[Book] American Methodism: A Compact History (Intro)

As I’m reading, researching and writing my doctoral thesis, one of the books that I am reading is American Methodism: A Compact History, by Russell Richey, Kenneth Rowe and Jean Miller Schmidt. What follows, both in this and forthcoming posts, is a summary of the chapter and some reflections.

Introduction: Spontaneous Beginnings

The Introduction focuses on the years 1760-1768.

Summary

The authors suggest that the narrative of ‘United Methodism’ began with ‘disparate evangelical initiatives [that] belong… within the broad Pietist movement.’1 As such, United Methodism shared with Pietism a ‘prophetic critique of established, more priestly, and unregenerate forms of Christianity and leaders so characterized.’2 Pietism was a critique that ‘provided a new way for its adherents and motivation to tackle society’s ills,’ as it ‘spoke of corruption, of power, of authority, of legitimacy.’3 In short, Richey, et. al., suggest that United Methodism, in the United States, is inextricably linked to Pietism. The consequence of which was a lowering of ‘the gateway into ministry and [raising] of the expectations of the laity, thereby drawing women as well as men, black as well as whites into public witness, lay preaching, and eventually formal ministry.’4 Not surprisingly, this would later lead to fellowship with the likes of William Otterbein and Martin Boehm, two Pietists whose association therewith would eventually result in the United Brethren in Christ.

Also of note during this time period are the efforts Robert and Elizabeth Strawbridge. After emigrating, they established a Methodist class meeting in their home, in Sam’s Creek.5 Later, Robert would baptize (1762/63) and offer the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper to his flock.6

The work of Barbara Runkle Heck should not be overlooked, as she ‘enjoys credit for initiating New York Methodism.’7 Vexed by the trivializing of time by her family, Barbara Runkle Heck would invite her cousin to preach to her and her family. As a result, a class was formed, and continued to grow beyond the confines of Embury’s room. 8

Reflections

  • Richey, Gwang Seok Oh, et al.,  cite a connection between Wesleyan-Methodism and Pietism.
  • Barbara Runkle Heck serves as an example of the importance of women in the expansion of Wesleyan-Methodism.
  • From the beginning one of the genius aspects of the Wesleyan-Methodist movement was its orientation toward and inclusion of the family.
  • In North America, it wasn’t long before sacramental matters came to the fore. For example, the Strawbridges would, out of necessity, do what John Wesley, for decades, was unwilling to do in England. In other words, Robert would baptize and offer the Lord’s Supper, whereas Wesley was reticent to do so.
  • The role that Otterbein and Boehm would play is anything but unsignificant.

 

 

FOOTNOTES

  1. Russell Richey, Kenneth Rowe and Jean Miller Schmidt, American Methodism: A Compact History (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2010), 1. The authors define ‘Pietism’ as ‘a transatlatic, transconfessional, diffuse reform to recover the authentic (and personal) witness of the faith.’
  2. Richey, Rowe and Schmidt, American Methodism: A Compact History2.
  3. Richey, Rowe and Schmidt, American Methodism: A Compact History2.
  4. Richey, Rowe and Schmidt, American Methodism: A Compact History2.
  5. Richey, Rowe and Schmidt, American Methodism: A Compact History5.
  6.  Richey, Rowe and Schmidt, American Methodism: A Compact History, 5.
  7. Richey, Rowe and Schmidt, American Methodism: A Compact History, 5-6.
  8. Philip Embury was Barbara Runkle Heck’s cousin. He was an Irish preacher who plied his trade in North America.
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