Summary: The unique contributions of the United Methodist Church to Our American Christian Heritage and the development of the American republic are recounted, especially the contributions of the "Circuit Riders".

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Note: This is an abridgement of notes presented at a Flag Day Christian Ecumenical Service in the park at Bird Island, Minnesota, June 13, 2013. At this service, the pastor of each church in the community spoke briefly regarding the contribution of their respective denominations to our American Christian heritage. The following are comments, gleaned from Wikepedia free-content encyclopedia and reworded into a sermon, regarding the United Methodist Church:

The United Methodist Church and the many other offshoots of the Methodist movement comprise one of the largest groupings of Protestant Denominations in the world today. The Methodist movement was started in the 18th Century by John and Charles Wesley to minister to the needs of the poorer classes of England in reaction to the apathy shown them by the upper socio-economic classes who controlled the Church of England. The movement quickly spread to the American colonies. Though John Wesley intended the Methodists to remain a reform movement within the Anglican Church, the American Revolution decisively separated the Methodists in America from the life and sacraments of the Anglican Church.

In 1784, after unsuccessful attempts to have the Church of England send a bishop to start a new church in the colonies, Wesley appointed fellow priest Thomas Coke to organize an independent Methodist group in America. This new church was destined to make a distinctive contribution to our American Christian heritage, largely because of the philosophy of serving those others ignored. This philosophy led to the ministry of the circuit rider, many of whom were laymen who traveled the backwoods of what was then a mostly rural nation by horseback to preach the Gospel and to establish churches in communities in which the larger established churches seem to have little interest. These 4000 preachers worked tirelessly until there was scarcely any village in the new nation without a Methodist presence.

Methodist preachers made a point of taking the message to anyone left outside organized religion at that time. This included laborers and criminals as well as people living in the backwoods frontier. In the United States, Methodism became the religion of many slaves who later formed “black churches” in the Methodist tradition.

Because of the frontier Circuit Riders religion changed in America. But it was not only religion that was affected, the culture as a whole was shaped by the efforts of these Circuit Riding preachers. Because of these traveling preachers who visited people whom others discounted, a new understanding of religion in the hearts and minds of the common classes emerged in America. As a result, this new religion in which laity had an equal voice helped shape the ideals of democracy in America.

Peter Cartwright was among the greatest of these early Circuit Riders. In his autobiography, Cartwright writes, “Many nights, in early times, the itinerant had to camp out, without fire or food for man or beast. Our pocket Bible, hymn Book, and Discipline constituted our library. 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 that attended the word preached, and thousands fell under the mighty power of God, and thus the Methodist Episcopal Church was planted firmly in the Western Wilderness, and many glorious signs have followed, and will follow, to the end of time…. From the time I had joined the traveling ranks in 1804 to 1820-21, a period of sixteen years, from thirty-two traveling preachers, we had increased to two hundred and eighty… and there was not a single literary man among the preachers.”

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