Smartt Sears, Metropolitan District superintendent of the New York Annual Conference.

After the service, the gathering enjoyed a time of fellowship on the lower level of the church that also houses its collection of 18th and 19th century church artifacts.

According to Rev. Radmacher, the 2016 General Conference plans to honor John Street UMC on the occasion of the congregation’s 250th anniversary. The church web site explains its history this way: the “John Street Church has been at witness for God’s love in the heart of New York City since our first worship service in 1766.  In nearly two and a half centuries of ministry we have served soldiers wounded in the American Revolution, investors who lost everything in the Great Depression, and a neighborhood devastated by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.”

The dialogue concerning “full communion” will continue with the final decision to be made by the governing bodies of both denominations.

“My hope for future will be that our General Conference will indeed confirm the shared communion relationship in 2016,” Middleton said. The Episcopal General Convention will consider the matter two years later in 2018.