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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Methodist Episcopal Church in Canada

The first Canadian Methodist Society, as nearly as can be ascertained, was formed in the township of Augusta, in Upper Canada (now Ontario), in 1778. Its first members were some of the parties who had constituted the first Methodist Society in New York. (See METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH). Prominent names were those of Paul and Barbara Heck; their three sons, John, Jacob, and Samuel; John and Catharine Lawrence-Mrs. Lawrence had been the widow of Philip Embury; and Samuel Embury, a son of Philip Embury. Besides these, it was joined by such others of the scattered settlers of Augusta as wished to. unite with them in Christian fellowship. Samuel Embury was the classleader. About two years after the organization of this society, viz. in 1780, Mr. Tuffey, a Methodist local preacher from England, then connected with a regiment stationed at Quebec, preached to his comrades and to the towns-people; but it does not appear that he attempted to form any regular class.

Methodism was introduced into the country about Niagara and westward by the Revelation George Neal, who was born in Pennsylvania Feb. 28, 1751. He was converted under the ministry of the Revelation Hope Hull. Mr. Neal became a local-preacher, and went into Canada in 1786. He settled in the Niagara District, taught school during the week, and preached to the people on the Sabbath, and frequently on week-day evenings. Following the illustrious examples of Nelson, in England, Williams, in Ireland, and Embury, in New York, Neal collected together those who had been converted through his instrumentality, and formed a society in the township of Stamford- in 1790, appointing Christian Warner the class-leader, an office which he continued to fill until his death, March 21, 1833. This class, collected without the intervention of any travelling preacher, as was also the above class in Augusta, embraced among its members a number who afterwards distinguished themselves as pillars in the Church of God (Hist. of the M. E. Church in Canada, p. 34). The ministrations of Mr. Neal were approved by his brethren in the United States and Canada, and he was therefore ordained deacon by bishop Asbury July 23, 1810, at the Annual Conference held that year at Lyons, in the State of New York.

The Rev. William Losee was the first itinerant Methodist preacher on Canadian soil. In 1789: or the beginning of 1790 he was visiting some of his friends and relatives near Kingston, Upper Canada. Being zealous in the Master's work, he improved-his visit by preaching whenever opportunity offered. The people heard him gladly, and, having been, edified by his labors, they sent a petition to the New York Conference, of which he was a member, requesting that body to send Losee among them, and he was appointed. The first class was organized Feb. 20, 1791; the second March 2 of the same year-the very day on which John Wesley died. From' this year the Methodist societies and congregations were regularly supplied with missionaries from the Church in the United States. The ministers in what was then a wilderness endured great privations, and encountered formidable dangers; but they were indefatigable in their labors, through zeal for God and for the salvation of the people.

Early Methodism in Canada, as well as in Europe and the United States, had to contend with great opposition. Its most formidable foes were those who were determined upon the aggrandizement and dominancy of what they called the Established Church, although no such thing as a Church establishment had been constituted in those provinces by legal enactment. These would-be adherents of the Church of England were violent in their hostility to Methodism, as were also the members of some other Protestant churches, to say nothing about the Roman Catholics. An instance of the intolerant spirit manifested towards the early Methodist preachers is presented by the following facts. In 1788 Mr. James M'Carty, an adherent of MrWhitefield, went from the United States and settled in Earnestown, near the shore of the Bay of Quinte. Feeling it to be his duty to preach the Gospel to his neighbors, he collected them together in their little log- cabins, and dispensed to them the Word of Life. He was interfered with by parties from Kingston, who, clothed with a little brief authority, caused him to be dragged from the place of worship, from his peaceful and happy home, and from the bosom of his family. They cast him into prison, and, after giving him some sort of a trial, sentenced him to banishment from the country. He was taken awav from Kingston by his persecutors, and his family saw his face no more. -He is supposed to have been murdered. Mr. Neal was likewise ordered to leave the country; but the hand of God interposed, and finally he was allowed to remain, and to continue. his Christian labors. The spirit of intolerance continued for many years, though, as time advanced, it manifested itself in somer what less violent forms. Lawsuits were entered against some of the early preachers for celebrating marriage between the members of their own congregations, and they were ordered into exile on this account. But none of these things moved the devoted men who were sent by bishop Asbury and the New York and Genesee conferences. Steady to their purpose, namely, the advancement of the cause of Christ, their watchword was "Onward!" At the -commencement of this century, about ten years after Mr. Losee first entered Canada, the work stood as follows: I district, 4 circuits, 7 preachers, and 936 members.

During the next decade the increase in Church membership was still more encouraging. The privations of the preachers were nearly the same, and their labors, if possible, still more arduous, because they had to extend their work yet further into the. forest. They had to ford dangerous streams, plod through deep swamps, and often camp out during the night in the dreary woods, with their saddle-bags for a pillow, the canopy of heaven and the foliage of the trees for covering; the faithful horse standing sentinel near his master, suffering with him from cold and hunger. Many a long and dismal night was thus spent by these self-sacrificing men, sometimes aroused from their brief repose by the screeching of owls, the howling of wolves, or the war-whoop of the savage. But the great desire of their hearts was realized - the success of the Gospel cause. In 1810 there were 2 districts, 5 circuits, 19 preachers, and 2795 members. The Upper Canada district was placed under the direction of the Genesee Annual Conference in 1810, and the' Lower Canada district in 1811.

Great success attended the preaching of the Word; and the connection continued to prosper until the occurrence of the unhappy War of 1812. Several of the preachers appointed to Canadian circuits were prevented from entering upon their charges because the Canadian government had issued a proclamation ordering all Americans to leave the. country before the 3d of July. A few of the preachers already resident determined to risk the danger of remaining; others were British-born subjects, and these, with the assistance of local preachers, supplied the work. During the unhappy conflict, the societies sustained great loss, as will appear from the statistics of the Church at the Genesee Conference of 1815, which was held shortly after peace was declared. The Canada work was reported at that Conference as follows: 2 districts, 9 circuits, 14 preachers, and 1765 members- a decrease since 1810 of 1.030 members. The war-cloud having passed over, and the sunshine of peace once more shedding its benign rays upon both countries, the Genesee Conference resumed its care of the Canadian Church. But, though the two nations continued at peace, the Methodist societies were doomed to be agitated and divided by men sent out by the English Methodists as missionaries. The bitterness and heartburnings which were produced by the rivalry that ensued retarded to some extent the advancement of the cause in certain localities; but in the greater part of their field the American Methodists steadily increased in numbers, influence, and spirituality.

The year 1817 was distinguished for the most remarkable revival influence that had vet been witnessed in Canada. The Genesee Annual Conference that year was held in Elizabethtown, Upper Canada, commencing June 21, bishop George presiding. An Annual Conference was a new thing in Canada, and therefore great crowds of people attended the ministry of the Word, especially on the Sabbath. The number of preachers present was large, and all were anxious to build up the walls of Zion. Religious services commenced at eight o'clock on Sabbath morning, and the Lord manifested himself with power. Many were seeking redemption before the hour had arrived at which the bishop was to preach, so that when he entered the house the congregation was aglow with the fire of divine love. Hundreds were present. The bishop preached one of his most able and impressive sermons, and the discourse had a powerful effect upon his hearers. The services continued all day with but little intermission, and it was not until late in the evening that the people dispersed. It is believed that more than one hundred souls were brought to Christ at this Conference. But the work of reformation did not end there. The preachers went from the Conference refreshed and strengthened, preaching with great effect Christ, the power of God, and the wisdom of God. On all the circuits the Word prevailed mightily, sinners were converted, and believers quickened. For more than three years there were constant additions to the Church throughout the Canadian work; and in some instances the revival influence extended to the border circuits in the United States. In 1820 the Genesee Conference was again held in Canada. The church in which it assembled was at the west end of " Lundy's Lane," near the spot where six years previously the British and American soldiers had met in deadly conflict. How great the change now. Americans and Canadians, actuated by the love of Christ, united harmoniously in council and effort to build up the walls of Zion, and rejoiced together in the triumphs of the Gos-' pel of peace. There were about one hundred preachers present at the Conference. Bishop George presided, still exerting the same holy influence upon preachers and people as in 1817. Thirty preachers were ordained at this Conference. Some of this number were local preachers residing in Canada. The state of the work il' 1820 was 2 districts, 17 circuits, 28 preachers, 47 local preachers, 65 exhorters, and 5557 members.

In the same year a settlement was effected between the General Conference and the English Conference, by which it was agreed that the Methodist Episcopal Church should withdraw its ministers from Lower Canada, and give up that province, with all its Church property therein, to the management of the English Conference; and that the English Conference should in like manner withdraw its missionaries from Upper Canada, and give up that province, with all its Church property therein, to the Methodist Episcopal Church (comp. History of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Canada, p.127-154). The rival interest having been withdrawn from Upper Canada-with the exception of Kingston, where the English Conference continued to keep one of its missionaries-the societies of the Methodist Episcopal Church, once more in the enjoyment of peace, soon recovered from the effects of the recent agitations, and were greatly prospered in spiritual things. - So rapidly had the work extended, that in 1824 the General Conference held in Baltimore consented to the establishment of an Annual Conference for Canada.

The Canada Conference was organized at Hallowell, Upper Canada, August 25, 1824. Bishops George and Hading were present, and presided in turn. The preacher-, numbered, including the two bishops- and those on trial, thirty-three persons. This was a small number compared with the numbers who met at Elizabethtown in 1817, or at Lundy's Lane in 1820. For four years longer the bishops event into Canada and presided at the sessions of the Canada Conference, appointing the preachers to the several charges, both preachers and societies cheerfully accepting such appointments. The work continued to extend and prosper, and Methodism was fast becoming a power in the land. But the good it was accomplishing among the people, instead of removing the prejudices of its opponents, only tended to infuse fear of its great and growing influence among the advocates of a State Church. Among the Methodists, also, there were some who advocated the independent establishment of the Canadian Methodist Episcopal Church, on the ground that it would secure to the Canadian Methodists greater civil and religious liberty. Prominent among these was the Revelation H. Ryan, who had been agitating for a separation of the societies in Canada from the parent Church in the United States since 1820. The scheme was presented to the people on national and patriotic grounds, and the General Conference was memorialized on the subject, and at its session held at Pittsburgh, May, 1828, the request was granted. Accordingly, the Canadian Methodists were on October 2, 1828, organized into the Methodist Episcopal Church of Canada. In 1828 there were 3 districts, 48 travelling preachers, 7 superannuated preachers, and 32 circuits, with a membership of 9678. The increase for the year was 1033.

From 1828 until 1832 the infant Church in Canada had unprecedented success, considering the opposition it met with from the Rev. H. Ryan and his followers, who separated themselves from the connection in 1829, and organized another body. The provisional government was quite as hostile to the Methodist Episcopal Church in Canada after 1828 as it had been before its separation from the parent body. Parliament vindicated the rights of the preachers and Church, but the executive was not only confederated with the Church and State party in the country to cripple the energies of the original Methodists of the province, but was intriguing with the English Wesleyan Missionary Committee to induce that body-in violation of the settlement of 1820-to send their agents again into the country to form rival societies, large sums of money from the, public revenue being promised if these missionaries would come. The scheme of the executive was successful, and Dr. Alder was sent out by the Missionary- Committee to commence operations in Upper Canada in 1832. It was to avoid a collision with these agents of the English Conference, and also in evident anticipation of large financial supplies, that the great majority of the preachers consented to revolutionize the newly-organized Methodist Episcopal Church in Canada, and to become a mere dependency of the English Conference.

This unconstitutional movement was resisted by some of the preachers, and by hundreds of the members. Despite remonstrance, however, the Canada Conference consummated its union with the English body, taking with it most of the Church property, nearly all the preachers, and the principal part of the membership. Some of the former, and hundreds of the latter, disapproving of the proceedings of the Conference, yet submitted from- hopelessness of successful resistance. A respectable minority protested against the action of the Conference, maintaining that the discipline of the Church did not vest in the Conference the powers assumed by it in that action, and that therefore the action was null and void. They also maintained that if the General Conference had possessed the powers it claimed, its action was nevertheless null and void, because persons were allowed to take part in its proceedings who, according to the discipline of the Church, were not members of the General Conference. The protestants further claimed that, having joined an Episcopal Church, they could not without their own consent be made members of a non-Episcopal Church; neither could they, without fault of their own, be deprived of their membership in the Church they had joined; that they therefore were still members of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Canada, and that said Church remained in its constitution and government intact-the action of the Conference amounting to nothing more than the withdrawal of the Conference and those who followed it from the Church.

Those preachers, travelling and local, who continued to adhere to the Methodist Episcopal Church, therefore exerted themselves to collect together the scattered remnants remaining faithful to the old Church. The win of 1833-34 was spent in this particular work no easy task, because of the extent of country which had to be traversed; but the few preachers who adhered to the original Church organization were indefatigable in their efforts to rebuild the broken-down walls of their beloved Zion. The Conference assembled at Yonge Street in June, 1834, when it was ascertained that only fourteen preachers could be calculated upon who were prepared to take work the ensuing year; with a membership of 1100-a decrease during eight months of 13,899. These statistics, however, did not represent the true status of the Church, for many more of the people returned to the old fold as soon as they found that there was sufficient vitality left in it to reconstruct and carry on the work of Godin the land. Ten years after the disruption of 1833, viz. in 1843, there were seventy effective ministers and preachers supplying circuits and stations in Upper Canada, besides superannuated and supernumerary preachers, and a goodly staff of local preachers, who were doing efficient service in the Master's vineyard. The membership had increased to 8880, and there had been a corresponding increase of Church property. It will be remembered that at the union in 1833 the Church had lost almost all its connectional property, and this made the subsequent increase the more marked. In January, 1845, the Canada Christian Advocate, a weekly paper, was established to supply the place in Church literature formerly occupied by the Christian Guardian. This medium of communication drew the societies and preachers more closely together, and enabled all better to understand the true position of the Church, and the work accomplished through its agency. It is still the weekly official paper.

The connection has now a book-room and publishinghouse, located in the thriving and beautiful city of Hamilton, at the head of Lake Ontario. The class of publications and papers sent out from it very greatly benefits the Church, and assists in advancing the cause of Christ through the country generally.

There are two colleges under the direction and control of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Canada, viz. Albert College, vested with university powers, and Alexandra College, for the education of young ladies. These educational establishments are located in Belleville, in a healthy situation, surrounded by pleasing scenery, and in full view of the pure and placid waters of the Bay of Quinte, about fifty miles west from Kingston. Under the able management of the president, Revelation A. Carman, MA., these institutions are prospering and are exerting an influence for good in the country.

The Methodist Episcopal Church in Canada is composed of three Annual Conferences, with a delegated General Conference which meets every fourth year, and has the same legislative powers as the parent body in the United States. The present position of the Church, therefore, is: One General Conference, three Annual Conferences-Niagara, Ontario, and Bay of Quinte ten extensive districts, 145 circuits and stations, 228 travelling preachers, 225 local preachers, 21,818 members, with Church property amounting to $2,149,776. Great attention is given to the Sabbath-school work. As nearly as can be estimated, from reports at hand, there are not far from 30,000 children in the Sunday-schools.

The polity of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Canada is like that of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States: the bishop taking the general oversight of the connection, presiding at the Conferences, and proceeding in almost every respect in a similar manner to that of the bishops of the parent body. The late incumbent of the bishopric, the Revelation J. Richardson, D.D., Yorkville, Ontario, died in 1874. See Webster, Hist. M. Epis. Ch., Canada; Meth. Qu. Revelation 1863, Jan. p. 169 sq.; 1863, Apr. p. 204; 1868, Apr. p.,264; 1871, Jan. p. 173. (T. W.)

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Methodist Episcopal Church in Canada'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/m/methodist-episcopal-church-in-canada.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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