They were there in Dallas when The United Methodist Church was born 50 years ago.
Senior Editor-Writer, Michigan Conference
“About 420 Evangelical United Brethren and 850 Methodist delegates are meeting at the Dallas Memorial Auditorium in Dallas.” That’s how John S. Jury began the Michigan Christian Advocate’s reporting of the 1968 Uniting Conference. Before said meeting was over two bishops – Methodist leader Lloyd C. Wicke and Evangelical United Brethren leader Reuben H. Mueller—clasped hands over a table laden with hymnals, Bibles, the Book of Discipline , the Book of Worship and a 307-page Plan of Union. The delegates and 10,000 guests recited a covenant along with the bishops, “Lord of the Church, we are united in Thee, in Thy Church and now in The United Methodist Church. Amen.”
Amen … let it be so … and it has been so for 50 years come April 23, 2018. Many of the Michigan Methodists and Brethren who were among the delegates reciting those binding words are now in glory, some are yet alive. We remember all of those delegates with respect and affection …
Detroit Conference: Carl Ammerman, Prentiss Brown, Jr., Mrs. William Cansfield, James Crippen, Jesse DeWitt, Harold Karls, Dwight Large, John Marvin, Orville McKay, Mrs. Earl W. Price, Hoover Rupert, Lionel Thompson, Frederick Vosburg, Woodie White
Michigan Conference: Mrs. Russell Finch, Donald Holbrook, Robert Jongeward, Carlos Page, Bernard Shashaguay, John Tennant, Katherine Wilcox, James Wright
Michigan EUB: Ray Allen, P. Edison Chamberlain, Gerald Fisher, Stanley Forkner, Willard Haist, Robert Horton, John Iwaniuk, Garfield Kellermann, Jr., John Kennaugh, Ralph Klump, Newell Liesemer, Prentice Peck, Arden Peterson, Mrs. Frieda Spafford, Lawrence Taylor
Experience a bit of what delegates and guests witnessed in this video courtesy of the General Commission on Archives and History …
Michigan persons lifted up for distinction in Advocate’s coverage included James Crippen, attorney from First Church Ann Arbor, who “had a prominent place in the presentation of the World Service and Finance Commission’s report.” It was further noted that Mr. Crippen’s “grasp of the material and answering of questions in the spirited debate were valuable contributions to the whole church.” Dr. Hoover Rupert, pastor First Methodist Church Ann Arbor, was elected to the Judicial Council for a four-year-term. The oldest bishop present was Raymond Wade, who returned from service in Europe in 1940 and served churches in the Detroit area before his retirement in 1948.
Bishop Dwight Loder, who would return to Michigan as the episcopal leader of The United Methodist Church, preached a compelling sermon against racism at First United Methodist Church in Dallas. The sermon titled, “God has no favorites,” was an allegory celebrating the end to the Central Jurisdiction of the Methodist Church. Loder called for the elimination of “second class citizenship.”
A dinner was held at the Adolphus Hotel during the course of the Conference to honor bishops Dwight Loder (Michigan), Reuben H. Mueller (Indianapolis), and Charles Wesley Brashares (former pastor of 1st Methodist Church Ann Arbor). The program led by the Revs Lawrence Taylor, Jesse DeWitt, and John Tennant focused on helping the 102 persons present from three conferences – Detroit, Michigan and Michigan EUB — become better acquainted.
A young face present at that dinner table was Donna Lindberg. Donna was a student at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas at the time. She had the honor of participating in the Opening Ceremony of the Uniting Conference as a flag bearer and also served as a page. Today Donna is a retired clergy member of the Detroit Conference living in the Upper Peninsula.
Donna recalls, “1968 was an exciting time to be a seminary student at Perkins School of Theology. We were afforded the opportunity to participate in the Uniting Conference. I still had class and work schedules, but was able to participate as a flag bearer for the opening processional and sit with other flag-bearers across the front of the sanctuary, looking out at the assemblage of delegates, visitors, church leaders from around the world, share in the inspiring music, preaching and liturgy – it was awesome!” Donna remembers a “wardrobe moment.” “Serving as page I became dubbed the ‘yellow page.’ Working as a page gave me the opportunity to meet, engage in conversation and learn from, a number of our bishops and delegates from different cultures, different theologies, different church histories – words can’t adequately describe all that that meant to a young, relatively naïve student from a small town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.” While she had excellent teachers at Perkins from whom she learned much — Albert Outler, Schubert Ogden, John Deschner and Carleton Young — Donna notes, “nothing was more compelling than the experiencing of the Church at work in this momentous occasion.”
Another Perkins seminarian, Margery Taber, came to the dinner at the Adolphus. Now Margery Schleicher, she is a retired clergy member of Detroit Conference living East Lansing. Margie recalls, “Although I was a student at Perkins, at that point in my life I had no plans of going into pastoral ministry. I was in school because of my interest in theology and biblical studies but I planned to return to Michigan to teach social studies.” She had special interest, however, in the Uniting Conference because of her father, the Rev. Marcius Taber, who experienced the joy of Methodist and EUB fellowship 12 years prior to the official merger.
Margie explains. “Dad was appointed to Pentwater Centenary and Ludington Summit Methodist churches in 1956. The Summit Church was unique in that a Methodist and a EUB congregation worshipped together in one church following a fire that had destroyed one of the buildings. One Sunday morning, Dad, would preach and that Sunday, Rev. Myron Williams would preach the evening service following youth fellowship. The next week, the reverse would happen with Myron in the morning and Dad in the evening.” She reports hearing one member say, “It took two pastors to keep us straight!”
With that background, Margie encouraged her father to attend the Uniting Conference as an observer. Her brother, the Rev. Harold Taber, was in Dallas as a member of the press from the Michigan Methodist Conference. And her mother came along and made a wedding dress for Margie’s roommate. A true family experience.
A rotation was established for student pages that accommodated seminary class schedules. “I was thrilled to be part of it,” Margie says, “and it is my understanding that the Uniting Conference was the first time women were permitted to be pages.” She notes that there were very few women delegates; only five of the 37 Michigan combined delegation were women (and listed officially by the names of their husbands). Margie shares a fun aside, “My brother with his press badge took a picture of me on the floor of the conference and a delegate noticed that as a woman I was getting press attention. My response was, ‘Oh, that’s just my brother!’”
Along with other seminary students, Margie had special interest in civil rights and social issues. “The segregated Central Jurisdiction was to be dissolved at the Uniting Conference,” she said. “I was especially pleased to hear African-American advocate strongly for that action.”
The Rev. Lynn DeMoss was a young Methodist pastor from the Michigan Conference. He and clergy friends went together to Atlanta in 1966 to the Methodist General Conference and were present for the vote to merge. Lynn remembers, “I was greatly impacted by this, my first in-depth exposure to the merger issue. I was excited and feeling part of a great moment in the life of the church.”
Later he would learn during a visit to friends in Indiana that others were impacted in a less positive way. “We excitedly reported our experience in Atlanta and mentioned that the merger was approved,” he remarks. Unknown to Lynn the family was EUB. ”The daughter, who was my age and a close friend, immediately burst into uncontrollable sobbing and her mother was visibly distressed.”
Lynn went on the road again in 1968 accompanied by his friends, the Rev. John Francis and the Rev. Carlos Page. Page was a Michigan Conference delegate to the Uniting Conference. “Our party came home with the feeling that the Spirit was moving and we were part of that movement.”
Lynn remembers “There was a pervasive feeling of respect for the strengths each group brought to the union and a feeling that the merger would enable a more faithful witness to the unity of the Body of Christ. This was a merger not a takeover.” Lynn is now retired, living at Clark Community in Grand Rapids.
Another Clark resident, the Rev. Charles Fullmer, was serving Reed City Methodist Church when he was persuaded to attend the Uniting Conference as a page. He calls himself “a nobody at the time but I liked to learn what was going on.” His most vivid recollection of his service as a page was having to be somewhat assertive in the role. “I remember everyone wanted to get in close to see who was voting for what. The officials in charge of us pages told us no strangers must get on the floor. We had to push people back, mightily.”
Like Margie Taber Schleicher, Charles had a foretaste of the merger prior to the Uniting Conference. In 1966 Charles was appointed to Reed City Methodist Church. “I was good friends with the pastor serving the EUB Church in Reed City,” Charles reports. “The congregations had done things together.” Then the EUB pastor was moved unexpectedly. Charles shares, “The EUB Superintendent, Larry Taylor, came to our personnel committee. Then he came and knocked on my door and said, ‘You aren’t going to believe this but the EUB Church wants you to serve them.’” Charles laughs that he then had the privilege of serving two bishops … EUB and Methodist! For a year he preached in two separate churches and then the congregations voted to build on a site selected by the EUBs.
This experience caused Charles to conclude, “I felt a part of that merger history in real life. It was a good mix in Reed City.”
Where were you on April 23, 1968? A personal aside, this editor was a sophomore in high school, frankly more interested in the Detroit Tigers pennant-chase and World Series victory than I was the restructuring of my church. I was to learn about the dynamics of merger quickly, however. Three years before merger, I was confirmed in the Vicksburg Methodist Church. As the Methodist and EUB churches stood on the same village block in my hometown, they were to be among the congregations that did actually come together as one. In 1968 many churches experienced the uniting of the Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren denominations by changing the name on the sign out front or by eventually putting a Cross & Flame on the side of the building. We Vicksburgers experienced the uniting in real time … sometimes joyful, sometimes painful, always faithful.
Where were you when The United Methodist Church was born?