On this day in 1784, John Wesley charters the first Methodist Church in the United States. Despite the fact that he was an Anglican, Wesley saw the need to provide church structure for his followers after the Anglican Church abandoned its American believers during the American Revolution.
Wesley first brought his evangelical brand of methodical Anglicanism to colonial Georgia from 1735 to 1737 in the company of his brother Charles, with whom he had founded the ascetic Holy Club at Oxford University. This first venture onto American soil was not a great success. Wesley became embittered from a failed love affair and was unable to win adherents to his studious practices. However, while in Georgia, he became acquainted with the German Moravians, who hoped to establish a settlement in the colony. The meeting proved momentous, as it was at a Moravian meeting upon his return to London that Wesley felt he had a true experience of God’s grace.
While closely allied to the Moravians, Wesley began taking the advice of fellow Oxford graduate George Whitfield and preaching in the open air when banned from Anglican churches for his unorthodox evangelical methods. By 1739, Wesley had separated himself from the Moravians and attracted his own group of adherents, known as Methodists, who were held in disdain by the orthodox Anglican clerical and civic hierarchy. By 1744, the Methodists had become a large enough group to require their own conference of ministers, which expanded to create an internal hierarchy, replicating some of the Anglican Church’s ecclesiastical order.
Wesley, however, remained within the Anglican fold and insisted that only ministers who had received the apostolic succession–the laying on of hands by an Anglican bishop to consecrate a new priest–could administer the sacraments. The refusal of the Anglican church to ordain Dr. Thomas Coke to preach to Americans newly independent from the British State Church, finally forced Wesley to ordain within his own Methodist conference in the absence of a proper Anglican bishop. He performed the laying on of hands and not only ordained Coke as the superintendent of the Methodist Episcopal Church in America but also commissioned him to ordain Francis Asbury as his co-superintendent.