Saturday, December 12, 2009

This Week in Texas Methodist HIstory December 13

CME Organized at Jackson, Tennessee, December 16, 1870

One of the most distressing problems delegates to the MECS General Conference of 1866 had to deal with was the mass exodus of African American members from the denomination. As reported in the Journals of the MECS annual conferences, about 208,000 members were “colored” before the Civil War. Although membership statistics were more difficult to obtain in 1866, it now appeared that the number of African American members had fallen to about 78,000.
Much of the loss could be attributed to the organizing efforts of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, and the Methodist Episcopal Church. All three denominations were now free to organize congregations among freedmen. They were having great success. Other freedmen preferred the flexibility of the congregational polity which Baptist churches afforded. It is little wonder that the MECS was losing so many of its African American members.

A committee of 1866 MECS General Conference delegates was charged with answering the question, “what shall be done to promote the religious interests of the colored people?” That committee advised creating a parallel structure of districts and conferences. When two annual conferences existed, then a general conference would be authorized.

By May 1870 when the MECS General Conference met again, that minimum standard had been exceeded. There were now five annual conferences so an organizing general conference was called for Jackson, Tennessee, for the following December. In the meantime three more annual conferences, including Texas, were organized so that when delegates assembled in Jackson in December, Texas was represented by the Rev. William Taylor.

The General Conference elected two bishops, defined the conference boundaries, established a publishing arm, and adopted a Discipline. The theology and polity was very similar to the other branches of Methodism already in existence.

The new denomination was called the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church (changed to Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in 1954). It prospered in Texas, especially in eastern Texas. Its growth in Texas resulted in the formation of annual conferences and the creation of Texas College in Tyler in 1894. The MECS and the CME continued to share close relations. The MECS quadrennial Disciplines called for special offerings for Lane College in Jackson, TN, and Paine College in Augusta, GA. Well into the twentieth century CME representatives attended the MECS Texas Annual Conference where a collection was taken up to support the CME. When the Methodist Church became the United Methodist Church in 1968, the historic relationship with the CME was acknowledged with the creation of “a Joint Commission on Cooperation and Counsel to continue the historic relationship between the Methodist Church and the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.” (paragraph 1074 #4)

The CME now has about 900,000 members in about 3,000 churches in the USA and conferences in Liberia, Jamaica, Haiti, Nigeria, and Ghana.


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