Methodist History

A History of the Denominations which form the Heritage of the The United Methodist Church in the United States:

  • Methodist Episcopal Church (1784)
  • African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (1796)
  • Church of the United Brethren in Christ (1800)
  • Evangelical Association / Evangelisches Gemeinschaft (1809)
  • African Methodist Episcopal Church (1816)
  • Methodist Protestant Church (1830)
  • Wesleyan Methodist Church (1843)
  • Methodist Episcopal Church, South (1844)
  • [Colored] Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (1870)
  • Pilgrim Holiness Church (1897)
  • United Evangelical Church (1894)
  • Evangelical Church (1922)
  • Evangelical Congregational Church (1928)
  • Methodist Church (U.S.) (1939)
  • Evangelical United Brethren (1946)
  • Wesleyan Church (1968)
  • United Methodist Church (U.S.) (1968)
The United Methodist Church (U.S.) is one of the largest Protestant denominations in the United States.  Its roots go back into the eighteenth century and the work of John Wesley, a Church of England clergyman who had served briefly in Georgia in the late 1730s and who developed a pietistic study group within the Church of England that became known as Methodism.  With the defeat of the British in the American War for Independence, Wesley reluctantly allowed his followers in the American colonies to establish a separate church, as they could not proceed in their good work under the Church of England.  In 1784, the Baltimore Christmas Conference established the Methodist Episcopal Church, with Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury as bishops following the personal “laying on of hands” by Wesley.

The church experienced splits right from the beginning.  In 1787, St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia withdrew over the issue of segregation, leading to the founding of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, under Richard Allen, in 1816.  In 1796, a group split from the John Street Methodist Episcopal Church in New York and became the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.

Greater splits occured in the early nineteenth century.  In 1830, the Methodist Protestant Church was formed by a group who withdrew over the power of bishops and lack of lay representation in church governance.  The Wesleyan Methodist Church was founded n 1843 by Orange Scott and Luther Lee, primarily over the reluctance of the Methodist Episcopal Church to take a firm stand against slavery.  Within the Methodist Episcopal Church, a controversy arose in 1844 when Bishop James O. Andrew of Georgia married a woman who owned slaves.  Northern delegates, in the majority, passes a resolution barring Bishop Andrew from serving.  In reaction, southern delegates voted a Plan of Separation, and split from the main church to form the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Blacks were members of the MEC-S, though they met separately, or left to join with the Northern Church.  In 1870, the black congregations split from the MEC-S to form the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church, re-named in 1956 as the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.

During the early twentieth century, the issue of slavery was no longer present, and the Methodist Protestants began to dwindle in membership, so in 1939 there was a merger of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church South, and the Methodist Protestant Church to form theMethodist Church (U.S.). In 1968, this body merged with the Evangelical United Brethren Church, to form the United Methodist Church (U.S.).

The evangelical line was not that different from the Wesleyan philosophy.  The Church of the United Brethren in Christ was organized in 1800 officially, though conferences had been held as early as 1774.  Early leaders were Martin Boehm and Philip William Otterbein, focusing primarily on German-speaking populations in Pennsylvania and nearby areas. The Evangelical Association/Evangelische Gemeinschaft was organized in 1807 following years of work by Jacob Albright in German-speaking areas of Pennsylvania.  Albright himself had joined a Methodist class and become a lay preacher before working toward his own church.  The 1807 name Der Neuformirten Methodisten Confernez (The Newly-Formed Methodist Conference) was renamed the Evangelische Gemeinschaft in 1816.  The first Discipline published in 1809 is very close to the Methodist Episcopal Church Discipline German edition.

The Evangelical Association itself split in 1894 with the creation of the United Evangelical Church. Causes of this split were deep, centered on mistrust and disputes over who had authority to do what.  For several years prior, nearly every office was duplicated in opposing camps.  The disputes proved frivolous, and as soon as 1907 steps were taken toward reconciliation, which occured in 1922 when the two groups merged to form the Evangelical Church. One group of churches not satisfied with this merger intended to remain as the United Evangelical Church but were forced in 1928 to re-name themselves the Evangelical Congregational Church. In 1946,  the Evangelical Church merged with theChurch of the United Brethren in Christ to form the Evangelical United Brethren Church.

The African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, and the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church continue to this day.  The Wesleyan Methodist Church continues today as the Wesleyan Church, having merged in 1968 with the Pilgrim Holiness Church, begun in 1897 as part of the Holiness revival movement.

The General Conference

The United Methodist Church is governed by a General Conference held every four years.  With elected degates consisting of both clergy and laity, this conference reviews the rules as printed in the Book of Discipline and votes on all proposed changes to church doctrine or adminstrative rules, resulting in a new edition of the Book of Discipline. The proceedings of the General Conference, with full transcripts of discussions at the main meeting, are reported the next day in the Daily Christian Advocate. At the end of the meeting, these proceedings are edited into a bound volume, The Journal of the General Conference. However, beginning in 1988, rather than edit a volume for the journal, a bound copy of the complete Daily Christian Advocate is issued as the Journal.

  • Daily Christian Advocate. Issued as daily proceedings; beginning in 1976 with Advance Edition, and in 1980 with Round Edition.  Advance Edition contains the list of delegates, committees, seating locations, the text of all proposed changes to the Book of Discipline, and reports from various agencies to the General Conference.  The Advance Edition contains an index of all petitions filed, noting which committee will consider the item.  Most petitions come to the main floor on a Calendar from the committee and are voted upon as a group.  Only controversial topics may actually be discussed on the floor; committee proceedings are not published.
  • Journal of the General Conference. This volume contains the transcripts of daily proceedings with an index of topics.  Starting in 1988, however, a bound set of the Daily Christian Advocate replaces the edited and indexed volume.
  • The Book of Discipline. “The Discipline is the book of law of theUnited Methodist Church.”  The 1996 book contains the Constitution, Doctrine and Doctrinal Statements, General Rules, and Social Principles of the church.  It contains sections on The Mission and Ministry of the Church, The Local Church, The Ministry of the Ordained, The Superintendency, The Conferences, Administrative Order, Church Property, and Judicial Administration.  It contains a historical statement on the church, and a list of all bishops. As the book is revised every four years, each volume may have different sections, and paragraphs or sections may be re-numbered, re-worded, or completely re-written.

The General Structure

There is no national headquarters for the United Methodist Church, rather each nation-wide General Board as defined in the Book of Discipline is separately incorporated and reports to the General Conference.

The General Commissions and General Boards are:

Jurisdictional Conferences
Governace of  local churches is the responsibility of the five Jurisdictional Conferences, geographically covering the North East, South East, North Central, South Central and Western parts of the United States.  Jurisdictional Conferences elect Bishops and assign them to one of the smaller local conferences. They coordinate on a regional level the work within each local conference with the work of the nation-wide General Boards.

Annual Conferences
The local operating unit of the United Methodist Church is the Annual Conference. There are currently 66 Annual Conferences, with the power to ordain clergy, assign them to churches, oversee local churches and regional activities.

The New England Conference.
The current local operating unit in this region is the New England Conference of the Northeastern Jurisdiction.  With offices located in Lawrence, MA., the conference covers Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and eastern Connecticut.  The assigned Bishop is Susan W. Hassinger.  The conference was created in 1994 with the merger of separate conferences: Maine, New Hampshire and Southern New England.

For more information, see the official New England Conference homepage.