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The Methodist Episcopal Church, sometimes referred to as the M.E. Church, was a development of the first expression of Methodism in the United Statesmarker. It officially began at the Baltimore Christmas Conference in 1784, with Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke as the first bishops. Through a series of divisions and mergers, the M.E. Church became the major component of the present United Methodist Church.


1850 Census map shows very widespread and uniform distribution

The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, was an Anglican, and prior to the American Revolution, some people had concerns about Methodist evangelism in the colonies that took no heed of established Anglican parishes. 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." It is possible that Jarratt and others considered the Methodist movement to be some sort of 18th Century parachurch organization. However, as more and more migrants from England who saw themselves as Methodist, not Anglican, arrived in America, the establishment of a distinctly Methodist denomination was inevitable.

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. 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 rider, many of whom were laymen, traveled by horseback to preach the gospel and establish church until there was scarcely any crossroad community in the United Statesmarker without a Methodist presence.

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.

Divisions and mergers

The following list represents some major organizational developments in the United States. There have also been divisions and merges in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.

1767: Philip William Otterbein and Martin Boehm started Methodist evangelism among German speaking immigrants to form the United Brethren in Christ. This development had to do only with language. Methodist Episcopal Bishop Francis Asbury preached at Otterbein's funeral.In the 20th Century, the United Brethren and Evangelical Association merged to form the Evangelical United Brethren Church, and then with the Methodist Church to form the United Methodist Church.

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. He organized the "Republican Methodists," later called simply the Christian Church or Christian Connection, that through its successors eventually became part of the United Church of Christ.

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

1816: The African Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in Philadelphia by Richard Allen, who had been born a slave and bought his freedom. Francis Asbury had ordained him in 1799. It was also sometimes called the "African Bethel Church."

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

1828: The Canadians formed their own Methodist Church.

1828: The Methodist Protestant Church was organized by 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, the Methodist Protestant Church merged with the Methodist Episcopal and Methodist Episcopal South to form the Methodist Church.

1843: The Wesleyan Methodist Church was organized."Wesleyan Methodist Church of America." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 11 Apr. 2009 />. In 1968, the Wesleyan Methodist and Pilgrim Holiness denominations merged to form the Wesleyan Church.

1844: The Methodist Episcopal Church, South, was organized because of the slavery controversy. In 1939, the Methodist Episcopal, Methodist Episcopal South, and Methodist Protestant denominations merged to form the Methodist Church.

1860: The Free Methodist Church was organized by B. T. Roberts and others. The differences centered around a rural vs. urban ethos.

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

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

1897: The Pilgrim Holiness Church was organized.

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 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.

A related development was the establishment of The Salvation Army in Great Britainmarker in 1865. Although this was not a split from the Methodist Episcopal Church, it later became a significant branch of the Wesleyan movement in the United States.

Additional Information on Some Divisions

The church split over the question of slavery in 1844 with the Methodist Episcopal Church, South being formed in southern states. Former slave Henry Bibb was particularly strident in his confrontations of churchmen who served as slave masters through letters he sent to Methodist Episcopal church members. Bibb called on them to confront their pasts and account for their dual roles as slave owner and religious persons.

In the late 1840s, separate Conferences were formed for German-speaking members of the Methodist Episcopal Church who were not members of the Evangelical Asociation or the United Brethern 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.

In 1895, during the 19th century Holiness movement, Methodist Episcopal minister Phineas F. Bresee founded the Church of the Nazarene in Los Angelesmarker 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 8 liberal arts colleges in the United States, each tied to an "educational region". Ironically, around the time of the first General Assembly, the Nazarene Church would claim to be Congregational, similar to the Methodist Protestant Church, but has retained much of its Episcopal character to this day.

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

See also


  1. Hyde, A. B. The Story of Methodism Throughout the World. Springfield, Mass.: Willey & Co., 1889, p. 410.
  2. Woolverton, John Frederick. Colonial Anglicanism in North America. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1984, pp. 21, 197.
  3. On the sacremental controversies of the 1700s, see Porter, James. A Compendium of Methodism. New York: Carlton & Porter, 1851, pp. 132-133.
  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, A. B. op.cit. pp. 457-458.
  8. Hyde, A. B. op.cit. pp. 469, 483-485.
  9. Hyde, A. B. op.cit. p. 486.
  10. Hyde, A. B. op.cit., p. 488.
  11. Hyde, A. B. op.cit. p. 441, 466, 517-523.
  12. Hyde, A. B. op.cit. pp. 535-550.
  13. Hyde, A. B. op.cit., pp. 659ff.
  16. New York Times editorial, May 12, 1939, p. 20.
  17. New York Times, April 24, 1968, p. 26.
  18. Several of Bibb's letters appear in John W. Blassingame's volume, Slave Testimony, (LSU Press).

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