Translate Page

To Be United Methodist: Who was Francis Asbury?

Portrait of Francis Asbury by John Paradise. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Portrait of Francis Asbury by John Paradise. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The United Methodist Church does not designate saints – and teaches that all faithful Christians are saints. However, if we did – Francis Asbury would be likely to be among the canonized. March 31 this year marks the 200th anniversary of the death of Asbury. The Rev. Alfred T. Day III, says he "has been called ‘The American Saint,' ‘The Prophet of the Long Road.'"

Day is general secretary of the General Commission on Archives and History (GCAH).

In the United States, there are towns and cities, churches, hospitals, homes, and schools, from Maine to south Georgia and beyond, named for Francis Asbury, the man who brought Methodism to America in 1771. Over the next 45 years, he covered some 265,000 miles on horseback, bringing the Good News to the most remote corners of the New World.

"The Methodist message that he brought was that God's love can be experienced by everyone, and that, once it's experienced by everyone, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in your life and makes a difference," Day said.

The son of working class parents in England, Asbury received little formal education. He apprenticed as a metalworker and became a local lay preacher. At age 22, John Wesley appointed him to serve as a missionary among the American settlements. His became a life on the road. Asbury never married.

Asbury experienced the lonely life of a circuit rider, but there were more challenges in the new mission field.

No one in America was ordained at that point, says Dale Patterson, archivist at GCAH. "(John) Wesley struggled with that. So he set apart (Thomas) Coke to ordain Asbury as one of the other leaders of the Methodist Movement, especially to establish a denomination, which was called the Methodist Episcopal Church."

Under Asbury's direction, the Methodist Episcopal Church grew from 1,200 to 214,000 members and more than 700 ordained preachers. Fifty to 75 years after his death, the Methodist Church was the largest Protestant church body in the United States.

Adapted from the transcript for "Methodism's American Saint: Bishop Francis Asbury" produced by United Methodist Videos/United Methodist Communications. Watch the video at www.umc.org/who-we-are/methodisms-american-saint-bishop-francis-asbury

United Methodist Communications is an agency of The United Methodist Church

©2023 United Methodist Communications. All Rights Reserved