American Methodist preachers had been assembling annually in conference since 1773, when they met at St. George's Church in Philadelphia and reaffirmed their obedience to John Wesley, his doctrines and disciplines, and agreed not to allow lay preachers to administer the sacraments. But as sixty of them gathered at Lovely Lane Chapel in Baltimore on December 24, 1784, they sensed that this was not merely one more in a series of conferences. They were doing for their religious movement what representatives of the thirteen colonies had done during the steamy summer days of 1776: they were declaring their independence of John Wesley, although they pledged themselves to continue following his counsel. Proceeding quickly, yet thoughtfully and prayerfully, they acted: to establish a new church, calling it the Methodist Episcopal Church; to elect Francis Asbury to supervising responsibilities and to ordain him with the assistance of William Otterbein; to prepare a Discipline for the new church, based on Wesley's ideas and including a provision for obligating all Methodist slave-owners to free their slaves; to ordain a number of persons; and to establish a college. When the preachers, a dozen or so of them newly ordained, left Baltimore on January 2, 1785, they went forth as heralds of a new church.
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