200 Years of United Methodism
An Illustrated History

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William Otterbein and Martin Boehm

William Otterbein (1726-1813). Oil on canvas by Catherine Weiner, ca. 1850.Philip William Otterbein was born in Germany in 1726, the son of a Reformed Church pastor whose spiritual life was influenced by pietism. Young Otterbein, following in his father's wake, studied for ordination at a Reformed Church university of pietist orientation and served churches in Germany until he heard of the need for German-speaking pastors in America. Crossing the Atlantic in 1752, Otterbein became pastor of a Reformed congregation in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Otterbein organized Bible study and prayer groups, called for lively lay participation in congregational life, and preached the importance of spiritual regeneration. One Sunday in 1754 a parishioner, inspired by Otterbein's sermon on "God's Grace," asked him for spiritual counsel, only to receive the answer, "Advice is scarce with me this day." Then, realizing that he himself lacked what he had been holding out to others, Otterbein slipped off to a quiet room where after fervent prayer he suddenly felt the inner assurance of God's forgiving love. Having had this experience, which was similar to Wesley's, he called others to a heart-felt confidence in God through a first-hand relationship with Christ.

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