UMC Beliefs

The Beliefs and Traditions of the Church

Church Buildings

Let all preaching-houses be built plain and decent; but not more expensive than is absolutely unavoidable: Otherwise the necessity of raising money will make rich men necessary to us. But if so, we must be dependent upon them, yea, and be governed by them. And then farewell to the Methodist discipline, if not doctrine too.

John Wesley wrote this instruction for the early Methodists, and when U.S. Methodism became a church in 1784, this rule went into the Book of Discipline. As long as most Methodists had no buildings of their own in which to worship, or had simple meeting houses, this remained the law of the church.

But by the mid-1800s the Methodists were more affluent and increasingly lived in towns and cities where they wanted church buildings with such embellishments as tall steeples and stained-glass windows. By the 1850s, a few church buildings with costly Gothic architecture were being built. Then, in the prosperity that followed the Civil War, many imposing church buildings were built, and Wesley’s words were removed from the Discipline.

— The Rev Hoyt Hickman, Nashville, TN, Interpreter April 2001

Where is United Methodist “Headquarters”?

There is no single headquarters or central office for The United Methodist Church. The headquarters for our 14 church wide agencies are located in Nashville, Tenn.; Dayton, Ohio; New York City; Washington, D.C.; Evanston, Ill.; and Madison, NJ.  However, no one of these agencies is responsible for the entire denomination.

In the same way, there is no single person responsible for the denomination. The president of the Council of Bishops serves for one year and only presides over Council of Bishops meetings, not the denomination. The only group who can speak for—and set laws governing—the entire denomination is General Conference, which meets in a different city with different delegates every four years.

— The Rev J. Richard Peck, Nashville, TN Interpreter April 2001

Did You Know? – John Wesley Frowned on Choirs

Most United Methodist churchgoers today take choirs for granted, but they were not always staples of our worship services.

Based on his experience with the 18th-century Church of England, our denomination’s founder, John Wesley, came to believe that choirs led to a decline in congregational singing. He opposed choir music in Methodist worship, and early American Methodists followed his lead. On the U.S. frontier, where most congregations were small and met in homes, organizing a choir would have been difficult anyway.

Shortly after 1800, Methodists in New York City organized choirs. The practice spread to other East Coast cities and, from there, to smaller towns and westward. Still, as late as 1860, some more strict Methodists in upstate New York and elsewhere formed the Free Methodist denomination. Opposition to choirs was one of their tenets and endured until well into the 20th century.

— The Rev. Hoyt Hickman,  Interpreter April 2001

True Colors

If you’re a long-time churchgoer— or a veteran of the altar guild—you know which color paraments to use throughout the Christian year. For those who are unfamiliar with the liturgical colors, here is a list by seasons—and significance:

Purple, the color of penitence and of royalty, is used during Advent and Lent (deep blue is often substituted for purple during Advent).

White (often used with gold) signifies joy and festivity. It is used during the Christmas and Easter seasons and on high holy days during the seasons after Epiphany and Pentecost.

Red is the color of fire and a symbol of the Holy Spirit. It is used on the Day of Pentecost (also for evangelistic services, ordinations and consecrations—whenever the gifts of the Spirit are emphasized). A deep red may symbolize the blood of Christ and may be used during Holy Week.

Green signifies growth and is used during Ordinary Time (the Season After Pentecost). United Methodists have the option of calling this season “Kingdomtide.” Traditionally, this is the season for learning how to live out our faith in all aspects of our lives.

— The Rev. Hoyt Hickman,  Interpreter April 2001

What United Methodists Believe and Practice Regarding Baptism

The United Methodist Church has theological positions and practices that make our denomination different from others. In 1996, the General Conference approved By Water and the Spirit as an official interpretive document, which answers many common questions about the baptism sacrament, such as:

  • What is the difference between infant baptism and believers baptism?

In infant baptism God claims the child ;1ith divine grace. Clearly, children cannot save themselves, but are totally dependent on God’s grace, as are all people regardless of age. In believer’s baptism, practiced by such denominations as Baptists, the person being baptized is publicly professing her/his own decision to accept Christ.

  • Can we have our baby dedicated instead of baptized?

No. Dedication is something we pledge or give to God. United Methodists understand baptism as God’s pledge and gift to us.

  • How about christening?

It is the same thing as baptism

  • Can I be baptized again if I feel the need?

No. Baptism is an act of God and God does it right the first time.

  • Should every baby be baptized?

No, baptism assumes that the child will be nurtured and formed in the faith at home and at church. If parents or guardians do no agree to nurture children’s faith, baptism should be delayed until the parents are ready or until children can profess their faith.

  • Can a person who has not been baptized participate in Holy Communion?

Yes, our church has never sought to close God’s Table.

  • How do I express my own decision to be a Christian if I have already been baptized as an infant?

By participation in a service of profession of faith and confirmation.

  • Does baptism make me a member of the church?

Yes, baptism is an act of initiation and incorporation into the universal church of Jesus Christ, The United Methodist Church and the local congregation.

  • Is there more than one category of church membership, according to By Water and the Spirit?

Yes, all persons who are baptized become baptized members. Those who are baptized at an age at which they are capable of professing their faith must do so and become professing members as well (they cannot choose to be baptized members only). People baptized as infants or young children do not become professing members until they profess their own faith.

  • Do I have to be baptized in order to be saved?

No. but baptism is a gift of God’s grace to be accepted as part of the journey of salvation.

  • How can I recommit myself to Christ when I have had a powerful spiritual experience?

By participation in a service of baptismal reaffirmation.

United Methodist’s founder John Wesley was an Anglican priest. From him we inherited a “high” understanding of the church, the sacraments and other aspects of worship. Wesley was also an evangelical revivalist, so our church also emphasized the necessity of conversion, personal relationship with Christ and witnessing to others.

As United Methodists we hold the two together, in our baptismal theology and practice and in our broader understanding of how God works in our lives for salvation.

— The Rev. Gayle Carlton Felton

Symbols of the Seasons

Several days are commemorated and celebrated after Christmas and are observed by many Christians around the world. These include:

Dec. 26:  St. Stephen’s Day commemorates Stephen, the deacon and martyr whose story is recounted in Acts 6 and 7. This is the feast of Stephen referred to in the carol “Good King Wenceslaus”.

Dec. 27:  St. John’s Day commemorates John, apostle and evangelist, who reflected on the significance of Jesus’ coming as told in John 1.

Dec. 28:  Holy Innocents commemorates the innocent children killed by order of King Herod (Matthew 2:16-18) as he sought to destroy the Christ Child.

Jan. 1:  Holy Name of Jesus commemorates the circumcision and naming of Jesus on the eighth day of his life (Luke 2:21).

Jan. 6:  The Epiphany celebrates the visit of the Magi to the Holy Family (Matthew 2:1-12). Epiphany means manifestation.

Feb. 2:  The Presentation celebrates the presentation of Jesus in the temple on the fortieth day of his life (Luke 2:22-28).

The Articles of Religion

After the Revolutionary War, John Wesley sent Thomas Coke to the United States to join Francis Asbury in overseeing Methodist work in this nation. Coke brought with him Wesley’s revisions of the Church of England’s “Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion.” When the Methodist Church adopted a constitution, the assembly established a rule saying General Conference “shall not revoke, alter, or change our Articles of Religion.”

The articles affirm belief in the Trinity, the resurrection of Christ, “the sufficiency of Scriptures for salvation,” “the corruption of the nature of every man,” the forgiveness of sin, and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

In 1966, prior to the merger of the Methodist Church with the Evangelical United Brethren Church (EUB), the two denominations adopted the EUB “Confession of Faith” and the Methodist Articles of Religion as “congruent” documents. While some persons note differences between the two documents, the Judicial Council declined to get involved in deciding whether the addition of the EUB document altered the Articles of Religion, so they stand today as parallel documents.

— The Rev. J. Richard Peck is editor of Newscope and United Methodist resources, including The Book of Resolutions and the Daily Christian Advocate.

Why Do We Say Creeds?

Unlike some churches that require affirmation of a strict list of beliefs as a condition of membership, The United Methodist Church is not a creedal church.

So why do we recite creeds during worship?

The United Methodist Hymnal contains nine creeds or affirmations. Only two of these (Nicene and Apostles) are strictly considered to be creeds because they are products of ecumenical councils.

The remaining affirmations are taken from Paul’s letters (Corinthians, Colossians, Romans and Timothy) along with affirmations from the United Church of Canada, the Korean Methodist Church and the United Methodist Social Affirmation.

United Methodists are not required to believe every word of the affirmations. Church founder John Wesley himself did not agree with a historic (Athanasian) creed, because he disliked its emphasis on condemning people to hell.

Affirmations help us come to our own understanding of the Christian faith. They affirm our unity in Christ with those followers who first wrote them, the many generations who have recited them before us and those who will recite them after we have gone.

— The Rev. J. Richard Peck is editor of Newscope and United Methodist resources including The Book of Resolutions and the Daily Christian Advocate.

O, Susana! – Our Movement’s “Uppity” Matriarch

by Charles Wallace

What kind of a Christian woman would:

  • Leave her father’s church as a teenager and join up with the tradition that once persecuted him?
  • Risk her marriage by refusing to give in to her husband in a political quarrel?

  • Disobey her husband—and church law—by holding “irregular” prayer meetings in his absence?

  • Tell her college professor-son what he ought to be reading?

  • Rebuke her newly converted son for a loss of theological perspective?

None other than Susanna Wesley—mother of United Methodism founders John and Charles—who is much more interesting when we read her actual words than the prevailing myth allows.

The myth, of course, has elements of truth. Raised a Puritan, Susanna Wesley spent most of her adult life as a communicant of the Church of England. She literally “put the method into Methodism” in the regular way of life she instilled in her 10 children.

However, as a recently published edition of her complete writings shows, Susanna Wesley was no ordinary Christian woman, especially given late 17th- and early 18th-century expectations.

Reading her letters, spiritual diaries and teachings on “practical divinity” meant primarily for educating her daughters, we glimpse an intelligent, well-read, strong and conscientious woman.

Her spirituality, in fact, was the mainspring of a brand of Christian feminism visible at every stage of her life. As a girl not quite 13, Susanna had repudiated her father Samuel Annesley’s moderate Puritanism and joined the state church, making her decision after reading and weighing the theological evidence.

After marrying Samuel Wesley, another young convert, she played the dutiful parson’s wife—up to a point. But when her husband’s prayer for King William offended her “divine-right” belief that James II’s line belonged on the throne, she refused to say “amen,” and the marriage nearly dissolved. Six months later they reconciled, however, and not long after she gave birth to John.

In 1712, Susanna Wesley’s conscience moved her to lead Sunday evening worship in the rectory kitchen—against her husband’s wishes—while he was away on church business. And a decade later she regularly tutored John by mail, providing him the practical theological perspective that Oxford University could not supply.

The strong-minded mother was also not above taming emotional excess of newly converted son Charles. She scolded him with, “you are fallen into an odd way of thinking” in response to his claim of no spiritual life or “justifying faith” prior to his recent experience.

And at the end of her life, she published a scathing, anonymous critique of George Whitefield, perhaps the most popular preacher of the day, criticizing him for his Calvinist opposition to her son John’s teachings.

About Susanna Wesley

  • Wrote her own commentary on the Apostles’ Creed, “improving” the work of a respected Anglican bishop, and began one on the Ten Commandments.


  • Wrote extensively in her diary on the doctrine of Christian perfection when John was still a boy.


  • Wrote a much-published letter on child-rearing considered a classic evangelical statement on the subject for 200 years after her death.


  • Vowed never to “drink above two glasses of any strong liquor at one time:’


  • Spent time alone meditating and writing in her spiritual diary three times a day.


  • Was recognized by son John as a “preacher of righteousness,” despite her gender and the times.


From Interpreter Feb. 2000

UMC Pastor Appointment Process

The Sierra Madre UMC is a member of the Pasadena District and the California-Pacific Conference.  Unlike other denominations, we as a church do not go out and interview pastors who are active within or outside the conference.

The Sierra Madre UMC, through the Staff-Parish Relations Committee, does have input into the assignment process by discussions with and information provided to the District Superintendent and Conference Cabinet.  However the final selection (appointment) is by the Bishop and cabinet, and the individual assignment to each church is announced at the Annual Conference in June of each year.

There are many reasons for this process, and probably the main one, is it provides for growth possibilities and upward mobility amongst the individual pastors.

Mark Trotter is a fine example of this—he started here in Sierra Madre, was assigned to Anaheim to help him gain more experience and ended up at San Diego First, one of the largest churches in the Conference. This was a logical movement pattern, which was good for both Mark and the Conference.

A second reason is the that bishop and cabinet know well the strengths of the individuals and the needs of each church and are best informed to assess and fill such situations as “Is this church ready for a building program—and which individual would do that most successfully?”

In addition to growth needs, the minister has other needs—is there a working spouse, does she/he have a good position which would be affected by a distant move, are there children which would be better off staying where they could continue at the same school for another year?

One item is that many of the younger ministers do not want a parsonage that is provided by the church.  They are attempting to build up equity in a house for their future retirement and therefore would prefer a housing allowance.

The process of mixing and matching ministers, male and female, of young and about-to-be-retiring ministers, of wanting a parsonage or housing allowance, plus other considerations, is not easy and requires a lot of time and effort on the part of the Bishop and cabinet.

One last item is salary.  The church sets a salary, which is for the position and not for the current minister or the new person assigned.  Once the salary is approved by the Church Annual Charge Conference, it is not changed.

The individual minister has the right to reject any change, which would result in a salary reduction. The above only covers some of the items which contribute to the appointment process, some of which probably aren’t known outside of the Conference Cabinet.

Lifetime Methodists remember years ago, when ministers were moved every four to six years, regardless of their success or failure. Many of us who were at Sierra Madre UMC for the Mark Trotter days would like to have captured Mark and Jean for lifetime tenure. On the other hand many churches have suffered through ministers when the appointment only seemed to last a lifetime.  The selection and appointment process has good results and bad results, but often the decision of which occurs, rests more with the congregation than the person assigned.

Links to Other Interesting Pages

United Methodist Church National

General Board of Discipleship

General Board of Higher Education & Ministry

The California-Pacific Conference

General Commission on Archives and History for the United Methodist Church

Union Station

GuidePosts Magazine

Claremont School of Theology

Cokesbury Bookstore