The United Methodist Church traces its origins to the Evangelical Revival of the 18th Century in which John and Charles Wesley were prominent leaders. Methodist societies were organized in North America in the 1762. As the movement grew, American Methodists petitioned John Wesley to send lay preacher missionaries to strengthen and extend their ministry.
One of Wesley’s missioners, Thomas Rankin, called together the American preachers for their first annual conference in 1773.
In December 1784 the Methodist Episcopal Church was created with Wesley’s blessing. Thomas Coke (1747-1814) and Francis Asbury (1745-1816) were named its superintendents. Asbury was an especially important itinerant leader in the earliest years. Within a few years geographical annual conferences were devised as the church continued to grow. Itinerant circuit riding preachers and committed laypeople contributed to an evangelical ministry in the Methodist Episcopal Church which resulted in its becoming a major force in American life.
While the Methodist Episcopal Church was in its infancy, two German-speaking churches were being established. In 1800 Philip William Otterbein (1726-1813) and Martin Boehm (1725-1812) organized the Church of the United Brethren in Christ. Seven years later Jacob Albright (1759-1808) formed the Evangelical Association. Over the ensuing years both of these churches effectively ministered to German-speaking and English-speaking people. In 1946 the United Brethren and Evangelicals united to become the Evangelical United Brethren Church.
Painful schisms over race, democratic ideals, slavery in the Methodist Episcopal Church resulted in the formation of new Methodist ecclesiastical bodies including the African Methodist Episcopal Church (1816), African Methodist Episcopal Zion (1796), Methodist Protestant (1830), and Methodist Episcopal Church, South (1845), and Colored (now Christian) Methodist Episcopal (1870) churches among others. In 1939 the Methodist Episcopal, Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and Methodist Protestant churches reunited to form The Methodist Church.
After several years of discussion and negotiation The Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church united in April 1968 to constitute The United Methodist Church. Like its predecessors The United Methodist Church has an episcopal form of government and is organized into geographical annual conferences. The chief legislative body of the church is the General Conference, composed of approximately 1,000 delegates, which is scheduled to meet quadrennially. Church governance is prescribed in the denomination’s Book of Discipline which is revised by General Conference legislation. It also published The Book of Resolutions which includes statements on social issues and other matters. From its origins United Methodism and its predecessors have sought to combine evangelical faith with personal and social holiness. The denomination’s Council of Bishops and its fourteen official boards and agencies implement the church’s policies and programs.
The United Methodist Church has four doctrinal standards. Three of these are attributed to John Wesley: The Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament; his Standard Sermons; and the Articles of Religion of The Methodist Church. The fourth standard is the Confession of Faith of the Evangelical United Brethren Church. For their theology, United Methodists also utilize a document titled, “Our Theological Task,” published in their Discipline which encourages the use of scripture, tradition, reason, and experience for their faith and life.
There are approximately 35,000 local churches in the United Methodist connection. Worship and liturgical practices in these churches vary from congregation to congregation. However, most congregations use The United Methodist Hymnal for worship and The United Methodist Book of Worship as a resource for worship. Two sacraments are central to the church’s life: baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
United Methodism and its predecessors have traditionally supported the World Methodist Council and other ecumenical bodies such as the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and the World Council of Churches.
The United Methodist Church seeks to be faithful to God in its worship and witness.