While Memphis, Tennessee, sandbagged its riverfront to keep out the flooding Mississippi, the Consultation on Church Union (COCU), meeting in the city, hastily erected its own form of sandbagging to keep denominations in and keep church union alive. The eleven-year-old COCU, once buoyed by hopes of an early, giant Church of Christ Uniting, took a long, agonizing look at itself and admitted what many had known for some time: most of the local church members in the eight participating denominations The eight are: African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church in the U.S., United Church of Christ, and United Methodist Church. do not want organic union as specified by COCU.

The Plan of Union, presented to the churches in 1970, was rejected by the people, according to a report prepared by a COCU team. (The team studied 8,500 responses to the plan.) The result was a unanimous decision in Memphis to shelve union plans and work on the grassroots level to promote union among local churches instead. There is a “general unreadiness,” said the final COCU resolution, to “accept the organizational structures proposed for a uniting church.”

COCU participants still believe in church union, however—“the focus has merely changed,” said General Secretary Paul A. Crow. “We’re in the midst of a breakthrough. Now local congregations will be able to capture the vision of union—a vision we’ve been living with for eleven years.” Indeed, the radical policy shift will make union more meaningful, Crow believes. “Some styles of union may be passé,” he said, “but I don’t think the idea of a life together in Christ ...

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