200 Years of United Methodism
An Illustrated History

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The Fifties: America Under God

Title-page of pamphlet published by the Methodist Peace Fellowship: CRUSADING FOR WORLD PEACE IN THE LOCAL CHURCH 1955-56, by Charles F. Boss, published in New York, 1955.Americans in the 1950s prided themselves on being "under God," thus distinguishing their way of life from that of the "godless" Communists. They also provided support for preachers of positive thinking, for books prescribing peace of mind, and for coffee hours after worship. Parlors for these coffee hours appeared in a host of new churches built during the 1950s, more than 1,000 of which were erected by the Methodists alone.

Worship services in new and old structures alike continued trends noted in the 1920s. Orders of worship were rather formal. Music tended to be a performance for the delight of the congregation, not an offering of praise to God. Sermons were geared to meeting the carefully analyzed "needs" of the religious consumer, with the emphasis being placed on what God can do for humans, not on what God demands from humans. Nevertheless, a "back to Wesley" movement in theology did recover the essential Methodist themes of sin, grace, and going on toward perfection, and attempts were made to get churches to use the Sunday service that John Wesley sent to America in 1784.

Going back further, language was plucked from the sixteenth-century English Prayer Book, resulting in the quaint situation of having modern men and women speak during communion about a "lively sacrifice" and about a God "whose property is always to have mercy." Going back further still, medieval usages were picked up, with the outcome that communion tables became altars attached to the wall, and purple, green, white, and red hangings dangled from numerous pulpits and lecterns. Not all was stagy, however. Many of the antique borrowings brought Methodists into touch with the depth and breadth of the Christian tradition of worship. At the same time members of the Evangelical United Brethren Church were becoming acquainted with their new hymnal, containing 455 hymns expressive of many cultural and theological traditions.

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