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One itinerant preacher in each circuit would be made the "assistant" because he was an assistant to Wesley , and he would direct the activities of the other itinerant preachers in the circuit, who were called "helpers". Wesley gave out preaching assignments at an annual conference. At that time there were 1, Methodists in America led by ten lay preachers. Methodist societies in America also operated within the Church of England. There were several Anglican priests who supported the work of the Methodists, attending Methodist meetings and administering the sacraments to Methodists.

Due to the scarcity of Anglican ministers, Methodists in the United States were unable to receive the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion. On September 1, , Wesley responded to this situation by personally ordaining two Methodists as elders for America, with the right to administer the sacraments, and also ordained Thomas Coke who was already an Anglican priest as a superintendent with authority to ordain other Methodist clergy.

Because Wesley was not a bishop , his ordination of Coke and the others was not recognized by the Church of England, and, consequently, this marked American Methodism's separation from the Anglican Church. Wesley's actions were based in his belief that the order of bishop and priest were one and the same, so that both possess the power to ordain others. At this conference, Coke ordained Francis Asbury as co-superintendent according to Wesley's wishes.

Methodist Episcopal Church

Asbury had been serving as general assistant since Rankin returned to England. Otterbein , who later helped found the Church of the United Brethren in Christ , participated in Asbury's ordination. The conference adopted Articles of Religion prepared by Wesley and adapted from the Church of England's Thirty-nine Articles as a doctrinal statement for the new church, and it also received an abridged version of the Church of England's Book of Common Prayer provided by Wesley, titled The Sunday Service of the Methodists in North America.

The conference adopted an organization consisting of superintendents, elders, deacons , traveling preachers, and local preachers.

Preachers were licensed to preach but were not ordained and could not administer sacraments. Local preachers pursued secular employment but preached on Sundays in their local communities. Deacons were preachers authorized by a superintendent to officiate weddings, bury the dead, baptize, and assist the elders in administering the Lord's Supper.

Only ordained elders could administer the Lord's Supper, and they were also placed in charge of circuits. In the year of its founding, the church claimed 14, members and 83 preachers. Early Methodists were drawn from the ranks of slaves , poor whites, and "middling people"— artisans , shopkeepers, petty merchants and small planters.

Slaves and free blacks were especially attracted to the Methodist Episcopal Church's condemnation of slavery. Prominent Methodists such as Coke, Asbury, and Freeborn Garrettson preached an antislavery message, and the Christmas Conference mandated that all Methodist laity and preachers emancipate their slaves. While African Americans were not yet ordained and classes were segregated by race, important African-American leaders did emerge, such as Harry Hosier who was an associate of Asbury and Coke.

Because of Methodism's conscious repudiation of upper class values and lifestyles, elite women who converted took on a revolutionary character.

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While women were not granted formal leadership roles though some were class leaders occasionally , they played important roles in evangelization through class relations, family networks, correspondence, and in the home. Meetings and services were often characterized by extremely emotional and demonstrative styles of worship. As part of the conversion experience , people often trembled, groaned, screamed, or fell motionless to the ground as if dead. These bodily experiences as well as Methodist ascetic practices and claims of receiving direct communication from the Holy Spirit inspired its opponents to accuse Methodism of being a form of religious enthusiasm that caused insanity.

Coke had returned to Britain in but arrived back in the United States in with written instructions from Wesley. Wesley ordered the holding of a conference and that Richard Whatcoat be appointed a superintendent. Many preachers were offended that Coke and Wesley seemed to be taking decision making out of the hands of the American church. They also feared that Whatcoat's appointment would lead to the recall of Asbury, and this led the conference to reject Whatcoat's appointment Whatcoat would later be elected bishop in In , the title of superintendent was changed to bishop.

Coke's reputation among American Methodists furthered suffered when his secret negotiations for a union with the Episcopal Church as American Anglicans now styled themselves were discovered. Coke had written and met with William White , the first Episcopal presiding bishop , discussing the possible lowering of Episcopal ministerial standards, the reordination of Methodist preachers, and the reconsecration of Coke and Asbury as Episcopal bishops. When Asbury learned of the negotiations, he blocked the merger plan from being considered.

Despite controversies over authority, the Methodist Episcopal Church continued to enjoy growth.


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By , there were 37, members, of which 6, were African American. A year later, the number of annual conferences had increased to eleven. The church's reach also began to significantly expand beyond the Appalachian and Allegheny Mountain ranges. It was during this time that the first Methodist college in America was established, the short-lived Cokesbury College in Maryland.

This growth revealed problems with the church's decision-making process. Each annual conference had to agree on legislation before it was enacted, but this became unwieldy when the number of conferences grew to eleven. The need for a centralized policy-making body led to the creation of a council of bishops and presiding elders who supervised multi-circuit districts in , but this body was soon abolished after meeting only twice. After the failure of the council, a General Conference was held in November at Baltimore. This first General Conference gave itself legislative power over the church, determined to meet every four years, and decided membership for general and annual conferences would include all elders, deacons, and traveling preachers.

At the General Conference, a dispute emerged over the power of bishops to assign preachers to circuits. O'Kelly and his supporters wanted the right to appeal assignments to the conference, but this proposal was defeated. As reflected in their name, Republican Methodists desired a more egalitarian church and objected to the centralized governance and episcopal polity of the Methodist Episcopal Church. The Methodist Episcopal Church lost one-fifth of its members and would not begin to experience growth again until In , the Republican Methodists rejected the Methodist label and later merged with other groups to become the Christian Connection.

The second General Conference was held at Baltimore in October It reduced the number of annual conferences to six and, for the first time, gave them geographical boundaries.


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Local preachers were made eligible for ordination as deacons after four years of service. Another bishop was found necessary to aid Asbury due to Coke's frequent trips to Britain; Coke was regarded as a leading figure in Britain's Wesleyan Methodist Church , which itself split from the Anglican Church after Wesley's death in At the third General Conference held in May , Richard Whatcoat was finally elected and consecrated the third bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

Since the annual conferences were given geographical boundaries in , they increasingly acted like states, demanding proportional representation in General Conference. Because General Conference met frequently in Baltimore, it was often dominated by the conferences closest to that city, the Philadelphia and Baltimore conferences. At the General Conference, these two conferences together had 70 preachers present, while the other five conferences combined had only 42 preachers present.

Each annual conference was entitled to send one representative for every five conference members. The Restrictive Regulations were also adopted at this time. These rules, which were regarded as the church's constitution, prohibited the General Conference from modifying the church's doctrinal standards and episcopal government.

William McKendree was elected the fourth bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church and the first American-born bishop to replace the deceased Whatcoat.


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  • The General Conference was the first to convene under the new rules adopted in This conference, meeting in New York City, made local deacons eligible for ordination as elders. The year marked the end of an era for the MEC. Asbury and Jesse Lee died that year, and Coke had died in while conducting missionary work for the British Conference. All of these men had championed the itinerant model of ministry. It also expressed concerns over perceived laxity in Methodist standards of discipline, doctrine, dress and sacramental practice.

    There was also concern over the appearance in some places of false doctrines, such as Arianism , Socinianism and Pelagianism. In order to provide adequate preparation to candidates for the ministry, the bishops were directed to create a Course of Study featuring a prescribed reading list, the first effort to introduce a formal process for ministry preparation. These works would guide American Methodist belief for the next century.

    This magazine soon acquired a circulation of 10, at a time when popular secular periodicals had circulations between 4, and 5, The church continued to grow during this period.

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    Sometime around , Methodism expanded into the region around Cincinnati, Ohio, and by , the first Methodist church had been built in the city. Sturdevant established a new circuit along the banks of the Tombigbee River in Alabama. The Presbyterian -led Cane Ridge Revival of birthed the first definitive camp meeting in American history, and this multi-day revivalistic event would be enthusiastically adopted by the Methodist Episcopal Church.

    For Methodists, these meetings were important evangelistic tools, but they were often criticized for the emotionalism and enthusiasm displayed, such as crying, shouting, jerking and falling. In his book Methodist Error; or, Friendly, Christian Advice: To Those Methodists Who Indulge in Extravagant Religious Emotions and Bodily Exercises , published anonymously in , Watson argued that such emotional displays were not appropriate on the part of converted Christians in public worship but should be restricted to the time of conversion or, for those already converted, to private devotion at home.

    While historians have emphasized the importance of camp meetings on the American frontier, camp meetings were vibrant parts of Methodist community life in the more settled areas along the East Coast as well. For example, some of the most significant meetings at the start of the 19th century occurred on the Delmarva Peninsula , a place that became known as the "Garden of Methodism".

    Camp meetings were often held simultaneously with Methodist quarterly meetings circuit business meetings held four times each year. In America, quarterly meetings had already evolved into two-day religious festivals, so it became standard practice for quarterly conferences to make one of their warm-weather sessions a camp meeting.

    By , Methodists held to camp meetings annually, and historian Nathan Hatch estimates that these events drew in over one million people annually. The Methodist Episcopal Church had committed itself to the antislavery cause, but it became difficult to maintain this stance as Methodism spread to slaveholding areas.

    To avoid alienating southerners, the General Conference allowed annual conferences to form their own policies related to buying and selling slaves. In , it amended the Discipline's prohibition on officeholders owning slaves to apply only in states where emancipation was legal. Another problem was that the MEC failed to give African-American members full equality and inclusion in the church. Average Review. Write a Review. Related Searches. The story about Captain John G. Clancey, a sea captain who retired to the desert Clancey, a sea captain who retired to the desert of New Mexico and raised sheep in the last quarter of the 19th century into the early 's.

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