Methodism was introduced into Italy during the second half of the last century, when the Risorgimento movement for reunification of Italy was in full force.
In 1859 the Wesleyan Missionary Society of London sent its general secretary to sound out what possibilities there were of Protestant preaching in this country. The Rev. Henry Piggott and his co-workers arrived in 1861 and their preaching gave birth to the “Wesleyan Methodist Church.”
Methodism first spread in Northern Italy, then from 1864 through the South. A theological school was founded together with social centers, and a few periodicals started publishing. This work, however, met with great difficulty after the rise of fascism in the 1920s and one by one the centers were forced to close. The government sent some ministers away from their churches and revoked others’ permission to preach. The decade from 1935 to 1945 could be defined by the motto “resist at all cost.” Thanks to the Lord the congregation did resist and since then they have continued to witness their faith, within the limits of their possibilities.
In 1871, the year after the break of Porta Pia, when the Pope’s temporal power was limited to the Vatican City, the Episcopal Methodist Missionary Society of New York sent the Rev. Leroy Vernon, who began his work in Modena, Bologna, Florence and Rome. In 1873 he was in Milan and proceeded to visit many other cities and smaller towns all over Italy. The Episcopal Methodist Church reached its widest diffusion during the years 1911-1935. At the same time, once again because of the financial crisis and the fascist regime, many of its achievements had to be renounced, both in the field of evangelization and the social and educational works.
Piggott and Vernon had not been the classic missionaries of the colonialistic age. They had a very clear understanding of the historical period Italy was going through. They put themselves to the task of contributing, by preaching the gospel, to developing an all-Italian Protestant Reformed Movement. This also served to expand those areas of freedom which were already open. A Protestantism completely immersed in the spirit of the Risorgimento was developing.
In May 1946 the union took place of the two branches of Italian Methodism. The Evangelical Methodist Church of Italy was born as a district of the British Methodist Conference. In 1948 the Italian Methodist Church took part in the founding of the World Council of Churches. In 1962 it achieved full autonomy with its own Conference. In 1975 the process of federation began between the Waldensian and Methodist churches and became operative in 1979. Churches have maintained their individual identities and organization, including financial administration. We share ministers between our churches, have one theological college, and one united circuit and district meeting.
Today there are about 4,200 Italian Methodists of whom 2,700 are baptized members. They are constituted in about 50 congregations spread all over the country. There are numerous Methodist social projects, especially in the south of Italy. The most significant are the “social center” in Villa S. Sebastiano (Abruzzi), and in Scicili (Sicily) “Casa Materna” in Portici near Naples; “Centro Emilio Nitti,” “Casa Mia” in Naples, the youth center “Ecumene” near Velletri that runs biblical training and which promotes debates on social and political problems; “Creating Hope” Intra for refugees and migrants’ Methodist Center.