Methodist Episcopal Church

The Methodist Episcopal Church (MEC) was the oldest and largest Methodist denomination in the United States from its founding in 1784 until 1939. It was also the first religious denomination in the US to organize itself nationally. In 1939, the MEC reunited with two breakaway Methodist denominations (the Methodist Protestant Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South) to form the Methodist Church. In 1968, the Methodist Church merged with the Evangelical United Brethren Church to form the United Methodist Church.

The MEC's origins lie in the First Great Awakening when Methodism emerged as an evangelical revival movement within the Church of England that stressed the necessity of being born again and the possibility of attaining Christian perfection. By the 1760s, Methodism had spread to the Thirteen Colonies, and Methodist societies were formed under the oversight of John Wesley. As in England, American Methodists remained affiliated with the Church of England, but this state of affairs became untenable after the American Revolution. In response, Wesley ordained the first Methodist elders for America in 1784. Under the leadership of its first bishops, Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury, the Methodist Episcopal Church adopted episcopal polity and an itinerant model of ministry that saw circuit riders provide for the religious needs of a widespread and mobile population.

Early Methodism was countercultural in that it was anti-elitist and anti-slavery, appealing especially to African Americans and women. While critics derided Methodists as fanatics, the Methodist Episcopal Church continued to grow, especially during the Second Great Awakening in which Methodist revivalism and camp meetings left its imprint on American culture. In the early 19th century, the MEC became the largest and most influential religious denomination in the United States. With growth came greater institutionalization and respectability, and this led some within the church to complain that Methodism was losing its vitality and commitment to Wesleyan teachings, such as the belief in Christian perfection and opposition to slavery.

As Methodism took hold in the Southern United States, church leaders became less willing to condemn the practice of slavery or to grant African American preachers and congregations the same privileges as their European American counterparts. A number of black churches were formed as African Americans withdrew from the MEC, including the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. By the 1830s, however, a renewed abolitionist movement within the MEC made keeping a neutral position on slavery impossible. Ultimately, the church divided along regional lines in 1845 when pro-slavery Methodists in the South formed their own Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Around the same time, the holiness movement took shape as a renewal movement within the MEC focused on the experience of Christian perfection, but it eventually led a number of splinter groups to break away from the church, most notably the Free Methodist Church and Wesleyan Methodist Church. Due to large-scale immigration of Catholics, the Catholic Church displaced the MEC as the largest US denomination by the end of the 19th century. Provided by Wikipedia
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