The Methodist Church in the United States
From the Origins in 1784 to the 1900s
The Anglican Church has a long history in Baltimore. St Paul's had been founded in 1692. The church had moved to its present location in 1729, at what was then the highest point in the original city boundary. This is on Charles Street, running straight north from the waterfront. Today's structure results from a post-fire reconstruction in 1854-1856.
The Methodist Episcopal Church was founded in 1784 at the Baltimore Christmas Conference. Frances Asbury and Thomas Coke were its first bishops. The Methodism movement within the Church of England had been founded by John Wesley (1703-1791) and his brother Charles. Immigrants from England who saw themselves as Methodist rather than Anglican led to the establishment of the denomination.
The 1784 Christmas Conference was held at Lovely Lane Meeting House, which was built in 1774 just a few streets north of the waterfront. The location is now 206 East Redwood Street.
John Wesley had reluctantly agreed to the American desire to organize their own Methodist church. Wesley sent Thomas Coke to supervise the process and to consecrate Francis Asbury as the American Methodist "General Superintendent". Coke and Asbury met in November 1784. Asbury refused to be appointed to the position, insisting that he be elected by the Methodist preachers at a meeting to be held the following month.
Freeborn Garrettson was sent to contact as many Methodist preachers as possible for the Baltimore meeting. Garrettson wrote in his journal, "My dear Master enabled me to ride about twelve hundred miles in about six weeks; and preach going and coming constantly."
The conference began on Christmas day with over sixty preachers and several visitors. Francis Asbury wrote in his journal the day before, "It was agreed to form ourselves into an Episcopal Church, and to have superintendents, elders, and deacons. When the conference was seated, Dr. Coke and myself were unanimously elected to the superintendency of the Church, and my ordination followed. ... We spent the whole week in conference, debating freely, and determining all things by a majority of votes. ... We were in great haste, and did much business in a little time."
The meeting also elected twelve preachers as "Elders", the term Wesley had suggested for fully ordained clergy. They also formally adopted The Sunday Service, Wesley's abridgement of the English Book of Common Prayer, as the liturgical guide for the new church.
In 1786, the Lovely Lane Chapel relocated to Light Street, now a block and a half to the west. The original Lovely Lane site has been demolished and rebuilt, and nothing original remains on the site.
Meanwhile, in 1767 the United Brethren in Christ was formed as a German-speaking Methodist movement. What is now known as the Old Otterbein Church, also in Baltimore (between Camden Yards and the waterfront), was a prominent early United Brethren church that is now a United Methodist church.
Built in 1785, this is the only continuously used 18th-century church building left in Baltimore. It was built for a group of Germans who had separated from the Lutheran Church.
Philip William Otterbein was a German-born minister educated at the Reformed seminary at Herborn. He volunteered for missionary work in Pennsylvania and arrived in New York in 1752.
In 1767 or 1768, Otterbein attended a worship service in Long's Barn near Lancaster, pennsylvania. Martin Boehm, a Mennonite born in Lancaster, preached a sermon. After the service, Otterbein came forward and greeted Boehm with the words famous in United Brethren tradition, "Wir sind Brüder" or "We are brothers."
The Story of American Methodism comments, "They were an interesting pair: Otterbein the stately university-trained minister and Boehm the Mennonite farmer with a full beard." Boehm was excummunicated by the Mennonites a few years later.
Otterbein was organizing religious classes based on the Wesleyan model by 1772, and he began his pastoral work in Baltimore on May 4, 1774. On that day he met Francis Asbury, and they would maintain a close friendship for the rest of Otterbein's life.
In 1788, this was the site of the first Conference of United Brethren preachers. Another conference in 1800 took further organizational steps, including the decision to use a German translation of the new Methodist Episcopal book of discipline.
The led to the official organization of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ with Pastor Otterbein as its bishop.
Another German-speaking group, the Evangelical Association, was formed in 1800. These two merged into the Evangelical United Brethren Church in 1946 after discussing merger since the early 1800s.
Otterbein had assisted in Asbury's ordination in 1784, serving as one of four clergy Asbury asked to lay their hands on him during the consecration. Asbury spoke at Otterbein's church many times.
Otterbein is buried in the south yard of the church, just outside the sanctuary. The biography "The Life of Rev. Philip William Otterbein" is available for free from Google Books.
That area of Baltimore is shown as the neighborhood of Otterbein on detailed city maps.
The neighborhood is between Camden Yards and the Inner Harbor. Camden Yards is now a commuter rail and light rail station and a baseball park, but it used to be a major rail freight facility. Large warehouse structures have been incorporated into the ball park. Just a few blocks to the east, ships pulled into the innermost part of the harbor could dock. The area was a major sea-land shipping point.
The Otterbein neighborhood filled with a wide variety of housing. Large homes were built on the primary east-west streets. Their affluent owners led important industries in the city — shipping and shipbuilding, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, brick-making and retail. The smaller homes, although still large for their time, built on the north-south streets were mostly occupied in skilled or clerk positions in those industries. The smaller homes on the smaller alleyways were occupied by laborers in those same industries.
The area declined, especially during World War II. It was basically a slum after the war, especially when the factories and shipping industries left the area. The Inner Harbor was a mostly desolate area of emptry warehouses, rotting piers and sunken ships.
Much of the area was seized by the government during the early 1970s and largely razed. The remaining homes were restored in the later 1970s through Baltimore's "dollar homes" urban homesteading program. The Baltimore Convention Center, which surrounds the church on two sides, was completed in the late 1970s.
The Otterbein neighborhood is now very affluent, with some of the highest property values in the city.
The Mount Vernon Place Methodist church was built in 1872, six blocks north of Saint Pauls at what then was the northern edge of the city. It is built from six different types of stone of varying color. The stained glass rose window is patterend after the one in the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
The main sanctuary seats 900 in pews made from American walnut. One man worked for seven years hand-carving them all. A second sanctuary on the second floor seats 300. This was converted to sleeping quarters for troops passing through Baltimore during World War I.
The First Methodist Episcopal Church was formed from the Lovely Lane congregation, and later changed its name to Lovely Lane. It describes itself as "the Mother Church of American Methodism". However, the current Lovely Lane United Methodist Church is about two miles north of the original Lovely Lane site. It is seven blocks north of Amtrak's Penn Station, at 2200 Saint Paul Street. Its current building was designed in 1884.
It is a massive building, built in the Romanesque Revival style with a gray ashlar granite exterior. The minimal exterior decoration and minimal windows make for a very massive design.
The roughly oval sanctuary is laid out somewhat like a theatre. Its pulpit is a reproduction of the one at Saint Apollinaris, in Ravenna, Italy.
Its most striking exterior feature is the nine-tier square bell tower, patterned after the campanile of the 12th-century Church of Santa Maria at the Abbey of Pomposa, near Ravenna, Italy.
The Methodist Protestant Church was formed in 1828 over a disagreement about the role of the laity in church governance.
Then, in 1844, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South was formed over a disagreement about slavery, prompted by the suspension of a southern church bishop who owned two slaves.
National leaders Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and John C. Calhoun saw this separation of the Methodist Episcopal Church as a significant rift in American society, as it was a split in the largest religious denomination in the United States. Efforts to reconcile the two groups began at Louisville, Kentucky in 1874.
The Methodist Church was formed in 1939 by the reunion of the northern and southern factions of the Methodist Episcopal Church with the Methodist Protestant Church.
Other denominations that split off from the Methodist Episcopal Church and remained separate include:
1793 — The "Republican Methodists", later simply called the Christian Church or the Christian Connection, eventually becoming part of the United Church of Christ
1816 — The African Methodist Episcopal Church
1820 — The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church
1828 — The Canadian Methodist Church
1843 — The Wesleyan Methodist Church, which in 1968 merged with the Pilgrim Holiness churches to form the Wesleyan Church
1860 — The Free Methodist Church
1870 — The Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
1895 — The Church of the Nazarene
1895 — The Fire Baptized Holiness Church
1897 — The Pentecostal Holiness Church of North Carolina, which merged in 1911 with the Fire Baptized Holiness Church to form what is now the International Pentecostal Holiness Church