“What is The Wesleyan Church?” a Jeopardy! contestant asked show host Alex Trebek in an early 1990s episode. The $400 clue under the category “Religion” had read, “This group was formed by a merger of the Pilgrim Holiness Church and a branch of Methodism.”
Convening in Anderson, Indiana, in 1968, the Pilgrim Holiness and Wesleyan Methodist churches fused, drawing upon historically similar theological ties and a future-minded anticipation for what God had ordained for this union in years to come.
But the merger didn’t happen overnight.
Earnest conversations of merging the Wesleyan Methodist and Pilgrim Holiness churches began four years earlier, in 1964, following an unsuccessful merger attempt in 1959.
Men and women representatives met faithfully to determine how this union would affect membership, legislation and church governance, among other things – including the name of what would be the newly-united church.
Under the theme of General Conference 1968, “One—That the World May Believe,” Pilgrim Holiness and Wesleyan Methodists united, and on June 26, 1968, members of the Pilgrim Holiness and Wesleyan Methodist churches solidified their union as One Church, with the declaration, “Lord of the Church, we are united in Thee, in Thy church, and now in The Wesleyan Church.”
Under this new union, four general superintendents were elected, equally divided between the former Wesleyan Methodist and Pilgrim Holiness churches. Bernard Phaup and Virgil Mitchell had backgrounds in the Wesleyan Methodist traditions, and Melvin Snyder and J.D. Abbott contributed Pilgrim Holiness traditions. General officers and the General Board of Administration were also voted upon, with a near-even representation of both groups to wholly and successfully merge under the one name of The Wesleyan Church.
With this paired and equal representation, the new leaders of The Wesleyan Church set out to create provisions within The Discipline, an exhaustive exploration into the governance of The Wesleyan Church. The Discipline carried practices from both sides into The Wesleyan Church.
Much was left to come, though, in the formation of The Wesleyan Church.
According to The Story of The Wesleyan Church (written by Robert Black and Keith Drury), “Participants at the historic assembly went home, but a great deal of work remained to be done after the lights were turned off in Anderson. The merger may have been officially on the books, but it was not yet effectively in practice. It would take more than ceremonies, symbols, and slogans to make two churches, even two holiness churches, one. It would take the ministry of the Holy Spirit.”
As General Conference 2020 draws near, stay tuned for a deeper look into some of the monumental decisions that made The Wesleyan Church what it is today and be in prayer about a collective unity of purpose and heart for those tasked with voting.
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