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A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE METHODIST-EPISCOPAL CHURCH IN AMERICA

 

Cliff Lamere   August 2001

 

 

The Methodist Church was formed in England by John Wesley, an Anglican Catholic (= Episcopal, = also the Church of England).  Episcopal means "based on or recognizing a governing order of bishops".  Like the Church of England, the Methodists have a hierarchy which includes bishops.

 

John Wesley (1703–1791) and his brother Charles (1707–1788) [evangelist and hymnist] came as Church of England missionaries to the colony of Georgia in March 1736.  Charles left in December of the same year and John left in February 1738.  Both were disillusioned and discouraged.  Back in England John Wesley would form the Methodist movement.  All his life, Wesley remained a member of the Church of England saying that that was not inconsistent with his beliefs.

When persons of the Methodist persuasion migrated to America, Methodism grew as a lay movement.  The church that formed became worried about its validity since it did not have any ordained ministers to perform the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper.  The American church applied to John Wesley for sanctioning, but was denied.  

 

During the American Revolution, John Wesley supported England and wrote against the revolutionary cause.  Many of the Methodist preachers refused to take up arms in support of the revolution.

 

When England lost its control of America, Wesley did finally give his approval and sent ordained preachers to the New World.  He even wrote an abridged version of the Common Book of Prayer for the American church which was to become known as the Methodist Episcopal Church.  It formed about 1785.

"The founding period was not without serious problems, especially for the Methodists [actually Methodist Episcopals].  Richard Allen (1760–1831), an emancipated slave and Methodist [Episcopal] preacher who had been mistreated because of his race, left the church and in 1816 organized The African Methodist Episcopal Church. For similar reasons, The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church was begun in 1821.  In 1830 another rupture occurred in The Methodist Episcopal Church.  About 5,000 preachers and laypeople left the denomination because it would not grant representation to the laity or permit the election of presiding elders (district superintendents).  The new body was called The Methodist Protestant Church.  It remained a strong church until 1939..."1  

 

"John Wesley was an ardent opponent of slavery.  Many of the leaders of early American Methodism shared his hatred for this form of human bondage.  As the nineteenth century progressed, it became apparent that tensions were deepening in Methodism over the slavery question.... Contention over slavery would ultimately split Methodism into separate northern and southern churches."1


"The slavery issue was generally put aside by The Methodist Episcopal Church until its General Conference in 1844, when the pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions clashed.  Their most serious conflict concerned one of the
church’s five bishops, James O. Andrew, who had acquired slaves through marriage.  After acrimonious debate the General Conference voted to suspend Bishop Andrew from the exercise of his episcopal office so long as
he could not, or would not, free his slaves.  A few days later dissidents drafted a Plan of Separation... which permitted [them]... to separate from The Methodist Episcopal Church in order to organize their own ecclesiastical structure.  The Plan of Separation was adopted, and the groundwork was prepared for the creation of The Methodist Episcopal Church, South."1

In 1939, The Methodist Church formed from the union of The Methodist Episcopal Church, The Methodist Protestant Church, and The Methodist Episcopal Church, South.

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Sources:

1)  "About the UMC [United Methodist Church] - Our History" - no author stated

 

               http://www.umc.org/abouttheumc/history/

 

2)  "A History Of The Methodist Episcopal Church" - by Nathan Bangs, D.D 

         In Four Volumes, from 1766 to 1840. 

         The four volumes are online at:        
http://www.umc.org/churchlibrary/discipline/history/roots.htm

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An excellent, highly illustrated resource:  "The Story of United Methodism in America".  Text by John G. McEllhenney.  128 illustrations from the Archives and History Center of the United Methodist Church.

 

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Barbara Bolster-Barrett has taken a photo of the old, abandoned West Mountain Methodist Episcopal Church building in the Town of Berne, Albany County, NY.  Accompanying articles give some history of the church and its construction.

 

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