By Rev. Fitzgerald Lovett
Editor’s note: The following is part of the history of Black Methodists for Church Renewal written by Dr. Earnest A. Smith, past president of Rust College. The complete article can be found at http://www.bmcrumc.org.
On Saturday, Aug. 19, 1967, the all-Black, segregated Central Jurisdiction of the Methodist Episcopal Church elected its 14th and final episcopal leader, Bishop L. Scott Allen. This election and the ensuring service of consecration were the final acts to be performed by the jurisdiction. At midnight, that Saturday night, the Central Jurisdiction ceased to be, ending the period of open segregation of the races in the Methodist Episcopal Church. A sad chapter in Methodist history was now closed.
With the dissolution of the Central Jurisdiction a serious and nagging question remained for Black Methodists: Will there be a permanent place in the new United Methodist church for Black Methodists? The history of race relations within the Methodist Church has in many ways mirrored the history of race relations in American society.
The question was important because it spoke to the historical reality that the Methodist Church had never accorded blacks equal status as Christian sisters and brothers. This was so — despite the tremendous contributions that Black Methodists had made to the church.
In 1967, many members of the now defunct Central Jurisdiction felt uncertainty about the status of Black Methodists in this new United Methodist Church. Groups of Black Methodists met frequently to discuss the problem of racial equality in their new denomination.
Such a group was convened in Detroit at the East Grand Boulevard Methodist Church on Nov. 20-21, 1967. For this group of clergy and lay persons, the issue at hand was the question, “How do we ensure that there will be a permanent place for Blacks in the new United Methodist Church?” In Cincinnati, Ohio on Feb. 6, 1968, a meeting was convened of Black Methodists from around the nation to answer this question.
This group developed a plan for lobbying and presenting resolutions to facilitate the creation of a Commission on Religion and Race at the 1968 General Conference. Out of this critical meeting, BMCR—Black Methodists for Church Renewal, Inc.—was formed. The charge of BMCR, titled “Findings of the Black Methodists for Church Renewal” was submitted to the General Conference later that 1968 February. A central component of this document was a section titled, “The Black Paper.” In this powerful section, the BMCR confessed their filings as Black Methodists and defined a new direction for themselves. To this day they have continued to define and refine directions for themselves and this denomination that have brought respect, growth, and renewed commitment to God and God’s purpose for The United Methodist Church.
Lovett serves on the Mississippi Conference staff working with racial reconciliation and Strengthening the Black Church. Contact him at 1-866-647-7486.