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Chapter 3 covers a lot of ground (both literally and figuratively). The chapter begins in Utica, New York, with the Wesleyan Methodist Church of Utica playing host to the Utica Convention. From there the authors take us, by way of a discussion of church polity and doctrine, to Cleveland, Ohio, where the first general conference of the Wesleyan Methodist
Denomination Convention took place. The chapter closes with a brief overview of congregational life as well as a few paragraphs devoted to the Rev. Orange Scott –– “the man who more than any other [had come] to symbolize Methodist abolitionism.”[1. Robert Black and Keith Drury, The Story of the Wesleyan Church (Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2012), 45.]
Utica, New York
On May 31, 1843, the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Utica, New York, played host to the Utica Convention. The convention, which was composed of “thirty-five ministers and 117 laypersons [who] attended in an official capacity,”1 came together with the intention of moving “beyond protest to positive action.”2
Positive action would come about in a variety of ways.
- A convention president, Orange Scott, was elected.
- Core values were proposed and ratified.3
- While a point of debate, the convention would determine that it would refer to itself as a ‘connection’ rather than a ‘church’ or ‘denomination.’4
- “There would be no top-heavy power structure like the one that they had just experienced in Methodism’s episcopal form of government. Yet neither would power lie in the hands of the congregation alone, although they would enjoy a great deal of independence.”5 Rather, control would be vested in both the local church as well as the annual and general conferences.
- Pastoral appointments would no longer be made by the bishop and “no pastors would be appointed against the wishes of the receiving church.”6
- Laity would be empowered –– “in Wesleyan Methodism an equal number of lay delegates would be seated at both the annual and general conferences.”7
- Temperance was stated as a value. Eventually, “Wesleyan Methodism became the first denomination in America to make abstinence from alcohol a test of membership.”8
- Members were prohibited from joining and participating in the ceremonies and rituals of secret societies.
- Infant baptism, while not necessarily encouraged, was held up as a permissible sacramental practice.
In 1844, six annual conferences existed within the Wesleyan Methodist Connection. “On October 3, 1844, the delegates elected by those annual conferences assembled in Cleveland, Ohio, to continue defining American Wesleyan Methodism. It was their first general conference.”9 It was a time to celebrate growth10 and a time to refine the Connection’s book of Discipline.11 The topic of secret societies also garnered a great deal of debate.
Local Church Life
The chapter closes with a brief survey of congregational life in the Wesleyan Methodist Connection. It is important to note that “few pastors were college educated;”12 ministerial appointments were limited to a maximum of three years;13 and worship was similar to “the strain of Methodist worship that had been shaped by the American frontier experience.”14 And, finally, revival was a common and featured aspect of Wesleyan Methodist life.
- Anti-episcopal sentiment was born out of a reaction to episcopal abuses and excesses.
- Early Wesleyan-Methodist thought was that ministry was not the work of the trained clergy, but instead the work of all people.
- Sacramental theology and practice was rather underdeveloped in early Wesleyan-Methodism as the itinerant nature of the ministry made regular observance of the sacraments nigh impossible.
- Wesleyan-Methodists weren’t just open to change –– they were the change agents. Wesleyan-Methodists spearheaded change, both with respect to church polity, practice, etc. and the wider social issues of the day (e.g. abolition).
- Ibid., 35. ↩
- Ibid., 36. ↩
- Two distinctive values were rather obvious –– the people called Wesleyans would be known for being antislavery and anti-episcopacy. ↩
- The rationale for this decision was simple, the Wesleyan Methodist Connection would be “a network of local churches, or, more precisely, a connection of annual conferences that were themselves networks of churches (Black and Drury, 37).” ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Ibid., 38. ↩
- Ibid., 39. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Ibid., 40-41. ↩
- The fledgling Connection had grown from 6,000 to 14,600 members in approximately eighteen months! ↩
- Black and Drury, 41. According to Black and Drury, “Much of the conference’s energy was spent on polishing the Discipline, which had been hastily constructed at Utica the year before.” ↩
- Ibid. 42. ↩
- This was largely due to the fact that it was believed “Methodism began to lose its power when itinerant pastors became stationary (Ibid., 43.).” ↩
- Ibid. Observance of the sacraments was of secondary importance. The sermon and congregational singing were considered to be of utmost importance. Congregational signing often involved the practice of “lining.” ↩