United Methodism

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United Methodism

United Methodist Church

United Methodist Church

No central headquarters. For information: United Methodist Communications, 810 12th Ave. S, Nashville, TN 37203

The United Methodist Church, the third largest religious body in the United States, was formed in 1968 by the merger of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church. Both churches were the products of previous mergers. The Methodist Church had been formed in 1939 by the merger of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and the Methodist Protestant Church. The Evangelical United Brethren Church was the result of the merger of the United Brethren in Christ Church and the Evangelical Church in 1946.


The roots of the renewal movement that culminated in the formation of the United Methodist Church can be traced to the work of John Wesley (1703–1791) and his brother Charles Wesley (1707–1788), Anglican ministers in eighteenth-century Great Britain. The movement they launched was brought to to the American colonies in the 1760s by immigrants from England and Ireland and spread through the work of unordained lay preachers, whose efforts were augmented in 1769 when John Wesley sent authorized preachers from England. Formal organization of the Methodist Episcopal Church occurred at the Christmas Conference in Baltimore in 1784.

The United Brethren in Christ Church resulted from the work of Philip Otterbein (1726–1813), a German Reformed pastor, along with Martin Boehm (1725–1812), a Mennonite. Otterbein and Boehm initiated evangelistic work among German immigrants in Pennsylvania. The success of their efforts prompted a first conference in 1789 of preachers who had associated with them. These meetings were regularized in 1800, and the ministers selected Otterbein and Boehm as their superintendents. The Methodists and the Brethren had close associations, symbolized most visibly in Otterbein’s participation in the consecration of Francis Asbury (1745–1816) as the first bishop of the fledgling Methodist Episcopal Church.

A second German-speaking group developed simultaneously through the work of Jacob Albright (1759–1808), a Lutheran working in Pennsylvania. The movement that gathered around his preaching became more formally organized as a conference in 1803 and eventually evolved into the Evangelical Association. The Evangelical Church was formed in 1922 through a reunion of the Evangelical Association and a group of churches that had left the Association in 1894.

In the formative years of the Methodist Episcopal Church, debates arose over church government and practice. In 1792 James O’Kelly (1735–1826) challenged the power of the bishop to appoint pastors to their place of service, and he along with some followers left to form the Republican Methodist Church (which eventually became a constituent part of what is now the United Church of Christ). O’Kelly wanted preachers to be able to appeal the appointment to the conference. A larger disruption prompted the formation of the Methodist Protestant Church in 1830, following a decade of dissent led by Asa Shinn (1781–1853), Dennis Dorsey, and Nicholas Snethen (1769–1845). These reformers sought the seating of laypersons as full participants in the sessions of annual conferences, the elimination of bishops, and the election of presiding elders (regional leaders who supervised clergy and churches). In 1843 abolitionists created the Wesleyan Methodist Church in protest of the unwillingness of the Methodist Episcopal Church to vigorously oppose slavery.

Disagreement over slavery and a constitutional question about the power of the General Conference to discipline the bishops led in 1844 to the largest schism of the denomination. The General Conference approved a Plan of Separation that resulted in the formation of two denominations: the Methodist Episcopal Church (the remaining northern branch) and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Debate was long and heated, and feelings of hurt and betrayal lasted generations—it wasn’t until 1939 that the division was healed.

The place of women in the antecedent denominations of the United Methodist Church has been paradoxical. Women such as Barbara Heck (1734–1804) were among the founders of both American and Canadian Methodism, and women have always constituted more than 50 percent of the church’s membership. John Wesley had granted several women authorization to preach, and licenses to preach in the Methodist Episcopal Church were granted to a few women as early as 1869, but the practice was stopped in 1880 by the General Conference, which also refused to seat the first women elected as lay delegates to that highest of legislative church structures. Much of women’s work in the late nineteenth-century church was through the mission organizations that women organized, governed, funded, and served. Although laity rights in the governing structures were granted to men, they were denied to women until early in the twentieth century. In 1924 the Methodist Episcopal Church granted women the right to be ordained but withheld the usual parallel privilege of membership in the annual conference. This level of equality came only with the granting of full clergy rights to women in the Methodist Church in 1956. In 1972 the General Conference made another move to empower women by mandating that at least one third of all policy-making organizations within the church have at least one third of their membership filled by women.

African Americans have played a significant role in the Methodist movement from its beginning in America. They were members of the first classes and societies (congregations). It is likely that the unordained preacher Harry Hosier (d. 1806) attended the organizing conference in 1784. His contemporary Richard Allen (1760–1831) was the first African-American preacher to be ordained. The church’s initial strong stand against slavery gradually eroded during the antebellum era, and as a result, several predominantly African-American churches were formed, beginning in 1813 with the African Union Church. Subsequently the African Methodist Episcopal Church based in Philadelphia was formed in 1816 and the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church based in New York City a few years later. After the Civil War the Methodist Episcopal Church founded colleges and other educational institutions for freed slaves through the Freedman’s Aid Society. Most of the remaining African-American members of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South formed what became the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in 1870. Although Methodism included persons of different ethnic-racial groups and different languages, a tragic legacy of the 1939 merger was the creation of the Central Jurisdiction, a racially segregated structure for annual conferences of African-American churches. This separate structure was eliminated in 1968.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries American Protestantism gave rise to the Holiness movement, which was founded on John Wesley’s doctrine of Christian perfection or sanctification that results in a lifestyle of righteous behavior. Holiness advocates taught that people could be perfected in love through a “second blessing,” or work of the Holy Spirit. The growth of the Holiness movement and its offshoot, the Pentecostal movement, resulted in two new church groups: the Holiness churches and the Pentecostal churches.

During the twentieth century Methodists actively participated in the ecumenical movement, seeking to make more visible the unity of the church. British and American Methodists met first in 1881 at the Ecumenical Methodist Conference. Subsequent ecumenical conferences led to the formation of the World Methodist Council. Methodist are known for the leadership they have given to the ecumenical movement. The United Methodist Church’s antecedent churches were charter members of the Federal Council of Churches, the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and the World Council of Churches.


The Book of Discipline states: “United Methodists share a common heritage with Christians of every age and nation” (2004, p. 41). Along with basic Christian affirmations, Methodists have placed great emphasis upon piety, religious experience, and works of mercy. The documents that serve as doctrinal standards are: the Articles of Religion, the Confession of Faith, the Standard Sermons, and the Explanatory Notes on the New Testament by John Wesley. Methodists are encouraged to engage in theological reflection with reasonable individual freedom, bearing in mind these doctrinal affirmations. Wesley wrote, “Except for those doctrines that strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think.” Methodist practice is shaped by the General Rules of the United Societies, as they were called by Wesley, and the Social Creed, first adopted by the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1908 and now enlarged as the Social Principles, a major statement on political, economic, and social issues.

The United Methodist Church recognizes two sacraments. Baptism is available to persons of all ages, including infants, and can be administered by various modes, though usually by sprinkling. Communion is open to all Christians. Through the receiving of bread and grape juice it remembers the supper Jesus shared with his disciples before being crucified, and it offers an experience of grace through the faith of the communicant.


The United Methodist Church is governed by the General Conference, a representative body of an equal number of lay and clergy delegates that meets once every four years. This body sets the policy and direction of the church and makes revisions to the Book of Discipline, the book of church law with sections on the history, theology, and social teachings of the church. Various boards and agencies implement programs established by the General Conference and carry out other administrative functions. One such entity is the United Methodist Publishing House, a major supplier of religious literature and merchandise through Abingdon Press and its retail arm, Cokesbury.

In addition to the General Conference there are annual conferences, geographical organizations of varying size that are made up of all the churches within their regions. Their presiding officers are bishops. They provide for programs and supervision of churches for their regions, and their bishops, with the assistance of district superintendents, are empowered to appoint the pastors to the churches that are within the bounds of the conferences. The annual sessions of the conferences are made up of equal numbers of clergy and laity.

In the United States, conferences are organized into five geographical regions known as jurisdictions for the main purpose of electing bishops for their regions once every four years. The jurisdictional conference also assigns the bishops to their places of service. Outside the United States, annual conferences are organized into central conferences that function in similar ways to the jurisdictional conferences.

The United Methodist Church has members in the United States, Europe, Africa, and the Philippines. There are also Methodist churches throughout Central and South America, Japan, Korea, and India that are the offspring of the missionary movement but are independent from the United Methodist Church in governance and organization. Primary responsibility for world missions is placed with the General Board of Global Ministries, but all parts of the church participate in the global realities of the denomination. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) has gained international recognition for its ability to respond to emergencies and natural disasters with assistance that is both immediate and long term.


In 1996 the church reported a membership of 7,931,733 in the United States. It had 34,398 churches and 45,108 ministers. The United Methodist Church had a mission presence in 125 countries, and mission personnel are deployed in 63 countries. The mission presence might be, for example, a clinic, a hospital, an orphanage, microenterprises that stimulate economies, or new congregations.

Educational Facilities

Theological Seminaries:

Boston School of Theology, Boston, Massachusetts.

Candler School of Theology, Atlanta, Georgia.

Claremont School of Theology, Claremont, California.

Drew University, The Theological School, Madison, New Jersey.

Duke University, The Divinity School, Durham, North Carolina.

Gammon Theological Seminary, Atlanta, Georgia.

Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, Illinois.

Iliff School of Theology, Denver, Colorado.

The Methodist Theological School of Ohio, Delaware, Ohio.

Perkins School of Theology, Dallas, Texas.

Saint Paul School of Theology, Kansas City, Missouri.

United Theological Seminary, Dayton, Ohio.

Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington, D.C.

Predominantly Black Colleges:

Bennett College, Greensboro, North Carolina.

Bethune-Cookman College, Daytona Beach, Florida.

Claflin University, Orangeburg, South Carolina.

Clark Atlanta University, Atlanta, Georgia.

Dillard University, New Orleans, Louisiana.

Huston-Tillotson University, Austin, Texas.

Meharry Medical College, Nashville, Tennessee.

Paine College, Augusta, Georgia.

Philander Smith College, Little Rock, Arkansas.

Rust College, Holly Springs, Mississippi.

Wiley College, Marshall, Texas.

Colleges and Universities:

Adrian College, Adrian, Michigan.

Alaska Pacific University, Anchorage, Alaska.

Albion College, Albion, Michigan (no longer affiliated).

Albright College, Reading, Pennsylvania.

Allegheny College, Meadville, Pennsylvania.

American University, Washington, D.C.

Baker University, Baldwin City, Kansas.

Baldwin-Wallace College, Berea, Ohio.

Birmingham-Southern College, Birmingham, Alabama.

Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts.

Brevard College, Brevard, North Carolina.

Centenary College, Hackettstown, New Jersey.

Centenary College of Louisiana, Shreveport, Louisiana.

Central Methodist College, Fayette, Missouri.

Columbia College, Columbia, South Carolina.

Cornell College, Mount Vernon, Iowa.

Dakota Wesleyan University, Mitchell, South Dakota.

DePauw University, Greencastle, Indiana.

Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Drew University, Madison, New Jersey.

Duke University, Durham, North Carolina.

Emory and Henry College, Emory, Virginia.

Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia.

Ferrum College, Ferrum, Virginia.

Florida Southern College, Lakeland, Florida.

Green Mountain College, Poultney, Vermont.

Greensboro College, Greensboro, North Carolina.

Hamline University, St. Paul, Minnesota.

Hendrix College, Conway, Arkansas.

High Point University, High Point, North Carolina.

Huntingdon College, Montgomery, Alabama.

Illinois Wesleyan University, Bloomington, Illinois.

Iowa Wesleyan College, Mount Pleasant, Iowa.

Kansas Wesleyan University, Salina, Kansas.

Kendall College, Chicago, Illinois.

Kentucky Wesleyan College, Owensboro, Kentucky.

LaGrange College, LaGrange, Georgia.

Lambuth University, Jackson, Tennessee.

Lebanon Valley College, Annville, Pennsylvania.

Lindsey Wilson College, Columbia, Kentucky.

Lycoming College, Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

MacMurray College, Jacksonville, Illinois.

McKendree College, Lebanon, Illinois.

MacMurray College, Jacksonville, Illinois.

Martin Methodist College, Pulaski, Tennessee.

McKendree University, Lebanon, Illinois.

McMurry University, Abilene, Texas.

Methodist University, Fayetteville, North Carolina.

Millsaps College, Jackson, Mississippi.

Morningside College, Sioux City, Iowa.

Mount Union College, Alliance, Ohio.

Nebraska Methodist College, Omaha, Nebraska.

Nebraska Wesleyan University, Lincoln, Nebraska.

North Carolina Wesleyan College, Rocky Mount, North Carolina.

North Central College, Naperville, Illinois.

Ohio Northern University, Ada, Ohio.

Ohio Wesleyan University, Delaware, Ohio.

Oklahoma City University, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Otterbein College, Westerville, Ohio.

Pfeiffer University, Misenheimer, North Carolina.

Randolph College, Lynchburg, Virginia.

Randolph-Macon College, Ashland, Virginia.

Reinhardt College, Waleska, Georgia.

Rocky Mountain College, Billings, Montana.

Shenandoah University, Winchester, Virginia.

Simpson College, Indianola, Iowa.

Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas.

Southwestern College, Winfield, Kansas.

Southwestern University, Georgetown, Texas.

Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York.

Tennessee Wesleyan College, Athens, Tennessee.

Texas Wesleyan College, Fort Worth, Texas.

Union College, Barbourville, Kentucky.

University of Denver, Denver, Colorado.

University of Evansville, Evansville, Indiana.

University of Indianapolis, Indianapolis, Indiana.

University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, Washington.

University of the Pacific, Stockton, California.

Virginia Wesleyan College, Norfolk, Virginia.

Wesley College, Dover, Delaware.

Wesleyan College, Macon, Georgia.

West Virginia Wesleyan College, Buckhannon, West Virginia.

Willamette University, Salem, Oregon.

Wofford College, Spartansburg, South Carolina.

Two-Year Colleges:

Andrew College, Cuthbert, Georgia.

Hiwassee College, Madisonville, Tennessee.

Lon Morris College, Jacksonville, Texas.

Louisburg College, Louisburg, North Carolina.

Spartanburg Methodist College, Spartanburg, South Carolina.

Young Harris College, Young Harris, Georgia.


Circuit Rider. • el Intérprete. • Interpreter. • New World Outlook. • Response. • The Upper Room.


United Methodist Church. www.umc.org/.

The Book of Discipline. Nashville, TN: United Methodist Publishing House, 2004.

Frank, Thomas Edward. Polity, Practice, and the Mission of the United Methodist Church. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2006.

Jones, Scott J. United Methodist Doctrine: The Extreme Center. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2002.

McEllhenney, John G., ed. United Methodism in America: A Compact History. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1992.

Richey, Russell E., Kenneth E. Rowe, and Jean Miller Schmidt. The Methodist Experience in America: A Sourcebook. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000.

Tuell, Jack M. The Organization of the United Methodist Church, 2005–2008 Edition. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2005.

Yrigoyen, Charles, Jr., and Susan E. Warrick, eds. Historical Dictionary of Methodism. 2nd ed. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2005.