Who are United Methodists?
Data from Outside the United States
No person or organization except the General Conference, which convenes every four years, has authority to speak officially for the denomination. General Conference, the denominations top policy-making body, has a maximum of 1,000 delegates half clergy, half lay, from around the world. The conference revises church law and the Social Principles (related to a wide range of social and economic concerns) and adopts resolutions on various current moral, social, public policy and economic issues. It also approves plans and budgets for churchwide programs for the next four years.
The United Methodist Church has 50 active bishops in the United States and 18 active bishops in Angola, Germany, Kenya, Liberia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Norway, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe. Bishops are elected every four years and serve until retirement. Each bishop supervises a specific geographical area of the church and annually appoints all ordained ministers in that area. The Council of Bishops supervises and promotes the temporal and spiritual interests of the entire church.
Current bishops include 11 African-American men, three African-American women, two Hispanic-American men, one Asian-American man, 24 white men and eight white women.
The United Methodist Church was formed in 1968 with the union of the former Evangelical United Brethren Church and The Methodist Church.
The Evangelical United Brethren Church, established in 1946, resulted from the union of two U.S.-born denominations: the Evangelical Church and the Church of the United Brethren in Christ. These two churches originated among German-speaking people during the great spiritual awakening in the late 18th century.
The Methodist movement began in England in the early 1700s, under Anglican minister John Wesley and his followers. Wesley and his brother Charles brought the movement to the colony of Georgia, arriving in March 1736 as Church of England missionaries. The U.S. Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in 1784. The denomination grew rapidly and was known for its circuit rider ministers on the advancing frontiers. A split in 1828 formed the Methodist Protestant Church, and in 1844, over the issue of slavery, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. The North and South factions reunited in 1939 (as The Methodist Church), but retained racial segregation. That separation ended in 1968 with the merger of the Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren Churches.
The United Methodist Churchs legislative branch is its General Conference; Judicial Council is its supreme court. The United Methodist Church has no single general officer or executive, although the Council of Bishops elects a president each year. General agencies are primarily accountable to the General Conference rather than to the Council of Bishops. Boards of directors, who are lay and clergy elected jointly by General Conference and regional organizations, govern their staffs.
Each church in the United States and Puerto Rico is part of a district, an administrative and program grouping of 40-80 churches with a full-time superintendent. Districts are grouped into annual conferences, regional bodies that meet yearly for legislative purposes. Annual conferences approve programming and budget, elect delegates to General and Jurisdictional conferences, and examine and recommend candidates for ministry. Five geographic jurisdictions (divisions) in the United States include 8-13 annual conferences each. Jurisdictional conferences meet simultaneously every four years to elect and assign bishops and some members of general church agencies, and, in some cases, to develop jurisdictional programs. Each local church is governed by a charge conference with an administrative board as the year-round supervisor. A council on ministries coordinates the program of the congregation. In smaller churches, the board and the council are combined.
The United Methodist Church is a member of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America and of the World Council of Churches. It also participates in Churches Uniting in Christ (formerly the Consultation on Church Union), where nine U.S. denominations are discussing steps to greater union. Combined membership of CUIC churches is about 20 million in 82,000 congregations.
The United Methodist Church and three historically black Methodist denominations (the African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Zion and Christian Methodist Episcopal churches) have been exploring union since 1985. All four churches share a common heritage in the Methodist movement, and have a combined membership of 12 million.
The 36-member Commission on Pan-Methodist Cooperation and Union continues negotiations related to the meaning of union in the context of the four churches.
This information is courtesy of InfoServ, the information service of The United Methodist Church.