RFK’s telegram to new UMC rings true today

When the United Methodist Church was formed by the uniting of the Evangelical United Brethren and Methodist churches in 1968, they received greetings from a historic U.S. presidential contender who soon after became a martyr.

Senator and former U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy sent a congratulatory telegram to “the People of The United Methodist Church” during the new denomination’s 1968 Uniting Conference in Dallas, Texas. Bishop Reuben Mueller shared the message with the assembly.

The telegram was discovered recently by staff of the UMC’s General Commission on Archives and History, headed by the Rev. Alfred Day, General Secretary and a member of the Eastern PA Conference.

The telegram is dated April 22, 1968, just weeks after the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Robert Kennedy would be assassinated six weeks later.

Bishop Kenneth Carter, Jr., president of the UM Council of Bishops calls the brief telegram “historic and inspiring, a reminder of who we are and who we aspire to be…It comes as an urgent and prophetic gift.”

Kennedy writes of the importance of ecumenism in a fragmented world, the need for cooperation, and Methodism’s historic practice of social witness and community service. He also recalls the wisdom of Dag Hammarskjöld, who had served as the secretary-general of the United Nations, who said, “The road to holiness leads to the world of action.”

The presidential hopeful offered best wishes to a new church that “goes to where the action is.”