Methodist Episcopal Church - Origins


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. 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 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.

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.

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