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1907-1916: Advocating Social Reform and Community Service

1907 - Methodist Episcopal Church leaders Herbert Welch, Harry F. Ward, Worth Tippy, Elbert Robb Zaring and Frank Mason North call a meeting in Washington’s Ebbit House to found a “Methodist League for Social Service,” patterned after the Wesleyan Methodist Union for Social Service in England. On December 3, twenty-five persons found the Methodist Federation for Social Service (MFSS), electing Herbert Welch as president. Two program priorities are established: to begin a series of pamphlet publications and to make plans to influence the forthcoming General Conference at Baltimore in 1908. The next day, the group is received by President Theodore Roosevelt in the White House.

1908 – Harry F. Ward drafts a Social Creed that will be adopted by the 1908 General Conference and later, in expanded form with revisions by Frank Mason North and others, by the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America and several leading denominations.

1908 – MFSS attains formal recognition at General Conference and over 1,000 persons attend an information meeting.

1910 – MFSS publishes a small pamphlet called, “Suggestions for Individual Service” for members, pastors and district superintendents. The pamphlet notes that “The assumption of these duties by the preacher means not the loss of his prophetic function, but its increase.”

1911 – Harry F. Ward begins his first of 34 years as unpaid Federation executive and launches the Social Service Bulletin.

1912 – The Federation is recognized at General Conference “as the executive agency to rally the forces of the Church in support of (social reform),” with the stipulation that three bishops be designated each quadrennium to sit on the Federation’s General Council.

1912 – Bishop Francis J. McConnell is chosen as MFSS president and serves for the next 32 years. The Federation launches a drive to encourage churches to perform community service.

1913 – Ward speaks at 347 meetings and leads 36 workshops in seventeen different states on performing community services in their communities. This proves so successful that the program is turned over to the Board of Home Missions with the blessings of General Conference in 1916.

1913 – Grace Scribner, an assistant in the office of the Methodist Board of Sunday Schools in Chicago and an editorial assistant on the Epworth Herald, comes to work for MFSS as office secretary and later becomes assistant secretary and joint editor of the Social Service Bulletin with Harry Ward.

1916 – 1928: The Emergence of Social Gospel Radicalism

1916 – MFSS seeks to “Christianize the social order,” championing above all the cause of working people and organized labor. The Social Service Bulletin urges women of the Church to link hands with organized working women and together demand that the 8-hour work day law include women.

1918 – During the World War, the Federation vigorously defends the rights of conscientious objectors and political dissenters. As the political repression continues after the war, commitment to civil liberties and opposition to political oppression becomes a central theme of MFSS life.

1919 – MFSS documents a continuing pattern of violence and violation of rights aimed at International Workers of the World, union activists and socialists. The Bulletin highlights the negative impact of Federal espionage and immigration acts on freedoms of opinion, assembly and expression and compares them to 18th century Alien and Sedition laws.

1919 – Federation leaders join with others to co-found the American Civil Liberties Union.

1919 – McConnell serves on a committee investigating the great steel strike. Their report mobilizes pubic opinion against the prevailing 68-hour work week in steel, as an SSB article giving cautious support to the Russian Revolution becomes a cause celebre. The Sunday School Journal drops the regular column by MFSS staffer Grace Scribner. Ward is accused by a New York State investigating committee of “teaching Bolshevism.”

1922 – MFSS sponsors a national conference on “Christianity and the Economic Order,” the first of its kind in the U. S. Grace Scribner is killed by a hit-and-run driver and her friend Winifred Chappel, also a Methodist deaconess, becomes co-editor of the SSB. Over the next decade, Chappell, Ward, George Coe, and Bishop McConnell make MFSS the leading force for social gospel radicalism among the U. S. churches.

1926 – National MFSS conference on “The Preacher and the Economic Order” urges equalized clergy salaries. The group deals with questions such as: Is the present economic order, like war, so sinful that we must reject it? Can we arrive at as clear a moral judgment concerning the present economic system, as the church has reached concerning the war system?

1929 – 1936:  The All-out Attack on Capitalism

1929 – MFSS sees the stock market crash and deepening recession as evidence of capitalism's undemocratic control, enormous waste, concentration of wealth and reliance on workers to bear the biggest brunt of the economic distress.

1930 – The third Evanston conference is on the theme of “The Layman and the Economic Order.” Honored at a special dinner are three women: Mary McDowell, a pioneer social worker and charter MFSS member; a textile “mill girl;” and a labor organizer among the textile workers.

1932 – The Federation’s critique of the Depression-riddled social order gains broad receptivity. The 1932 M. E. General Conference declares, “The present industrial order is unchristian, unethical, and anti-social.”

1933Bulletin name is changed to Social Questions Bulletin and MFSS membership declares it “seeks to abolish the profit system and to develop a classless society based on the obligation of mutual service.”

1934 – After two years of conversations, MFSS and the Christian Social Action Movement (a group of younger social-minded Methodists) join in a plan of “Cooperation for Social Action.” Each group agreed to supply material for five research and analysis issues for alternate month publications of the Bulletin.

1935 – As part of the prevailing McCarthy-type red-baiting, reactionary attacks are launched at MFSS from various quarters, including the Hearst press.

1936 – A series of conferences across the country are called by MFSS during the winter of 1935-36.  They endeavor to discover the duty of Methodists in relation to the social crisis of millions on relief, which has resulted in malnutrition and diseases, an increase in child labor, a progressively decreasing provision for education, and Congress authorizing the largest peacetime budget for war preparations in history. Following a national meeting in Columbus, Ohio, MFSS publishes a pamphlet for the churches called “Outline of A Christian Program for Social Change.”

1936 – 1944: From New Initiative to an Uncertain Future

1936 – Winifred Chappell leaves the Federation staff without due recognition of the great contributions she has made. The new field secretary Charles C. Webber begins successful efforts to organize MFSS chapters.

1936 – Harry Ward invites representatives from nine denominations to form the United Christian Council for Democracy, the first religious united front organization. Charles Webber, Field Secretary for MFSS simultaneously works as an organizer for UCCD.

1939 – Charles Webber, self-described circuit rider in the twentieth century, spends two years preaching on the “Parable of the Day of Judgment” to ministerial groups across the country, stressing that poverty can be abolished and an economy of abundance established in the United States.

1939 – In fighting anti-Semitism, Webber urges pressure on government to forbid exports, loans and credits to Germany and increase quotas for refugee children under 14.  He secures affidavits for men and women to leave Germany and abhors lies disseminated by anti-Semitic organizations in the US.

1939 – The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) begins to investigate united front organizations for communist infiltration. As many progressive organizations repudiate communists in their midst and move to more central political positions, MFSS continues to call for a restructuring of society, an end to economic competition, the right to unionize and full civil rights for communists and blacks.

1939 – The Methodist Episcopal Church and Methodist Episcopal Church, South, divided since 1844, unite with the Methodist Protestant Church to form The Methodist Church. The reunion of churches that had split over racial issues in 1844 creates a racially segregated Jurisdictional system that is vehemently opposed by MFSS. The Federation begins an intense campaign for ecclesiastical and social racial integration.

1940 – Mary McLeod Bethune begins a 4-year tenure on the MFSS Executive Committee and joins Bishop Edgar Love and others to continue MFSS’ emphasis on combating racism in UM churches and agencies.

1944 – With the departure of Webber, the retirement of McConnell and Ward, and a serious financial crisis, MFSS reaches out for a new leadership including Bishop Lewis Hartman as president and Thelma Stevens as secretary.

1945 – 1953: Expansion and Repression

1945 – Jack McMichael from the southern branch of the newly-reunited Methodist Church is chosen as executive secretary. A young white southerner, passionately committed to racial integration, he leads MFSS’ period of greatest expansion, with some 40 chapters and 5,000 members to be reached within three years.

1945 – The Federation requires all chapters to organize regionally, ignoring jurisdictional separations. This action integrates Federation chapters in annual conferences even though the Methodist Church is not yet integrated.

1945 – MFSS issues a statement in response to the unleashing of atomic bombs proposing that the bomb and its manufacturing processes be transferred to the UN and that consideration be given to the constructive possibilities of atomic powers.

1947 – Reactionary attacks on MFSS begin with a series of misleading, distorted articles in the N. Y. World-Telegram.

1948 – Federation membership more than doubles from 2400 to 5000. In response, some conservative Methodists organize the Circuit Riders, an unofficial Methodist organization with the single purpose of driving the Federation out of Methodism.

1948 – Vice-president Walter Muelder publishes a vigorous defense of the Federation. The name is changed to Methodist Federation for Social Action. Bishop Robert N. Brooks of the Central (all-black) Jurisdiction is elected MFSA president.

1950Reader’s Digest attacks MFSA as “Methodism’s Pink Fringe” in the classic style of McCarthyism. During the 1940’s and 1950’s FBI surveillance of MFSA is recorded in 5,000 pages of FBI files.

1952 – Although some publications by affiliates of the Circuit Riders make it clear that the Federation’s integrationist policies motivated the opposition, the public charge is that the Federation is communist. Aided by a national media campaign, the Circuit Riders influences the General Conference to censure MFSA and ask that “Methodist” be removed from the name.

1952 – A Board of Social and Economic Relations (now the Board of Church and Society) is organized as a formal part of the Methodist church and former officers and executive committee members of MFSA are asked to serve on this official Board.

1952 – A disagreement arises among members of MFSA as to whether the creation of an official board makes the unofficial Federation unnecessary. The New York office of MFSA is closed and a small group of dedicated volunteers continued to publish the Bulletin, collect the finances, administer the organization and carry out the Federation’s business and policies.

1952 – The U. S. House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) collects and republishes previous attacks on MFSA. Circuit Riders, Inc. and other critics within The Methodist Church capitalize on the prevailing McCarthyite hysteria to secure General Conference repudiation of MFSA.

1953 – 1980: Surviving and Reviving

1953 – MFSA is nearly destroyed as an organization. After resigning as Federation executive, Jack McMichael is summoned to testify before HUAC. Mark Chamberlin begins to administer the MFSA voluntarily out of his Oregon home for seven years. Only two chapters will continue to function.

1960 – Lee H. Ball begins 13-year term as paid Federation executive and pursues vigorous critique of U. S. intervention in Southeast Asia. He crisscrosses the country frequently to reintroduce MFSA to the church. Mae Ball promotes MFSA through voluminous correspondence.

1974-1986: Liberating Church and Society

1974 – George D. McClain becomes executive director. MFSA begins again to organize aggressively within the denomination as field staff Kathy and David Munson-Young provide on-site support for striking non-professionals at the United Methodist Hospital in Pikeville, Kentucky.

1975 – Rev. Robert Forrester receives the first “Ball Award” for work on supporting the striking hospital workers at Pikeville Methodist Hospital in Kentucky.

1976 – After two decades, MFSA once again lobbies actively at General Conference, inaugurates a Daily Social Questions Bulletin for General Conference distribution and urges deletion of discriminatory Social Principles language on homosexuality.

1977 – George McClain and seven other MFSA constituents spend ten days in Cuba on a trip organized by Dr. Herman Will.  This is the first group of United Methodists from the U. S. to visit the Cuban Methodist Church since the travel ban is imposed by the U.S.

1977 – MFSA begins to promote boycotts of J. P. Stevens and Nestle products across the church.

1980 – Federation garners General Conference support for the Stevens boycott and the addition of a new section on work in the Social Principles, beginning with the affirmation that “persons come before profits.”

1982 – MFSA celebrates its 75th Jubilee in Washington, D. C. Six new chapters join, making a total of 17. MFSA launches an Emergency Peace Project, staffed by mission intern Jim Winkler, later to become General Secretary of th General Board of Church and Society and National Council of Churches. MFSA joins ecumenical grouping in developing economic study, Must We Choose Sides?

1984 – MFSA sponsors “Gospel Train” in antique railroad cars at General Conference and witnesses steadfastly against exclusion of gays and lesbians from UM ministry.

1986 – MFSA leads an intense struggle with the denominational pension board over economic sanctions against apartheid in South Africa. 38 are arrested during non-violent MFSA protest at pension board offices. Cherie Emery serves as MFSA intern.

1985 – 1998: Resisting the Domination System with Prayer and Action

1988 – MFSA publishes "Journey Toward Justice" in celebration of the 80th anniversary of the Methodist Social Creed. Rev. Jesse Jackson addresses Iowa MFSA event. The annual Mexican retreat is inaugurated. Pension board finally begins to change its policy on South African investments. MFSA promotes Reconciling Ministry Pledge.

1989 – MFSA “adopts” Israeli soldier jailed for refusing to serve in Palestinian territories. Cheryl Blankenship serves as MFSA mission intern. MFSAers are arrested while protesting bank loans to South Africa.

1990 – MFSA “adopts” jailed Palestinian and Israeli human rights activists and protests Israeli denial of visas to UM missionaries Alex and Brenda Awad. The Federation also urges negotiation as the Gulf War threatens.

1991 – Diane Large replaces Jean Brown as MFSA office manager.

1992 – MFSA addresses 120 legislative items at General Conference, joins “The Stones Will Cry Out” protest on General Conference floor when homosexuality panel recommendations are defeated and secures UM boycott of General Electric on account of nuclear weapons manufacturing.

1992 – George McClain begins work with MFSA in connecting social action and spiritual practice. MFSA intern Jane Eesley organizes the Middle East Network of United Methodists (MENUM) as Federation affiliate.

1994 – MFSA backs Heather Murray Elkins and other UM women attacked over Re-Imagining Conference.  The Federation also urges support for reviving labor movement.

1995 – MFSA promotes “God’s Covenant with America” and posts a warning label on “Promise Keepers” regarding sexism, racism, and far-right ties.

1996 – MFSA backs UM Episcopal Initiative on Children and Poverty and celebrates witness of the bishops, urging an end to official UM bias against lesbians and gay men. Dianne Roe is commissioned by MENUM for West Bank peace witness.

1997 – MFSA promotes “In All Things Charity” statement. George Baldwin is commissioned to help close the U. S. Army “School of Assassins.” 90th anniversary is celebrated at Washington, D. C. site of the Federation’s founding.

1998 – 2010: Building Partnerships for Justice

1998 – The Rev. Kathryn Johnson is appointed as the first woman Executive Director of MFSA as McClain retires after 25 years of leading the organization.

2000 – MFSA and other progressive groups form AMAR coalition to work on a broad range of justice issues at General Conference.  MFSA priorities are supported by GC with two exceptions: changes in language related to war and the church’s stance on homosexuality. Fifty persons move onto the floor of GC to protest church stance on homosexuality; 25 are arrested when they refuse to move.

2001 – Rev. Amy Stapleton, a native of South Carolina and a recent graduate of Iliff School of Theology, is hired as Field Organizer for MFSA.

2001 – MFSA responds to 9/11 attacks with a call to stop the grievous spiral that results when violence is met with more violence.

2002 – MFSA publishes a series of pamphlets, “What’s At Stake for Women?” for International Clergywoman’s Consultation, pointing to the potential consequences of not stopping implementation of the agenda of the Institute on Religion and Democracy and its UM allies.

2003 – MFSA publishes a statement opposing pending U.S. military action against Iraq, and executive Kathryn Johnson participates in meetings with officials at the State Department, a prayer vigil at the State Department and an interfaith service at Riverside Church in New York City.

2003 – MFSA holds first “Voices of Faith” conference in Atlanta, bringing together progressive United Methodists to celebrate and plan for the future of an ongoing progressive witness in the church.

2003 – MFSA works closely with the United Methodist Information Project and author Leon Howell to produce and distribute the book, United Methodism @ RISK.  The in-depth look at the agenda of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, the IRD’s UM Action Committee and the evangelical renewal organizations within the UMC (e.g. Good News, RENEW and the Confessing Movement) is distrubuted to nearly 20,000 readers.

2004 – MFSA once again joins other progressive groups to form the Common Witness Coalition at General Conference. MFSA sponsors a highly successful speaker series drawing hundreds at lunch each day to hear Bishop Leontine Kelly, Michael McCurry, and Dr. James Forbes among others. In response to the church’s renewed refusal to repent of its unjust policies related to homosexuality, an ongoing prayer vigil is held along the walkway leading into the convention center, filling the space with the haunting melody and words of the hymn, “What Does the Lord Require of Me?”

2004 – MFSA calls on the General Board of Pensions of the UMC to explore selective divestment of companies that are benefiting from the occupation of Palestine.

2005 – MFSA continues to promote active nonviolence; Kathryn Johnson and Amy Stapleton are arrested in an interfaith witness at the White House opposing the ongoing war in Iraq.

2006 – A second national “Voices of Faith” conference is held in Los Angeles with the theme “Swords into Plowshares.”

2006 – MFSA responds quickly and forcefully to Decision 1032 by the UM Judicial Council, which lets stand a pastor’s decision to refuse church membership to a gay parishioner. Johnson provides key leadership in bringing groups together to release a joint statement, “Here We Stand.”

2007 – MFSA participates in planning and implementation of Christian Peace Witness for Iraq, which brings nearly 4,000 Christians together in Washington, DC to worship at the National Cathedral and process to the White House where a prayer vigil and civil disobedience take place.

2007 – MFSA celebrates its 100 anniversary with a conference near Washington DC and ends with a worship celebration and call for justice across from the White House.

2008 – MFSA faces a significant disappointment with General Conference voting to keep exclusionary language in the Book of Discipline

2009 – New MFSA website is published at

2009 – Rev. Amy Stapleton leaves position as MFSA’s national organizer and later joins the staff of the General Commission on Religion and Race.

2010 – 2014: MFSA Today

2010 – Rev. Kathryn Johnson leaves MFSA after 12 years to work at the National Breast Cancer Coalition.

2010 – Rev. Steve Clunn hired as Coalition Coordinator, a position funded by a grant from the Arcus Foundation, to work towards full LGBT inclusion within the Church. As a result, the Love Your Neighbor Coalition is formed.

2011 – Jill A. Warren is selected by the Board of Directors to be the new MFSA Executive Director.

2011 – MFSA and Reconciling Ministries Network host “Sing A New Song”, a gathering of Progressive and justice-seeking United Methodists to worship together and discuss multiple justice issues leading up to the 2012 General Conference.

2011 – New York MFSA leaders gather at Zuccotti Park, the location of the Occupy Wall Street Movement for worship.

2011 – MFSA writes and successfully advances three major pieces of legislation to General Conference on church restructuring, the world-wide nature of the UMC, and the nature of the Episcopacy and Clergy.

2012 – MFSA co-hosts a phone bank with United Methodist Kairos Response to call US-based General Conference delegates to gauge support for divestment petitions.

2012 – MFSA joins the Love Your Neighbor Coalition in decrying the shooting of an unarmed black teen, Trayvon Martin, in Florida.

2012 – MFSA faces a significant disappointment with General Conference voting to keep exclusionary language around LGBT persons in the Book of Discipline. However, along with the Love Your Neighbor Coalition, MFSA was able to help stop several harmful pieces of legislation around church structure, the quadrilateral, our involvement in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, and on grace.

2012 – Chett Pritchett named Interim Executive Director after the resignation of Jill A. Warren.

2012 – Chett Pritchett and Rev. Steve Clunn present a proposal for an Israel-divested pension option to the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits.

2013 – MFSA signs three amicus briefs in support of Marriage Equality and Women’s Rights to the Supreme Court while it considers cases about California’s Proposition 8, the Defense of Marriage Act, and the Violence Against Women Act.

2013 – MFSA stages “United for Marriage” event in front of the Supreme Court to demonstrate in favor of Marriage Equality. An ecumenical service was also held at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation.

2013 – Chett Pritchett promoted to Executive Director and JD Gore joins MFSA as a Mission Intern with the GBGM.

2013 – MFSA provides hospitality to attendees of the 50th Anniversary Celebrations of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s March on Washington and holds a Teach-In and worship service on the iniquities of the criminal justice system.

2013 – MFSA releases a statement to the Executive Committee of the Council of Bishops regarding the blessing of a same-sex marriage ceremony by Bishop Melvin Talbert.

2014 – MFSA co-sponsors the “Faith Rally for Family Planning and Religious Freedom” in Washington, DC focusing on women’s access to reproductive health care.

2014 – MFSA participates in a protest for Immigration Reform outside the White House leading to the arrest of 115 faith leaders, including MFSA Executive Director Chett Pritchett.

2014 – MFSA participates in a march to the White House to protest the War on Gaza by the State of Israel.

2016 – As Chett Pritchett resigns, Deconess Darlene DiDomenick assumes the role of Interim Executive Diretor for a two-year period.

2016 – MFSA joins with other member of the Love Your Neighbor Coalition to seek justice at the 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon.

2017 – MFSA makes a commitment to focus special energy on dismantling racism within church and society, beginning with its onw life, and begins recruting church bodies to join its new Justice Seeking Congregation program.

2018 – MFSA moves its national office to the activist Central UMC in downtown Detrioit and selects Bridget Cabrera as its new Executive Director.