Questions About Methodism

Questions About the Services of the United Methodist Archives and History Center


Questions About Methodism

How many United Methodists are there?

The latest membership statistics show 8.3 million United Methodists in the United States, 1.2 million in Africa, 79,000 in Europe, and 57,000 in the Philippines. For a historical survey of U.S. Methodist membership since 1790, see http://gcah.org/history/united-methodist-membership-statistics. There are also a number of Methodists worldwide who belong to other Methodist churches (such as the Methodist Church of Great Britain) which have friendly relationships with the United Methodist Church but are independent organizations.

Why are Methodists called “Methodists?”

Methodism has its roots in a group organized in 1729 by brothers John and Charles Wesley at Oxford, known as the Holy Club. Members of the group pledged to be disciplined about their spiritual lives and also to perform works of social service such as visiting prisons and the poor. Because they were so methodical in how they went about these activities, other students called them “Methodists” as an insult. However, they soon adopted this term as a badge of honor, and used it to describe the wider spiritual movement which they founded after having transforming religious experiences in 1738.

When was Methodism founded?

Methodism began in Britain due to the activities of John and Charles Wesley described above. The Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States was founded in December 1784 at a meeting in Baltimore, MD known as the “Christmas Conference.” For more on the story, see http://archives.umc.org/interior.asp?mid=258&GID=216&GMOD=VWD&GCAT=C.

What is the meaning of the United Methodist Church’s cross and flame symbol?

A history and explanation of this symbol can be found at http://archives.umc.org/interior.asp?ptid=1&mid=3206.

How many U.S. Presidents/Senators/Representatives have been Methodist? Have we ever had a President and Vice President of the same denomination before?

Three U.S. Presidents (Rutherford B. Hayes, William McKinley, George W. Bush) have definitely been Methodists for a large portion of their lives. James Knox Polk considered himself a Methodist after a conversion at a Methodist camp meeting, but was not baptized and received into the Methodist church until shortly before his death out of respect for the Presbyterianism of his mother and his wife. Ulysses S Grant was officially a nominal Presbyterian but may have been converted to Methodism on his deathbed. For more on U.S. Presidents’ religious affiliations, see http://www.adherents.com/adh_presidents.html. The religious affiliations of members of Congress at http://www.adherents.com/adh_congress.html (Congressional statistics from 2006).

Dick Cheney is the first Methodist Vice President to serve under a Methodist president. Other Presidents and VP’s of the same denomination include James Madison and Elbridge Gerry (Episcopalian); Andrew Jackson and John Calhoun (Presbyterian); William Henry Harrison and John Tyler (Episcopalian); James Buchanan and John C. Breckenridge (Presbyterian); and William Clinton and Albert Gore (Baptist).

I want to find out more about John Wesley/Charles Wesley/Francis Asbury/other famous Methodists.

Short biographies of a number of famous Methodists in Britain and America can be found at http://gcah.org/history/biographies, and several famous women in Methodism are discussed in this bibliography. The following books are also very helpful: Wesley and the People Called Methodists by Richard Heitzenrater (Abingdon Press, 1995); The Story of American Methodism by Frederick Norwood (Abingdon, 1974) and The Methodist Experience in America edited by Russell Richey and others (Abingdon Press, 2000).

Do you have a timeline of Methodist history?

See http://gcah.org/history/united-methodist-church-timeline.

What is a circuit rider?

See http://gcah.org/history/circuit-riders.

Why don’t old hymnals have tunes? And why are they so small?

Old hymnals don’t have tunes because the worship leader would announce in church which tune the hymn was to be sung to. In modern hymnals, you may have noticed that hymn tunes have tune names (often found at the bottom of the page). These names facilitated the process. People knew most of the tunes by name, and would respond appropriately with the correct tune. In the twentieth century, most hymnals and songbooks began to be published with tunes.

The hymnals are often small because they were intended to be carried to church in a pocket or carried in a circuit rider’s saddlebag. Hymnals and Bibles were not provided in churches; instead, worshippers would bring their own.

For a list of all the authorized hymnals put out by the denomination and its predecessors, see http://gcah.org/history/methodist-hymnals (Methodist) and http://gcah.org/history/eub-hymnals (EUB). Sunday School hymnals are listed at http://gcah.org/history/sunday-school-hymnals.

I found an old Methodist book. Is it worth money?

If the book was published after about 1830, the chances are that it is worth less than $100. The publishing houses of the various Methodist churches published a great many copies of a great many books, and they are usually not very rare. You can visit online used book dealers such as ABE Books or Alibris to see what other copies of the book are selling for.

Where did the names Abingdon and Cokesbury come from?

“Abingdon” was the name of the town in Maryland where Cokesbury College, the first Methodist college in the U.S., opened in 1787 (an ultimately unsuccessful venture, the college lasted only until 1796; see http://gcah.org/research/travelers-guide/cokesbury-college-site). The college was called “Cokesbury” from the names of the first two Methodist bishops: Coke and Asbury. In the early twentieth century, when the Methodist Episcopal Church decided to give their publishing house a name, they chose Abingdon, and when the Methodist Episcopal Church South (the southern branch of the church due to a pre-Civil War split) decided to name their publishing house, they chose Cokesbury. When the two churches merged (along with the Methodist Protestant Church) in 1939, the combined publishing house was called Abingdon-Cokesbury Press. In 1954, the name was shortened to Abingdon Press, and Cokesbury became the name for the retail stores run by the denomination (including a presence now in cyberspace at www.cokesbury.com ).

I think I may be related to John Wesley. Do you have information on his descendants?

John Wesley had no children. Although he had numerous siblings, most were sisters, and the Wesley name descended only through his brother Charles. Charles had three children, but only his son Samuel (1766-1837) continued the family line, with three legitimate children by his wife Charlotte and at least seven illegitimate ones through a common-law union with his former housekeeper Sarah Suter. The illegitimate children also received the surname “Wesley,” and the most famous of them was church music composer Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810-1876). Any surviving descendants with the name Wesley descend from the illegitimate branch.

The best quick reference regarding Wesley descendants is the article “Wesley Family” in vol. II of the Encyclopedia of World Methodism (United Methodist Publishing House, 1974), pp. 2511-2512. The books Memoirs of the Wesley Family by Adam Clarke and Memorials of the Wesley Family by George Stevenson are also helpful, though the Stevenson book is not completely accurate. Also, Samuel Wesley (1766-1837): A Source Book by Michael Kassler and Philip Olleson contains a family tree with information on Samuel’s children.

Do you have information on women in ministry and missions in the Methodist tradition?

See Women in the Wesleyan and United Methodist Traditions: A Bibliography at http://www.gcah.org/Bibliography.pdf.


Questions About the Services of the United Methodist Archives and History Center

How do I get a copy of an obituary?

Contact the Methodist Library Associate, Cassie Brand (973-408-3590) for more information.

I am interested in the records of a local church. Where can I find them?

We do not keep the records of local churches at the United Methodist Archives and History Center. If the church is still open, the records are probably still at that church. When a church closes, it is required to turn over its historical records, including baptism and membership records, to the archives of the Annual Conference where the church is located. For a list of conference archives and contact information for conference archivists and historians, see http://gcah.org/research/local-church-records.

Records of the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference and its churches are kept in our building, but we do not have staff to provide access to these records. Please contact Greater New Jersey archivist/historian Walter H. Jones, 26 Edgewater Drive, Matawan, NJ 07747-3072; 732-566-5321; WaltRetired@optonline.net.

Do you do genealogical searches?

Yes; contact our genealogical researcher, Frances Lyons-Bristol, for more details.

Do you sell Disciplines or old hymnals?

We occasionally have on-campus book sales, but we do not keep a supply of these items or other books on hand to give away or sell. We suggest you look at used-book websites and other sites such as Amazon.com and eBay, as neither Disciplines nor hymnals are rare. If you have no luck there, contact us and we can put you in touch with several used-book dealers.

Can someone come to my church to talk about Wesley or Methodist history?

The Methodist Librarian accepts limited speaking engagements, with priority given to United Methodist churches and organizations. Please contact him to make arrangements.

Do you give tours of the Center? Is there a cost?

We give tours of our facilities and exhibits to groups such as Drew faculty and students, local churches, confirmation classes, and other interested parties. Tours are free but should be prearranged by contacting the Methodist Librarian or the archivist of the General Commission on Archives and History.

I would like to use a picture from the 200 Years of United Methodism book which is online at your website. How do I get permission?

Send an email to the Methodist Librarian stating the use you plan to make of the picture. The majority of the images are in public domain, except for those in the last chapter. The images in public domain do not require a permission form, but if you need us to make a high-quality photographic or electronic copy of the image, there will be a fee of $10. All images in the last chapter are covered by copyright. For these images, you will need to fill out a permission form which we will send you, and pay a fee of $10 (for non-profit and United Methodist uses) or $40 (for commercial and trade publications). Regardless of the copyright status of the picture, you need to give credit in your publication or presentation to the Methodist collections of Drew University Library as the source for the image.

Do you accept donations of books and manuscripts?

We are always interested in donations, particularly of manuscript items. If you are contemplating donating a large amount of material (more than a box), please get in touch with the Methodist Librarian to make arrangements for the donation.

I’m confused–you seem to have two organizations in your building. What is the difference between the Drew University Methodist Library and the General Commission on Archives and History? How do I know who to contact?

The United Methodist Archives and History Center is a collaborative effort between Drew University and the United Methodist Church.

The Drew University Methodist Library maintains a collection of books, periodicals and historical newspapers dealing with the history of global Methodism and related traditions–including an extensive collection of original editions of works by and about the Wesleys. The General Commission on Archives and History is an official agency of the United Methodist Church and is charged with keeping the archival records of the denomination–both records of United Methodist agencies and organizations, and personal papers of notable Methodists. (Staff of the General Commission also care for some Methodist manuscript collections which are owned by Drew.) The two organizations share a building and collaborate in providing service to patrons, and the resources of both are available to those who visit us on-site or ask questions via phone and email.

For a list of Drew University Methodist Library staff contacts, see http://www.drew.edu/library/methodist/staff
For a list of General Commission staff contacts, see http://gcah.org/about/our-staff.

I sent you a question by email and haven’t gotten an answer. When can I expect one?

Our staff has a limited amount of time to devote to answering email reference, as we also need to be of service to patrons who are on-site. Please be patient. We are normally able to answer questions within a week.