Wesleyan Methodist Connection of America
Wesleyan Methodist Connection Of America This society grew out of a separation from the Methodist Episcopal Church, on account of the connection of that body with slavery, and the arbitrary character of its government. The withdrawal of Reverends O. Scott, J. Horton, L.R. Sunderland, Luther Lee, and Lucius C. Matlack, in the latter part of 1842, and the establishment of a religious paper known as the True Wesleyan, are regarded as the commencement of the movement which led to the Wesleyan organization. A call, signed by all of the above- named persons except L.C. Matlack, was issued in the True Wesleyan, and otherwise circulated, for a Wesleyan anti-slavery convention, to be held at Andover, Massachusetts, commencing February 1, 1843; and fifty-two delegates from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire, responded to the call. In this convention a large number of resolutions were presented and adopted, setting forth the principles which had guided them in their separation from the mother church. Provisions were also made in this convention for another general convention to be held in Utica, N.Y., May 31 following, for the purpose of effecting the permanent organization of the Wesleyan Methodist Connection. One hundred and fifty-three delegates responded to the last-named call, representing New York, Michigan, Connecticut, Vermont, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts.
At this latter convention a discipline was formulated, and among the principles set forth for the government of the Church the following were some of the most prominent:
1. Opposition to slavery. 2. No affiliation with secret, oath-bound societies. 3. Plainness in apparel and manner of living. 4. Equal representation of ministers and laymen in the government of the Church.
Six annual conferences were established, viz.; New England, Champlain, New York, Miami, Alleghany, and Michigan, and the youthful denomination started upon its heaven-appointed mission. The first general conference was held in Cleveland, Ohio, commencing October 2, 1844.
Like all other reformatory bodies, this society was born in the midst of the most bitter persecution; and, viewed from a human standpoint, under the most unfavorable circumstances. Their opposition to the institution of American slavery at a time when the masses of the people either believed it to be right, or as a matter of policy apologized for it, made them a target for all kinds of abuse, and the opportunity was not neglected by the people. A single illustration in this connection will be sufficient. On one occasion, while Reverend Luther Lee was speaking against slavery, he was treated to a solution of whiskey and lampblack, which was thrown over him, and not only marred his personal appearance, but ruined his suit of clothes. He continued his address, however, and that meeting proved to be one of the best for the cause that was ever held. The growth of the denomination was very encouraging notwithstanding these unfavorable surroundings; and within ten years the membership in the various conferences aggregated more than ten thousand. They were not of the popular and aristocratic class, neither were they altogether poor and unlearned. Among the membership were men and women of remarkable intellectual ability, who were instrumental in the hands of God in building up and establishing the educational interests of the Connection, until they were not behind other denominations of equal size in this particular.
Early in the history of the society the propriety of establishing an institution of learning was urged upon the people, and efforts were made in this direction at Leoni, Jackson County, Michigan, and also at Wheaton, Illinois, but the matter finally took a more definite form in the location of a denominational college at Adrian, Mich. The citizens of Adrian donated largely towards the enterprise with the understanding and agreement that, if within five years the Wesleyans should erect buildings and secure property, free from debt, amounting to $100,000, the school should become the property of the denomination. Much more than the required sum was raised in the given time, and the terms having been complied with, an unquestionable title was secured. A competent faculty was placed in charge of the college, and astonishing success attended the enterprise from the beginning. Students flocked in from all parts of the country, and many were compelled to find rooms in private residences near the college, all of the desirable rooms in the two large buildings erected for that purpose being occupied.
After the war of the rebellion had closed and peace had been declared, leaving the nation free from the curse of human bondage, some of the leading men in the Connection, believing that the mission of the denomination was ended, conceived the idea of uniting all non-Episcopal Methodist churches into one body, and combined their efforts with others in effecting the proposed combination. A convention was held in the city of Cleveland, Ohio, June 21, 1865, where committees were appointed and steps taken looking towards such a union of churches. Provisions were also made for another convention, which met in Cincinnati, May 9, 1866, and at this convention the basis of the union was decided upon and the foundation laid. The expectations of the Wesleyan leaders were not met, however, from the fact that the denomination, as a whole, were not satisfied with the terms of the union, and also from their general disagreement with the proposition that the mission of their Church was ended. When the reformatory principles adopted by the Wesleyans were presented for the consideration of the convention, they were entirely ignored, and secret societiesῥ were eulogized instead of being reproved. Finding that the union was not a success, most of the Wesleyan leaders in the movement withdrew and united with other religious communions, and a number of local churches followed their example. These may be properly termed the "dark days" of the Connection, and when the "smoke of battle;" had cleared away, it was found that somewhat serious injuries had been sustained. Not the least of these was the transfer of Adrian College to the control of another denomination. In the midst of the exciting scenes connected with the union movement a majority of the trustees were prevailed upon to make the transfer, though not in harmony with the wishes, and without the consent, of the denomination. Committees have been appointed by the General Conference to look after the legality of the transfer, and to consider the feasibility of taking legal steps for the recovery of the college. Notwithstanding the tidal wave of adversity that had swept over the. Connection, those who remained true and stood by their "colors" were not disheartened. Other men as noble as the first and of greater value to the Connection, because of the fact that they remained true to principles through the struggle that tried men's souls took the helm, and succeeded in steering the vessel through the breakers to the calm sea of renewed prosperity. The troubles of the conflict only intensified the zeal of the tried and true, and the result was a general revival all through the Connection, and a healthful growth has been realized since that time both in membership and finances.
A large and commodious publishing house has been erected in the city of Syracuse, N.Y., which is the headquarters of the denomination, where the principal part of the business of the Connection is transacted. Reverend D.S. Kinney is connectional agent, and not only has charge of the business transacted at the office, but visits the various annual conferences, and looks after the denominational interests in connection therewith. Reverend N. Wardner is editor of the Wesleyan Methodist, the official organ of the denomination, and of the Bible Standard, a monthly magazine devoted to the doctrine and experience of Scriptural holiness, both of which are published at the publishing house in Syracuse, and receive a liberal patronage from the people. He is also editor of The Children's Banner, and Gooct Words, papers devoted to Sunday-school interests. The publishing interests of the Connection, including building, printing machinery, etc., are valued at about $50,000, to which additions are constantly made, and all is free from debt. Two seminaries are now the property of the Connection, one located at Wasioja, Dodge County, Minnesota, with professor E.G. Paine as principal, and the other at Houghton, Alleghany County, N,Y., with professor A.R. Dodd as principal. Both of these schools are in a prosperous condition, and an honor to the Connection. Added to these is a theological seminary, in connection. with Whearton College, Illinois, under the care of Reverend L.N. Stratton, D.D., as president, where a goodly number of young men are in course of education each year for the Christian ministry.
There are at this date (September 1886), twenty-one conferences in the denomination, aggregating about five hundred ministers and twenty thousand members. Officers of the General Conference are, president. Reverend N. Wardner, Syracuse, N.Y., and secretary, Reverend E.W. Bruce, of the same place, who are the joint authors of this article.