United Methodist Church

From Academic Kids

Template:Methodism The United Methodist Church is the largest Methodist denomination, and the second-largest Protestant one, in the United States. In 2004 worldwide membership was about 11 million members: 8.6 million in the United States, 2.4 million in Africa, Asia and Europe.

The United Methodist Church (UMC) was formed in 1968 as a result of a merger between the Evangelical United Brethren and the Methodist Church which were themselves the results of mergers. The Methodist Church was formed in 1939 as the result of a merger of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and the Methodist Protestant Church.



Used with permission*.

The UMC is organized into conferences. The highest level is called the General Conference and is the only organization which may speak officially for the UMC. The General Conference meets every four years (quadrennium). Legislative changes are recorded in The Book of Discipline which is revised after each General Conference. Non-legislative resolutions are recorded in The Book of Resolutions, which is published after each General Conference, and expire after eight years unless passed again by a subsequent session of General Conference.

Beneath the General Conference are Jurisdictional and Central Conferences which also meet every four years. Their chief purpose is to elect and appoint bishops to serve the UMC. The United States is divided into five Jursidictions: Northeast, Southeast, North Central, South Central and Western. Outside the United States the UMC is divided into seven Central Conferences: Africa, Congo, West Africa, Central & Southern Europe, Germany, Northern Europe and Philippines.

Jurisdictions and Central Conferences are comprised of Annual Conferences. The Annual Conference, roughly the equivalent of a diocese in the Episcopal Church and the Roman Catholic Church or a synod in some Lutheran denominations like the ELCA, is the basic unit of organization within the UMC. The term Annual Conference refers to the geographical area it covers as well as the frequency of meeting. Ordained clergy are members of their Annual Conference, and are appointed to a local church or other charge annually by their Bishop at the meeting of the Annual Conference. In many ways, the UMC operates as a confederation of the Annual Conferences, and interpretations of the Book of Discipline by one conference are not binding upon another.

Annual Conferences are further divided into Districts, each served by a District Superintendent. The District Superintendents are also appointed annually from the ordained elder members of the Annual Conference by the Bishop. Unlike the Bishop, the District Superintendent is not superior in ordination to other elders, and upon completion of their service as superintendent they routinely return to serving local congregations.

While the General Conference is the only organization that can officially speak for the UMC, there are several boards, commissions, and agencies that the UMC operates on the denomination level. These include the following:

  • General Council on Ministries
  • General Council on Finance and Administration
  • General Board of Church and Society
  • General Board of Discipleship
  • General Board of Higher Education and Ministry
  • General Board of Pension and Health Benefits
  • General Commission on Archives and History
  • General Commission on Communication
  • General Commission On Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns
  • General Commission on Religion and Race
  • General Commission on the Status and Role of Women
  • General Commission on United Methodist Men
  • The United Methodist Publishing House

The chief administrators of the UMC are the bishops, who serve Episcopal areas consisting of one or more Annual Conferences. The Annual Conference cabinet consists of the bishop and the district superintendents.


The clergy includes men and women who are ordained by Bishops as Elders and Deacons and are appointed to various ministries. Elders in the UMC are part of what is called the itinerating ministry and are subject to the authority and appointment of their bishops. They generally serve as pastors at local congregations. Deacons make up a serving ministry and may serve as musicians, educators, business administrators, and a number of other ministries. Elders and deacons are required to obtain master's degrees before ordination.

There is also another clerical order called local pastors. Elders may serve in and perform sacraments in any church while local pastors may only serve in and perform sacraments in the specific church that they were appointed to by their bishop. Local pastors are not required to have advanced degrees but are required to take yearly classes.


The laity consists of all confirmed members of the church. Although it is not a sacrament in the UMC, confirmation is required to join the church. The lay members of the church are extremely important in the UMC. They are part of all major decisions in the church, and General, Jurisdictional, Central, and Annual Conferences are all required to have an equal number of laity and clergy.

In a local church, all decisions are made by an administrative board or council. This council is made up of laity from various other organizations within the local church. The elder or local pastor sits on the council but only as a non-voting member.


United Methodist beliefs are similar to many mainline Protestant denominations. Although United Methodist beliefs have evolved over time, these beliefs can be traced to the writings of the church's founders, John Wesley and Charles Wesley (Methodist), Philip William Otterbein and Martin Boehm (United Brethren), and Jacob Albright (Evangelical). With the formation of the United Methodist Church in 1968, theologian Albert C. Outler led the team which systematized denominational doctrine. Outler's work proved pivotal in the work of union, and he is largely considered the first United Methodist theologian.

The official doctrinal statements of United Methodism are:

  • the Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church;
  • the Confession of Faith of the Evangelical United Brethren Church;
  • the General Rules of the Methodist Societies;
  • the Standard Sermons of John Wesley;
  • and John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the New Testament.

The basic beliefs of the United Methodist Church include:

The UMC is considered one of the more liberal and tolerant denominations with respect to race, gender, and ideology.

One source of considerable controversy within the church (as in much of mainline Protestantism) is its official positions on homosexuality. As it stands, the Book of Discipline declares homosexuality to be "incompatible with Christian teaching," prohibits the ordination of "practicing, self-avowed homosexuals," forbids clergy from blessing or presiding over same-sex unions, and forbids the use of UMC facilities for same-sex union ceremonies. Failed efforts have been made to liberalize the church's position at every general conference since the merger, beginning in 1972; delegates from annual conferences on the East and West Coasts typically vote to do so, but are outnumbered by those from the South, Midwest, and overseas.

Ecumenical relations

According to the United Methodist Book of Discipline, the United Methodist Church is just one branch of the universal Christian church. Therefore, the United Methodist Church is active in ecumenical relations with other denominations. It is a member of both the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches as well as Churches Uniting in Christ.

In April 2005, the United Methodist Council of Bishops approved "A Proposal for Interim Eucharistic Sharing." This document would be the first step toward full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which the UMC bishops hope will happen by 2008. The church is also in dialogue with the Episcopal Church for full communion by 2012. [1] (http://www.umc.org/interior.asp?ptid=1&mid=7664)

See Also

External links

* "The Cross and Flame [insignia] is used with permission. The Cross and Flame is a registered trademark and the use is supervised by the General Council on Finance and Administration of The United Methodist Church. Permission to use the Cross and Flame must be obtained from the GCFA, Legal Department, 1200 Davis Street, Evanston, Illinois 60201." (See the original e-mail.)


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