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The People of the United Methodist Church

The People of

The United Methodist Church

Our History . . .

The United Methodist Church is the expression and hope of a rich tradition of spreading the gospel to every corner of human society. The Methodist movement, led by John and Charles Wesley, began in England after each of the brothers had transforming religious experiences that moved them to work for the renewal and revival of the Church of England. They took their message out of formal worship settings, directly to the people in the fields and streets. They formed small groups—many led by laypeople, both men and women—to nurture people in the Christian faith. Their message of personal experience of God’s love nurtured in faithful community through study, worship, and service found willing audiences among a broad range of people, from the elite to the poorest of the poor.

In the mid-1700s, the Methodist movement spread to the New World. Leadership included laymen and laywomen, both European Americans and African Americans. John Wesley sent lay preachers, including Francis Asbury, to America to strengthen the work of the movement. Wesley later sent Thomas Coke, an Anglican priest whom Wesley had ordained a superintendent (later called “bishop”), to oversee the American movement.

In 1784, at the famous “Christmas Conference” in Baltimore, Coke ordained Asbury a superintendent and several others as deacons and presbyters. The Methodist Episcopal Church in America was born with an emphasis on strong discipline; ordained and lay preachers who traveled from town to town (circuit riders) to preach, teach, and spread the gospel through revivals and camp meetings; and a system of regular conferences to conduct the business of the church.

Two other churches were being formed in America about the same time as the Methodist Episcopal Church. Philip William Otterbein, a German Reformed pastor, and Martin Boehm, a Mennonite, preached about spreading the gospel (evangelism) and personal experience of the Holy Spirit. Their followers organized the Church of the United Brethren in Christ in 1800. Also at the turn of the nineteenth century, Jacob Albright, a Lutheran farmer who had ties to both the United Brethren and Methodist movements, took his message of evangelism and the ministry of all the people to German-speaking settlements in Pennsylvania. The Evangelical Association was formed by his followers. These two churches merged in 1946 to form the Evangelical United Brethren.

In 1939, three Methodist bodies (Methodist Episcopal, Methodist Episcopal South, and Methodist Protestant churches) merged to form The Methodist Church. The United Methodist Church is the result of the 1968 union of The Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren.

Our Beliefs . . .

The heart of our Christian faith is the love of Jesus Christ that reaches out to all creation. We are called to serve wherever Christ would have us work to heal and free others through the power of the Holy Spirit. United Methodists believe in God’s grace, which is the unearned, loving action of God in our lives. In spite of suffering, violence, and evil in the world, we believe that God’s grace exists everywhere—in our present struggles to become like Christ and in the future when we will be one with God.

As United Methodists, we believe that we receive God’s saving love as a free gift, working through our faith, which is also a gift from God. As creatures with free will, we can continue to sin (literally, “miss the mark”) after we have accepted God’s love, but forgiveness also continues to be available to us when we repent (turn around and refocus on God).

We practice spiritual disciplines that open us to awareness of God’s gift of love already at work within us and the mystery of God’s power and freedom. These disciplines include the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, along with prayer, study of the Scriptures, thoughtful debate, fasting or abstinence, good works, and service. For United Methodists, good works are the evidence of our living faith—the “fruit that will last” as we love and serve God and neighbor (see John 15).

With all Christians, we believe in the reality of God’s reign (God is in charge); that we are saved through the love of God, the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. All Christians are part of Christ’s body, the church. Scripture has authority for us, although beliefs vary on the nature of that authority, from the literal word of God to a divinely inspired guide to the faith story.

People find different means and methods effective in encountering God. The United Methodist Church welcomes all who desire to know God in Christ and seek to love and serve God and neighbor; to attend our churches, receive the Lord’s Supper, be baptized and admitted into membership; and to go out to be the hands, heart, and mind of Christ for the world.

With John Wesley, we believe that there is no holiness except “social holiness.” Our acceptance of God’s love in Christ calls us to respond with love for the hurting world. United Methodists have a long tradition of caring about and working to create justice for all people. We have built almost as many schools and hospitals as churches through the years. Methodists were among the first to create institutions of learning for settlers, women, and newly freed slaves in the 1800s. We continue that focus on learning, nurture, and service around the globe today.

United Methodist churches are connected by a system that guides our work and governs our policies. We continue to take the lead in social, spiritual, political, and moral concerns. We strive to lead with our hearts, keep our minds open, and welcome all who wish to love and serve in the name of Christ.