Methodist Church

Sydney Park Church, Columbia, S.C.

Methodism is one of the largest religious denominations in the South. Practiced by both white and black congregants, Methodism is an evangelical religion that encourages Christians to love God with all one’s heart, soul, and life. The name “methodist” comes from the methodical lifestyle of Bible study, prayer, and social work that founder James Wesley adhered to.  

From the beginning of Methodism in America, Methodists were divided by the question of slavery. Many preachers were wholeheartedly opposed to the practice, while southerners who economically profited from slavery allowed for the institution. During the Christmas Conference in 1784, the Methodist Church formally took a stance against slavery and passed rules which called for the gradual emancipation of slaves by all members of society. However, during the General Conference in 1844, the issue of slavery became even more divisive among the Methodists and caused a split in the church between the North and South. This schism was repaired in 1848, but the beliefs of both divisions remained. 

By this point, many African Americans had separated from the Methodist Church and formed their own churches, such as the African Methodist Episcopal Church. There was little doctrinal different between these black-majority institutions and the Methodist Church, however the fact that they chose to separate from the white-controlled organization is noteworthy.

After slavery was abolished in the United States in 1865, the Methodist Church aimed its abolitionist energies towards aiding freed slaves. The Church sent food and clothing to struggling Southerners and worked at establishing schools for African Americans in the South.