Francis Asbury preached the gospel on the empty prairies during a vast migration of people from urban to rural areas.

Francis Asbury preached the gospel on the empty prairies during a vast migration of people from urban to rural areas. Prairie Methodists simultaneously built churches and communities in the rural wilderness. They faithfully replicated Epworth and Wroot[1] across the Midwestern frontier, replacing passive Anglican curates with fiery Methodist circuit riding preachers. Churches began as class meetings, shepherded between visits of the circuit rider by located preachers or licensed exhorters as class leaders.[2] The terminology on the prairie is one of circuits made up of class meetings rather than Societies of the British type. There is no evidence of multiple classes being formed on the prairie in a single location as was normal in Wesley’s urban societies.[3] Class sizes increased to as many as seventy-three.[4] There is no evidence that anything like the band system developed on the prairie; the band concept was strenuously pushed in the first Book of Discipline of 1785 but all references had disappeared from the Discipline by 1844.[5] Class meetings and tickets were the major elements of Wesleyan Methodism found on the prairie.

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DISCERNMENT QUESTIONS

RESOURCES

[1] The quote is a selection from David O. Kueker’s Fuller Seminary Doctor of Ministry project submitted in September, 2007, entitled Diagnosis, Dialogue, and Decision: A Threefold Process of Revitalization For the Illinois Great Rivers Conference.
It is shared here in recognition of its 12th Anniversary along with comments to update and provide perspective on the material. The original project was a Training Manual/Study Guide of three Seminars supported by three chapters of research and an Introduction. The material is available for download at www.disciplewalk.com/Resources.html. In 2009 it was provided for purchase as a softcover book entitled Designing Discipleship Systems: Christian Disciple Making For Any Size Church, Any Theology through CreateSpace.com.

[2][3] [4][5] [6][7] [8]

All Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please review the page How and Why We Use Quotes.



[1]Epworth and Wroot were the small rural parishes in which Wesley grew up, and of a type very familiar to Asbury and all immigrants from England.

[2]One suspects the presence of exhorters and located preachers led to class meetings that were more like worship services between visits of the circuit rider than the careful lay supervision toward holiness found in Wesley’s classes in England. Cf. Charles A. Johnson, The Frontier Camp Meeting: Religion’s Harvest Time (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1955), 20-24. Ferguson indicates this erosion of small group process as coinciding with rise of the camp meeting in 1805 and 1840. Cf. Charles W. Ferguson, Organizing to Beat the Devil: Methodists and the Making of America (New York: Doubleday, 1971), 149.

[3]Evers, History of the Southern Illinois Conference, 14. Melton recognizes the pattern of single classes becoming single churches but refers to “some societies with several classes” in the 1840s without identifying locations; these could have been in urban Chicago. I have found no single specific citing of a downstate Illinois Methodist church with more than one class meeting and no record of the use of bands or select bands on the prairie. Cf. J. Gordon Melton, Log Cabins to Steeples: the Complete Story of the United Methodist Way in Illinois Including All Constituent Elements of the United Methodist Church (n.p.: The Commissions on Archives and History, Northern, Central and Southern Illinois Conferences, 1974), 109, 111.

[4]Charles Edward White, “The Rise And Decline Of The Class Meeting,” Methodist History 40, no. 4 (July 2002), C:\Users\drdku\OneDrive\Desktop\Architect of Ideas\AoI WRITING\(http:\tiger.arbor.edu\~cwhite\cm.pdfhttp://myweb.arbor.edu/cwhite/cm.pdf (accessed June 4, 2007), 7. Pagination is from the online resource.

[5]Ferguson, Organizing to Beat the Devil, 75.

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