Before the Methodist, United Brethren, and Evangelical churches could get on with their share of the task of bringing in Christ's kingdom, they had to pick up the pieces left by the Civil War. To begin this task two dozen ministers and a dozen laymen of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South met in Palmyra, Missouri, in June 1865 and issued a statement, declaring, "We consider the maintenance of our separate and distinct ecclesiastical organization as of paramount importance and our imperative duty." To buttress their insistence on preserving southern Methodism, they claimed northern Methodist preachers had "become political hucksters instead of gospel ministers." Such reactions are understandable when it is recalled that the northern church sent missionaries into the South and that by 1871 it had ten annual conferences in southern states with 88,000 black and 47,000 white members, 370 black and 260 white pastors.
Facing this Yankee invasion, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South held a General Conference in 1866, to which the bishops reported that "with but very few exceptions" the annual conferences met regularly during the war; that there were "gracious revivals of religion;" that "the publishing interests of the church suffered greatly in consequence of the war," but that church papers were being published once more; that "our missionary work . . . had been well nigh ruined," yet "the China mission still lives." After listening to this report, the conference patched up the missionary and publishing enterprises, took an action that led to the seating by 1870 of lay persons in the annual and general conferences, reopened colleges, and moved into the North by forming an annual conference in Illinois. Membership of whites rebounded by 1869 to its prewar level and then moved steadily ahead.
During Reconstruction northern Methodism focused its attention on church extension, the Freedmen's Aid Society, and the Centenary of American Methodism. Responding to the Homestead Act of 1862, which opened vast tracts of western land to settlement, the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1864 established the Church Extension Society for the purpose of securing "suitable houses of public worship" in the newly settled areas. Under the leadership of Charles C. McCabe, the society's battle cry became, "We're building two a day."
home table of contents index back continue