Monday, May 25, 2009

150 Years of Bringing Jesus

Dear Friends,

Free Methodists in the North Central United States have celebrated 149 Annual Conferences. In just a few weeks, we are about to celebrate our 150th. For 150 years all of the Free Methodist congregations in the North Central United States gather to celebrate the work of God through the churches, find encouragement and equipping to carry out the mission of the church and to elect leaders for the coming year.

The founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley, believed that conferencing was a “means of grace” akin to prayer and reading the Scriptures. Our annual conferences have their roots in the first conference between Rev. John Wesley and other Methodist preachers held in London in November 1739 with an agreement to continue meeting annually around Ascension Day (late April or May).

The first “Free Methodist” annual conference of sorts was a Laymen’s Convention held in July 1860 in St. Charles, Illinois. In August, a similar convention would take place in Pekin, NY which marks the official founding of the Free Methodist Church. The conference organized Christians who had either been expelled or willingly withdrew from Methodist Episcopal connections over several key issues. Chief among these concerns were the doctrine of entire sanctification (Free Methodists support this doctrine) and slavery (opposed by the Free Methodists). John Wesley Redfield, a Licensed Preacher from Elgin, Illinois, oversaw the services at this Western Annual Conference, assisted by B.T. Roberts and others. Gathered were churches from what we know today as the North Central Conference – Southern Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin and Illinois. It would not take long after this for Free Methodist churches to be planted and organized in Minnesota and the Dakotas as well.

The primary action taken at this conference is as follows:

“Resolved, That our attachment to the doctrines, usages, spirit, and discipline of Methodism, is hearty and sincere. It is with the most profound grief that we have witnessed the departure of many of the ministers from the God-honored usages of Methodism. We feel bound to adhere to them, and to labor all we can, and to the best possible advantage, to promote the life and power of godliness. We recommend that those in sympathy with the doctrine of holiness, as taught by Wesley, should labor in harmony with the respective churches to which they belong. But when this cannot be done, without continual strife and contention, we recommend the formation of Free Methodist churches. . .”

I note that the North Central Conference is 150 years old. I am not sure why. That is, the Free Methodist Church was officially founded in 1860 so that it seems not possible for the NCC to celebrate 150 years (but rather 149 at best). However, I suspect this is the result of many of the congregations established by Redfield and friends in the Fox River Region. These churches did meet together in 1859. Congregations from places like St. Louis, MO; Elgin, Marengo, Aurora, Woodstock, Quincy, IL; Appleton and Green Bay, WI formed independently with the intention to form under the Discipline of Methodism, and did so with the formation of the new Free Methodist denomination.

Now, 150 years later, what is the state of ground zero for the Free Methodist movement in the Western United States? Redfield went from town to town organizing new Free Methodist Churches. He was not successful everywhere he went, and often frustrated. His letters reflect frustration at severe losses to congregations that had been formed but then shrank back or fell into disunity. However, just as often a revival would set in, hundreds would be saved, many sanctified, churches formed and communities transformed.

The thrust of the early movement was to “promote the life and power of godliness” and the “formation of Free Methodist Churches.” Proclaim the simple gospel. Call for holiness of heart. Working for a just society setting people free from slavery – literal human bondage and destructive addictions that hinder a holy life. It sounds as if these Free Methodists were “Bringing Jesus to the North Central United States through Planting and Growing Healthy Congregations advanced by Boldly Apostolic Leaders...” The question really is...

Are we? Are we still bringing Jesus? Are we still winning souls? Are we still forming new Free Methodist churches? Are we still advocating for and seeing transformed culture and transformed lives?

Pray for the 150th NCC Annual Conference. Pray for Bishop David Kendall, the ministries of the congregations that comprise the NCC, the social service institutions of the conference, the missions work supported by the NCC and the new churches being planted and those yet to be planted. Celebrate “Still Bringing Jesus” at the 150th Annual Conference.


Mark Adams, Superintendent

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