The Methodist branch of Protestant religion traces its roots back to 1739 where it developed in England as a result of the teachings of John Wesley. While studying at Oxford, Wesley, his brother Charles and several other students formed a group devoted to study, 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.
Though both Wesley brothers were ordained ministers of the Church of England, they were barred from speaking in most of its pulpits because of their evangelistic methods. They preached in homes, farm houses, barns, open field, and wherever they found an audience. John Wesley rode over 250,000 miles by horseback and preached over 40,000 sermons during his ministry. His brother Charles wrote over 6,500 hymns.
Each preacher had a number of churches that he was responsible for and due to the distance between some churches, the preachers rode horses from church to church. The preachers became known as Circuit riders. The Methodist Church also had people called Lay Ministers which were qualified to meet the needs of the congregation in the absence of the preacher. Lay Ministers still exist today in the Methodist Church..
Several divisions occurred throughout Methodism’s American history. In 1939, the three branches of American Methodism (the Methodist Protestant Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South) came to an agreement to reunite under the name “The Methodist Church.” The church prospered and has become the second largest Protestant denomination in America with nearly 8 million members now in America and 75 million people worldwide.
The symbol of the United Methodist Church is a cross and flame which symbolizes the Holy Spirit and God through Christ. There are many notable Methodist including: former vice president, Dick Cheney, writer/director of Star Wars movie, George Lucas, singer Karen Carpenter, and popular television and film cowboy, Will Rogers.
For information about the United Methodist Church, visit www.umc.org.