Methodist Episcopal Church

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Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. The Methodist Episcopal Church, sometimes referred to as the M.E. Church, was a development of the first expression of Methodism in the United States. It officially began at the Baltimore Christmas Conference in 1784, with Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke as the first bishops. In the early 19th century it became the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., and is now second to the Southern Baptist Convention. In 1939 it merged with the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and the Methodist Protestant Church to form the Methodist Church. In 1968 it merged with the Evangelical United Brethren Church to form the present United Methodist Church.


The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, was an Anglican. Prior to the American Revolution, some people had concerns about Methodist evangelism in the colonies that took no heed of established Anglican parishes.[citation needed] For example, the Rev. Devereux Jarratt (1733–1801) was and remained an Anglican clergyman who founded Methodist societies in Virginia and North Carolina. However, after the 1784 establishment of the Methodist Episcopal Church, he expressed shock that the Methodists "had rejected their old mother."[1] It is possible that Jarratt and others considered the Methodist movement to be some sort of 18th-Century parachurch organization. However, the arrival in America of more and more migrants from England who saw themselves as Methodist, not Anglican, drove the establishment of a distinctly Methodist denomination.[citation needed]

The earliest forms of Methodism were not originally referred to as a "connexion" because members were expected to seek the sacraments in the Church of England or Anglican Church.[2] By the 1770s, however, they had their own chapels. In addition to salaried circuit riders (who were paid just over one-quarter what salaried Congregationalist ministers earned at the time), there were also unsalaried local ministers who held full-time jobs outside the church; class leaders who conducted weekly small groups where members were mutually accountable for their practice of Christian piety; and stewards who often undertook administrative duties.

Circuit riders, many of whom were laymen, traveled by horseback to preach the gospel and establish churches until there was scarcely any crossroad community in the United States without a Methodist presence.[citation needed]

The earliest Episcopal Methodists in North America were often drawn from the middle-class trades. Women were more numerous among members than men, and adherents outnumbered official members by as many as five-to-one. Adherents, unlike members, were not publicly accountable for their Christian life and therefore did not usually attend weekly class meetings. Meetings and services were often characterized by extremely emotional and demonstrative styles of worship that were often condemned by contemporary Congregationalists and Presbyterians. It was also very common for exhortations — testimonials and personal conversion narratives distinguishable from sermons because exhorters did not "take a text" from the Bible — to be publicly delivered by both women and slaves. Some of the earliest class leaders were also women.[citation needed]

Divisions and mergers

The following list represents some major organizational developments in the United States. There have also been divisions and merges in Great Britain and elsewhere.[3]

1767: The Rev. Philip William Otterbein, (1726-1813) of Baltimore and Martin Boehm started Methodist evangelism among German-speaking immigrants to form the United Brethren in Christ.[4] This development had to do only with language. Methodist Episcopal Bishop Francis Asbury later preached at Otterbein's 1813 funeral.[5] In 1968 it merged to form the United Methodist Church.

1784: Historic "Christmas Conference" held at Lovely Lane Chapel in waterfront Baltimore (at Lovely Lane, off German (now Redwood) Street between South Calvert Street and South Street)and convened to organize the future Methodist Episcopal Church and also several ministers ordain Francis Asbury as bishop.

1793: The first recognized split from the Methodist Episcopal Church was led by a preacher named James O'Kelly who wanted clergy to be free to refuse to serve where the bishop appointed them.[6] He organized the "Republican Methodists," later called simply the Christian Church or Christian Connection, that through its successors and mergers eventually became part of the future United Church of Christ in 1957.

1800: The Evangelical Association was organized by Jacob Albright to serve German-speaking Methodists.[7]

1816: The African Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in Philadelphia by Richard Allen for Wesley followers/African-Americans. Bishop Francis Asbury had ordained him earlier in 1799.

1820: The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church was organized in New York.[8]

1828: The Canadians formed their own Methodist Church.[9]

1828: The Methodist Protestant Church split off under Nicholas Snethen, who had earlier argued against the O'Kelly split, along with Asa Shinn. The issue was the role of laity in governance of the church. In 1939, it merged.[10]

1843: The Wesleyan Methodist Church was organized.[11] In 1968, the Wesleyan Methodist and Pilgrim Holiness denominations merged to form the Wesleyan Church.

1844: The Methodist Episcopal Church, South, split off because of the slavery controversy. Briefly, during the American Civil War, 1861-1865, it adopted the title of "The Methodist Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America". In 1939, it merged into The Methodist Church, (which endures until 1968 and a subsequent merger with the Evangelical United Brethren Church forming the current U.M.C.).[12]

1860: The Free Methodist Church was organized by B. T. Roberts and others. The differences centered around a traditional/rural vs. modern/urban ethos.[13]

1870: The Colored Methodist Episcopal Church was organized from the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, to serve African-American Methodists. Later changed its name to Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.

1895: The Church of the Nazarene was organized by Phineas F. Bresee.[14]

1895: Fire Baptized Holiness Church[citation needed]

1897: Pentecostal Holiness Church of North Carolina. Merged with the Fire Baptized Holiness Church in 1911 and formed what is now known as the International Pentecostal Holiness Church.

1897: The Pilgrim Holiness Church was organized.[15]

1939: The Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and the Methodist Protestant Church merged to form The Methodist Church.

1946: The Evangelical Church (Albright's Evangelical Association) and Otterbein's heritage in the Church of the United Brethren in Christ merged to form the Evangelical United Brethren Church.

1968: The Evangelical United Brethren Church and The Methodist Church merged to form The United Methodist Church.


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North and South split

Travis Park Methodist Episcopal Church South, San Antonio, Texas (postcard, circa 1910)

The church split over the question of slavery in 1844 with the Methodist Episcopal Church, South being formed in southern states.[16]


In the late 1840s, separate Conferences were formed for German-speaking members of the Methodist Episcopal Church who were not members of the Evangelical Association or the United Brethren in Christ (later merged to form the Evangelical United Brethren (EUB)). Among these was the St. Louis German Conference, which in 1925 was assimilated into the surrounding English-speaking conferences, including the Illinois Conference.[17]

Civil War and Reconstruction

Many Northerners had only recently become religious (thanks to the Second Great Awakening) and religion was a powerful force in their lives. No denomination was more active in supporting the Union than the Methodist Episcopal Church. Carwardine argues that for many Methodists, the victory of Lincoln in 1860 heralded the arrival of the kingdom of God in America. They were moved into action by a vision of freedom for slaves, freedom from the terror unleashed on godly abolitionists, release from the Slave Power's evil grip on the state, and a new direction for the Union.[18] Methodists formed a major element of the popular support for the Radical Republicans with their hard line toward the white South. Dissident Methodists left the church.[19]

The denominations all sent missionaries, teachers and activists to the South to help the Freedmen. Only the Methodists made many converts, however.[20] Activists sponsored by Northern Methodist Church played a major role in the Freedmen's Bureau, notably in such key educational roles as the Bureau's state superintendent or assistant superintendent of education for Virginia, Florida, Alabama and South Carolina.[21]

During Reconstruction the Methodists moved into a dozen Southern cities to seize control, with Army help, of churches and other buildings that had belonged to the southern branch of the church. In a highly controversial move, the Northern Methodists used the Army to seize control of Methodist churches in large cities, over the vehement protests of the Southern Methodists. Historian Ralph Morrow reports:

A War Department order of November, 1863, applicable to the Southwestern states of the Confederacy, authorized the Northern Methodists to occupy "all houses of worship belonging to the Methodist Episcopal Church South in which a loyal minister, appointed by a loyal bishop of said church, does not officiate."[22][23][24][25]

Across the North the Methodists were strong supporters of Radical policies. The Methodist family magazine Ladies' Repository promoted Christian family activism. Its articles provided moral uplift to women and children. It portrayed the War as a great moral crusade against a decadent Southern civilization corrupted by slavery. It recommended activities that family members could perform in order to aid the Union cause.[26] The focus on social problems paved the way for the Social Gospel movement a few years later. Matthew Simpson, a famous Bishop, played a leading role in mobilizing the Northern Methodists for the cause. His biographer calls him the "High Priest of the Radical Republicans."[27] The Methodist Ministers Association of Boston, meeting two weeks after Lincoln's assassination, called for a hard line against the Confederate leadership:

Resolved, That no terms should be made with traitors, no compromise with rebels.... That we hold the National authority bound by the most solemn obligation to God and man to bring all the civil and military leaders of the rebellion to trial by due course of law, and when they are clearly convicted, to execute them.[28][29]


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In 1895, during the 19th century Holiness movement, Methodist Episcopal minister Phineas F. Bresee founded the Church of the Nazarene in Los Angeles with the help of Joseph Pomeroy Widney. The Church of the Nazarene separated over a perceived need to minister further to the urban poor, the origins of its Nazarene name. Several other churches, roughly 15 holiness denominations that had also split from the Methodist Episcopal Church, joined the Church of the Nazarene in 1907 and 1908, and it became international soon thereafter. The new Church of the Nazarene retained the Methodist Episcopal tradition of education and now operates 56 educational institutions around the world, including eight liberal arts colleges in the United States, each tied to an "educational region".[30]

Other offshoots

There are many offshoots of the original Methodist Episcopal Church in the US. For more detail see: Methodism.[31]

See also


  1. Woolverton, John Frederick. Colonial Anglicanism in North America. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1984, pp. 21, 197.
  2. On the sacramental controversies of the 1700s, see Porter, James. A Compendium of Methodism. New York: Carlton & Porter, 1851, pp. 132-133.
  3. Charles Yrigoyen Jr, and Susan E. Warrick, Historical dictionary of Methodism (Scarecrow Press, 2013)
  4. [1] Archived March 26, 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  5. Hyde, A. B. The Story of Methodism(revised edition). Springfield, Mass.: Willey & Co., 1889, p. 478.
  6. Hyde, A. B. op.cit. pp.432-433.
  7. Hyde, 'The Story of Methodism pp. 457-458.
  8. Hyde, 'The Story of Methodism p. 486.
  9. Hyde, 'The Story of Methodism p. 488.
  10. Hyde, 'The Story of Methodism p. 441, 466, 517-523.
  11. "Wesleyan Methodist Church of America." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 11 Apr. 2009 <>.
  12. Hyde, 'The Story of Methodism pp. 535-550.
  13. Hyde, 'The Story of Methodism, pp. 659ff.
  14. Church of the Nazarene - Historical Statement. Retrieved on 2013-08-02.
  15. [2] Archived October 13, 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  16. John Nelson Norwood, The Schism in the Methodist Episcopal Church 1844: A Study of Slavery and Ecclesiastical Politics (Porcupine Press, 1976)
  17. Paul Douglass, The Story of German Methodism: Biography of an Immigrant Soul (Methodist Book Concern, 1939)
  18. Richard Carwardine, "Methodists, Politics, and the Coming of the American Civil War," Church History, Sept 2000, Vol. 69 Issue 3, pp 578-609 in JSTOR
  19. Ralph E. Morrow, "Methodists and 'Butternuts' in the Old Northwest," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1956) 49#1 pp. 34-47 in JSTOR
  20. Victor B. Howard, Religion and the Radical Republican Movement, 1860-1870 (1990) pp 212-13
  21. Ralph E. Morrow, "Northern Methodism in the South during Reconstruction," Mississippi Valley Historical Review (1954) 41#2 pp. 197-218, in JSTOR, citing p 205
  22. Morrow, "Northern Methodism in the South during Reconstruction," Mississippi Valley Historical Review (1954) quote on p 202
  23. Ralph E. Morrow, Northern Methodism and Reconstruction (1956) online
  24. Stowell, Rebuilding Zion: The Religious Reconstruction of the South, 1863-1877, pp 30-31
  25. William W. Sweet, "Methodist Church Influence in Southern Politics," Mississippi Valley Historical Review, (1915) 1#4 pp. 546-560 in JSTOR
  26. Kathleen L. Endres, "A Voice for the Christian Family: The Methodist Episcopal 'Ladies' Repository' in the Civil War," Methodist History, (1995) 33#2 pp 84-97
  27. Robert D. Clark, The Life of Matthew Simpson (1956) pp 245-67
  28. Fredrick A. Norwood, ed., Sourcebook of American Methodism (1982) p 323
  29. William W. Sweet, "The Methodist Episcopal Church and Reconstruction," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1914) 7#3 pp. 147-165, quote on p 161 in JSTOR
  30. Charles Edwin Jones, Perfectionist Persuasion: The Holiness Movement and American Methodism, 1867-1936 (Scarecrow Press, 1974).
  31. Charles Yrigoyen Jr, and Susan E. Warrick, Historical dictionary of Methodism (Scarecrow Press, 2013)

Further reading

  • Cameron, Richard M. (ed.) (1961) Methodism and Society in Historical Perspective, 4 vol., New York: Abingdon Press
  • Hatch, Nathan O. The Democratization of American Christianity (1989) credits the Methodists and Baptists for making Americans more equalitarian
  • Lyerly, Cynthia Lynn Methodism and the Southern Mind, 1770-1810, (1998)
  • Mathews, Donald G. Slavery and Methodism: A Chapter in American Morality, 1780-1845 (1965)
  • Mathews-Gardner, A. Lanethea. "From Ladies Aid to NGO: Transformations in Methodist Women's Organizing in Postwar America," in Laughlin, Kathleen A., and Jacqueline L. Castledine, eds., Breaking the Wave: Women, Their Organizations, and Feminism, 1945-1985 (2011) pp. 99–112
  • McDowell, John Patrick. The Social Gospel in the South: The Woman's Home Mission Movement in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, 1886-1939 (1982)
  • Meyer, Donald The Protestant Search for Political Realism, 1919-1941, (1988) ISBN 0-8195-5203-8
  • Norwood, John Nelson. The Schism in the Methodist Episcopal Church 1844: A Study of Slavery and Ecclesiastical Politics (Porcupine Press, 1976)
  • Richey, Russell E. Early American Methodism (1991)
  • Richey, Russell E. and Kenneth E. Rowe, eds. Rethinking Methodist History: A Bicentennial Historical Consultation (1985), historiographical essays by scholars
  • Schmidt, Jean Miller Grace Sufficient: A History of Women in American Methodism, 1760-1939, (1999)
  • Schneider, A. Gregory. The Way of the Cross Leads Home: The Domestication of American Methodism (1993)
  • Stevens, Abel. History of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States of America (1884) online
  • Sweet, William Warren Methodism in American History, (1954) 472pp.
  • Teasdale, Mark R. Methodist Evangelism, American Salvation: The Home Missions of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1860-1920 (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2014)
  • Tucker, Karen B. Westerfield. American Methodist Worship (2001)
  • Wigger, John H. Taking Heaven by Storm: Methodism and the Rise of Popular Christianity in America, (1998) 269pp; focus on 1770-1910
  • Wigger, John H. and Nathan O. Hatch, eds. Methodism and the Shaping of American Culture (2001)
  • Yrigoyen Jr, Charles, and Susan E. Warrick. Historical dictionary of Methodism (Scarecrow Press, 2013)

Primary sources

  • Norwood, Fredrick A., ed. Sourcebook of American Methodism (1982)
  • Richey, Russell E., Rowe, Kenneth E. and Schmidt, Jean Miller (eds.) The Methodist Experience in America: a sourcebook, (2000) ISBN 978-0-687-24673-1. 756 p. of original documents
  • Sweet, William Warren (ed.) Religion on the American Frontier: Vol. 4, The Methodists,1783-1840: A Collection of Source Materials, (1946) 800 p. of documents regarding the American frontier