The Methodist Church in America
The story of the first Methodist Society in New York is familiar to most Methodists. In 1766, Mrs. Barbara Ruckel Heck broke up a card game among a German-Irish group, and going to her carpenter cousin, Philip Embury, exhorted him to begin preaching “to save our souls.” Thus spurred, Embury began preaching the Wesleyan gospel of Free Grace in his own home and organized his hearers into a Methodist Society.
Soon Embury’s home wouldn’t hold the hearers and a sail loft was rented. Here, in 1767, the group obtained a powerful helper in Captain Thomas Webb of the British Army. Webb had been spiritually awakened in a Methodist Society in England three years before this time and Wesley had licensed him to be a local preacher.
In 1768, under the leadership of Webb and Embury, a Methodist Meetinghouse was erected in New York and named Wesley Chapel. Today it is situated amid the financial district of New York City at 44 John Street. Captain Webb went to Philadelphia in 1767 and organized a Methodist Society there. Its nucleus may have been an earlier Whitefieldian (A follower of the Calvinistic Methodist George Whitefield.) Group. Then in 1769, under Webb’s leadership, this building was purchased. It is the historic Saint George’s Church which stands in the shadow of the Delaware River Bridge. In response to the New York Methodists’ appeal for a preacher, in 1771, Wesley sent twenty-six-year-old Francis Asbury to America. In the providence of God, he was destined to become the great organizer and leader of the emerging American Methodist Church.
In 1784, at the conclusion of the Revolution, John Wesley now eighty-one years old took the steps which resulted in the organizing of the Societies of his Movement into the Methodist Episcopal Church.
About sixty of the Methodist preachers assembled in the Lovely Lane Meeting-house, which stood in what is now downtown Baltimore. Here in the historic Christmas Conference, from December 24, 1784, to January 2, 1785, they organized the Methodist Episcopal Church. Francis Asbury was ordained Deacon and Elder on successive days but refused to accept Wesley’s appointment as superintendent (Bishop) unless he was so elected by the preachers.
This was done, and thereby the principle was established that the final authority in American Methodism was not John Wesley, but the Conference. Asbury was then consecrated as General Superintendent or Bishop. By an act of Congress, the following tribute to Asbury is inscribed on the base of a monument to him in Washington, DC: “His continuous journeying through cities, villages, and settlements from 1771 to 1816 greatly promoted patriotism, education, morality and religion in the American republic.”
Methodism has not always remained united. The Methodist Protestant Church was formed in 1830 primarily as a movement for more adequate lay representation. Slavery later caused the Church to divide between the south and north. It was not until 1939 that the three branches of Methodism again became one Church. Then in 1968, at Dallas, Texas, the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church, founded by William Otterbein, Jacob Albright, and Martin Boehm, became the United Methodist Church. A hand clasp, by former EUB Bishop Reuben Mueller and former Methodist Bishop Lloyd D. Wick, signified the merger and creation of the United Methodist Church at Dallas, Texas, April 23, 1968.
Contributed by Trinity Church Member, Marty Rose, as given to Marty and her late husband, Cass, by a Past Pastor: The Rev. Charles Bruce