Apostles on Horseback
When John Wesley made his famous statement “the world is my parish,” he surely was including the New World. However, America turned out to be a far more fruitful Methodist mission field than he ever anticipated.
In 1771 the annual Methodist Conference met in Bristol, England. During the meetings, John Wesley arose and solemnly remarked, “Our brethren in America call aloud for help. Who are willing to go over and help them?” Among those who responded was a young man who would contribute more to the success and spread of Methodism in America than any other person: Francis Asbury.
Asbury was born in Birmingham in 1745. He was able to obtain only a few years of formal education. As a youth he was converted to Christ, and took every opportunity to hear the traveling Methodist preachers. At the age of 22 he was confirmed as a lay preacher himself.
When he answered the call for preachers to go to America, some looked on his decision as a reckless enterprise, but he was determined to go, and he never returned to England. Not long after he recorded in his diary:
October 27. This day we landed in Philadelphia.… When I came near the American shore, my very heart melted within me, to think from whence I came, where I was going, and what I was going about. But I felt my mind open to the people, and my tongue loosed to speak. I feel that God is here.…
In October 1772 Asbury was placed in charge of the Methodist congregations and preachers of America. He soon realized that the Methodist practice of using traveling preachers would be even more practical in America than in England. American congregations were small and separated by large distances, and establishing settled pastors was almost impossible. The plan of using “circuit riders,” Asbury ...