200 Years of United Methodism
An Illustrated History

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More and More, Better and Better

What was obvious to all alert Americans by the close of Reconstruction was that more people were living in cities where more factories were spewing out more products for better living. Children in story hour, Bethlehem House, Nashville, Tennessee, photograph ca. 1910.What was obvious to most Methodists, United Brethren, and Evangelicals was that they had more to listen to in church and more to eschew in the world. Inside there were pipe organs and paid choirs, although crusty old Methodist Alfred Brunson grumbled that "the people praised God by proxy, having quartets, choirs, and musical machines to do it for them, instead of doing it directly themselves." The United Brethren banned choirs in 1861 and musical instruments in 1865; it was not long, however, until they relaxed the ban. Worship in Methodist, United Brethren, and Evangelical churches was becoming less spontaneous and more staid, although it was primarily Methodists who took steps to introduce formal orders of Sunday worship. All three gave central importance to the sermon, which was becoming more polished.

While Methodists, United Brethren, and Evangelicals had more things to listen to in church, they had more things to avoid in the world. Methodists were told in 1872 to stay clear of dancing, playing games of chance, attending theaters, horse races and circuses; United Brethren added tobacco and running races to this list. Evangelicals declared it a "day of shame" when the Chicago World's Fair opened on a Sunday in 1893. One Evangelical, surveying new feminine hairdressing styles, declared, "When professed Christians . . . 'bang' their hair and frizz it all around . . . heaven puts on robes of mourning and all hell holds a jubilee."

Jubilation in hell diminished, it was believed, as alcohol slithered over fewer and fewer lips. Sunday school picnic, photograph ca. 1890.Frances Willard, leader of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, claimed that "poisonous drinks crazing the brains of legislators precipitated the Civil War." Legal prohibition of alcoholic beverages was supported by the United Brethren General Conference of 1881, the northern Methodist one of 1884, and the southern Methodist one of 1890, which asserted, "Voluntary total abstinence from all intoxicants is the sole and true ground of personal temperance, and complete legal prohibition of the traffic is the duty of the government." By 1908 no one quibbled when it was said that the "Methodist Episcopal Church is a temperance society."

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