Even an Irishman can’t hit a nose that isn’t there, quipped United Methodist bishop James K. Mathews at the opening press conference of the Consultation on Church Union in St. Louis this month. But now, said the COCU chairman, for the first time the consultation had a nose in front of it, after sixty-one arduous days of work by the Plan of Union Commission. The result of their effort was a 156-page proposal that could unite nine denominations into one church by the end of the decade.Participating churches and their membership, according to recent figures, are African Methodist Episcopal, 1.1 million; African Methodist Episcopal Zion, 850,000; Christian (Disciples of Christ), 1.4 million; Christian Methodist Episcopal, 300,000; Episcopal, 3.4 million; Presbyterian Church (U. S.). 965,000: United Church of Christ, 2 million; United Methodist, 10.7 million; and United Presbyterian U.S.A., 3.2 million. Total: about 24 million.
Dr. William A. Benfield, Jr., a Southern Presbyterian pastor from Charleston, West Virginia, with a genial personality and a well-defined nose, pointed to that feature and shot back at Mathews: “Now I know why they chose me to be chairman of the drafting commission.” Later, the 250 delegates, observers, and guests at COCU’s ninth plenary session gave Benfield a standing ovation after he presented the plan of union. The “hitting” started later.
But criticisms and revisions of the plan, which must now be voted on by the participating churches, were relatively mild and minor; preliminary approval of the document proceeded chapter by chapter with few surprises. This could be a testimony to the smooth groundwork laid by COCU planners. Some said it showed apathy for a super denomination that would be obsolete ...1
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