Rural Roots of United Methodism

Uploaded by umcomproductions on 03.02.2011

♪ [congregation] There's a place near to me
♪ where I'm longing to be
♪ With my friends at the old country church ♪
(female narrator) These old country churches.
Where would today's United Methodists be without them?
In fact, the very essence of the church...
the denomination's connectional system...
sprang from these prolific rural roots.
It was actually quite revolutionary.
♪ [Revolutionary War fife music] ♪
The American Revolution was in its infancy when Methodism
took its first steps on the continent,
usually on the back of a horse.
(as Asbury) "If I can only be instrumental in the conversion
of one soul in travelling round the Continent,
I'll travel round till I die."
In 1771, Francis Asbury answered founder John Wesley's call
to bring the Gospel to America's untamed frontier.
For 45 years, the premier bishop of American Methodism travelled
the backcountry from Maine to Georgia.
♪ [traveling mandolin music] ♪
Thousands of miles.
Through treacherous conditions.
Shunned by those who did not want to hear about God.
But, along the way, Asbury saved souls, planted parishes,
and mobilized ministers.
October 14th, 1803, Francis Asbury wrote:
(as Asbury) "What a road we have passed!
Certainly the worst on the whole continent,
even in the best weather.
Yet, bad as it was, there were four or five hundred crossing
the rude hills while we were.
We must take care to send preachers after these people."
(narrator) And Asbury sent saddlebag sermonizers
across the land.
You see, in the late 1700s, 96 percent of America was rural.
[thunder] Clap!
The travelling preachers camped out, many times without fire
or food, armed sparingly with a musket,
their pocket Bible and hymnal.
Peter Cartwright, 1856:
(as Peter cartwright) "It is true we could not,
many of us, conjugate a verb or parse a sentence,
and murdered the King's English almost every lick.
But there was a Divine unction attended in the word preached
and thousands fell under the mighty power of God."
(narrator) This is where Methodism's connectional system was born.
These circuit riders served many rural communities
over hundreds of miserable, muddy miles.
(Dale Patterson) In Fact, In some cases,
they might have only seen the pastor four times a year,
which is where we get the origin of that concept
of the old quarterly conference.
But the pastor would help connect those churches
The pastor would bring news so those churches would hear
about what was going on with other churches in the circuit,
other communities.
The pastor would be bringing books, the pastor would be
bringing our church newspapers, our communication.
And so, those churches became connected through the pastor."
♪ [depressing guitar music] ♪
(narrator) But with each haggard hoof beat,
adversity lurked in the shadows.
Bandits, broken bones, hunger...
and sometimes...
persistent debilitating loneliness.
♪ [depressing slide guitar music] ♪
Freeborn Garrettson, 1824:
(as Freeborn Garrettson) "I am severely buffeted by the enemy
and a gloomy melancholy hangs over me,
which is not easy to shake off..."
(narrator) It was difficult for the wives, as well.
Catherine Garrettson, 1828:
(as Catherine Garrettson) "Though my dearest friend was
often away his punctuality in writing
made his absence less tedious.
There was a continual conflict in my own mind so that I dared
not make the least opposition to his visiting the churches
for this was his element and in this he was blessed
and made a blessing to others.
The pay was a pittance.
(narrator) In 1861, H.D. Fisher wrote:
(as H.D. Fisher) "Our sole remaining funds in cash were
three old fashioned copper cents.
It was three months till quarterly meeting
and we were among strangers.
Furthermore, our larder was illy supplied
for the necessaries of life."
(narrator) But despite the many hardships, when the preacher
came to town, the sacrifice paid off because,
the "radical hospitality" that so many United Methodist
congregations often aspire to today
came naturally to country folk.
They opened their homes, shared their meals...
and some even pieced a quilt or two for their beloved preachers.
♪ [blues harmonica music] ♪
The growth of the Methodist church mirrored the growth
of the United States.
At the intersection of "backwoods" and "boondocks",
simple sanctuaries began to emerge.
If disaster struck, the church was so fundamental to their
identity, communities rallied to rebuild.
And, where there were no buildings?
Well, the Methodists perfected countryside camp meetings,
as a way of winning more souls to Christ.
[pastor preaching]
(Dale Patterson) We became a church that was spread
across the country, mostly small community churches.
(narrator) Districts and conferences matured.
The worship, educational, and administrative structures
that are evident in today's United Methodist Church
began to evolve.
♪ [work music] ♪
(narrator) Among the slaves working the plantation fields,
Methodist preachers sowed the seeds of faith.
♪ [guitarist playing Johnny Comes Marching Home] ♪
Shortly before the Civil War, the new church divided
down geographical lines.
Methodist itinerate preachers served both armies
on the battlefield.
And, after emancipation, the church helped to create
trade schools, colleges, medical institutions
and a seminary for former slaves.
♪ [harmonica blues music] ♪
When Congress passed the Homestead Act of 1864,
Methodist missionaries followed the masses across the new frontier,
staking a claim on the righteous.
In 1868, General Ulysses S. Grant even remarked:
(as General Grant) "The United States possesses
three great parties, "The Republican, the Democratic,
and the Methodist Church."
(narrator) By 1875, the Missionary Society of the
Methodist Episcopal Church was supporting more than
3,000 missionaries- most in western territories.
They found their flocks in lumber camps or boom towns,
laying rails or mining riches.
Missionary William Taylor described the laity
in terms that could also have just as accurately
described itinerant preachers:
(as Willam Taylor) "The California miners are a hardy,
muscular, powerful class of men possessing literally
an extraordinary development of hope, faith and patience
and a corresponding power of endurance."
(narrator) Even if it was just a sod-walled sanctuary,
the frontier church became the unifying center of the community.
Often, it was the fortitude of immigrants that solidified
Methodism in the primitive prairie.
Swedes, Italians, Germans, Japanese and Chinese
...all were welcome to share in God's good grace,
and it was even preached in their native tongue.
(Dale Patterson) It was a way of saying
"Welcome to the new country" and "Welcome to the new church,"
but a church that accepts you in your own language."
(narrator) By the turn of the century,
the Methodist church was the predominant
Protestant denomination.
Two churches were being built every day.
Steeples dotted the countryside.
And, decades after the death of Methodism's founder,
John Wesley's dictate to serve the poor continued
to resonate in the hearts of country preachers.
♪ [harmonica plays My Old Kentucky Home] ♪
Like The Reverend Hiram Frakes, who cultivated his parish
among moonshiners and miners in the backwoods of Kentucky.
"Parson Frakes" rode into Bell County in 1925.
Because he donned fancy, store-bought clothes,
some thought he was a "revenuer."
Prohibition was in full force
but the mountain folk lived by their own law.
Still, over the course of 40 years,
Parson Frakes won hearts and souls
in these Cumberland Mountains.
He established a church, a school,
and a post office on land donated by a moonshiner.
It became known as Henderson Settlement -
named after Bill Henderson, the moonshiner,
and Theodore Henderson, the resident Methodist bishop.
And, it was the embodiment of Methodism's call
to put faith into action.
In 1975, The Reverend Ross Mars wrote of the legendary preacher:
(as Reverend Ross Mars) "Hiram had no children of his own,
yet he said he raised 5,000.
Asked how many made good, he answered 'All of them.'
Some of them became doctors, teachers, dentists, professors,
army officers and nurses."
♪ [piano plays The Old Country Church] ♪
(narrator) So while some may consider them
nothing more than rural relics,
these Methodist churches have pedigree.
Today's congregations can trace their lineage
to the saddle sore... the forging faithful...
and the abiding believers who traversed the worn path
to the old country church.
♪ [congregation] And the Savior above by His wonderful love
♪ Saved my soul in the old country church. ♪