History Leaves of the Methodist Tree – January 2017

History Leaves of the Methodist Tree

Compiled by Johnny Cordell


The United Methodist Church, with at least 12 million members as of 2014, is the largest denomination within the wider Methodist movement of approximately 80 million people across the world.  In the United States,

UMC ranks as the largest Protestant Church, after the Southern Baptist Convention, and third largest Christian denomination.  In 2014, its worldwide membership was distributed as follows:  7.2 million in the United States, and 4.4 million in Africa, Asia, and Europe.  Yet, this Christian denomination only began in the mid-eighteenth century in Britain, due in large part to the strong leadership, extensive traveling,  and organizational abilities of John Wesley, celebrated today as the most prominent “Founder of Methodism”.  While studying at Oxford, Wesley, his brother Charles, and several other students formed a group devoted to studying, prayer, and helping the underprivileged.  They were labeled “Methodist” by their fellow students because of the way they used “rule” and “method” to go about their religious affairs.  Wesley and his brother Charles brought the movement to the colony of Georgia, arriving in 1735 as the Church of England missionaries to the American Indians.  After two years, they returned to England,  believing for the most part, that they had been a failure.  In 1738, Charles experienced Pentecost, and three days later, John had his Aldersgate Street conversion in which his “heart was strangely warmed”.  With the established church closed to his ministry, John Wesley took to the fields, preaching to coal miners, and commoners.  Despite recurring opposition, his itinerant evangelism soon expanded throughout the British Isles.  It is estimated that he rode over 250,000 miles on horseback and preached 40,000 sermons.  His use of lay preachers and small “societies” spread the movement to some 120,000 followers by the time of his death in 1791.  Today many Methodist denominations still embrace notable elements of the Wesleyan ministry:  an emphasis upon preaching; the organization of small groups for prayer and bible study; the importance of tract distribution; and concern for the poor, oppressed, and disenfranchised.  The Wesleyan theology also has an ongoing influence outside of strictly Methodist denominations.  The role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer and the church has affected the holiness movement, the Pentecostal movement, and even the recent charismatic movement.  The concern of both John and Charles Wesley was an educated clergy and knowledgeable laity, leading to many Wesleyan colleges, and seminaries.  The balance between the life of the mind and the life of the spirit is still critical to the Wesleyan tradition, which seeks to preach the gospel to whosoever, convert the sinner, and raise up the saint.

The U.S. Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in 1784. The denomination grew rapidly and was known for its “circuit rider” ministers on the advancing frontier. A split occurred over slavery but the church reunited in 1939.  In 1968 the merger of the Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren Churches created the United Methodist Church.  The United Methodist Church does not have a central headquarters or a single executive leader but is governed by the General Conference, the Council of Bishops, and the Judicial Council.  The General Conference, the primary legislative body of the UMC, is the only body that speaks officially for the Church.  Meeting once every four years to determine legislation affecting connectional matters, it is composed of no fewer than 600 and no more 1,000 delegates split evenly between laity and clergy.  Every UMC congregation is interconnected throughout the denomination via a unique, interlocking chain of conferences.  The United Methodist Church practices representative democracy in its governance. Conferences elect delegates who are authorized to act and vote.  Within the United States, the United Methodist Churches are divided into 56 conferences. Each conference is headed by a Bishop.  Chapel Hill is a member of the Holston Conference which is located in the mountains and valleys of East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and Northern Georgia.  The Holston Conference is named after the Holston River which in turn was named after a German settler family of Holstein.  The conference is home to over 900 congregations with the membership of approximately 164,500.  The conference is divided into 12 districts as follows:  Abington, Big Stone, Chattanooga, Cleveland, Johnson City, Kingsport, Knoxville, Maryville, Morristown, Oak Ridge, Tazewell,   and Wytheville.  Chapel Hill is a member of the Chattanooga District. At the local church level, such as Chapel Hill, The Book of Discipline requires each church to have a Charge Conference, Church Council,  Committee on Staff (Pastor) Parrish Relations, Board of Trustees, Committee on Finance, and Committee on Nominations.  Also the local church may have as many additional committees as required to fulfill the work of the church.

Basically, United Methodists trust free inquiry in matters of Christian doctrine. Faith is guided by scripture, tradition, experience and reason.  Of paramount importance, however, is scripture as the witness of God’s creating, redeeming, and sustaining the relationship with God’s people.  United Methodists have an obligation to bear a faithful Christian witness to Jesus Christ, the living reality at the center of the Church’s life and witness.  To fulfill this obligation, we reflect critically on our biblical and theological inheritance striving to express faithfully the witness we make in our own time.  All persons are welcome to attend Chapel Hill United Methodist Church, receive Holy Communion, and are eligible to be baptized and become members.


Sources: Dr. Roger J. Green “Building Church Leaders” Methodist Heritage
Mary Fairchild   “Methodist Church History”
The United Methodist Church
UMC – Wikipedia

Next article will reflect on historical and sometimes humorous tidbits of Methodism