On April 23, 1968, The United Methodist Church was created when Bishop Reuben H. Mueller, representing The Evangelical United Brethren Church, and Bishop Lloyd C. Wicke of The Methodist Church joined hands at the constituting General Conference in Dallas, Texas. With the words, “Lord of the Church, we are united in Thee, in Thy Church and now in The United Methodist Church,” the new denomination was given birth by two churches that had distinguished histories and influential ministries in various parts of the world.
Theological traditions steeped in the Protestant Reformation and Wesleyanism, similar ecclesiastical structures, and relationships that dated back almost two hundred years facilitated the union. In the Evangelical United Brethren heritage, for example, Philip William Otterbein, the principal founder of the United Brethren in Christ, assisted in the ordination of Francis Asbury to the superintendency of American Methodist work. Jacob Albright, through whose religious experience and leadership the Evangelical Association was begun, was nurtured in a Methodist class meeting following his conversion.
The conditions in New Brunswick which in the middle of the Nineteenth Century made possible a rapid increase in Methodists and the formation of two new Methodist Congregations did not continue in the Twentieth Century. By 1950 the Congregations of the three New Brunswick Churches together were about the same size as that of the parent Church a century earlier. In 1958 a survey of the New Brunswick Methodist Churches was conducted by the Division of National Missions of the Methodist Church. The results of this survey made available to the Congregations of the three churches, joined with the prospects of community changes in the decades ahead were factors which brought together in the Spring of 1960 representations of the three Congregations to discuss the formation of a single Methodist Church in the Community.
A committee was formed of six representatives from each congregation appointed by the official Boards of the three Churches. This Committee began meeting regularly in the fall of 1960 and after a number of meetings and considerable discussion agreed that a union of the three Methodist Congregations should provide:
(1) A strong new church centrally located in New Brunswick.
(2) A full church at worship and full classes at all age levels in the Church School.
(3) A strong youth program for both Junior and Senior high school students.
(4) An adequate ministerial, educational and clerical staff.
(5) Greater opportunity for effective Community Service including a more effective liaison with Methodist Students in the University.
The objectives were considered realistic and within the reach of a single united congregation. The work of the committee was approved by the official Boards of the churches and a resolution of Merger drawn by Kearney Y. Kuhltau was presented and approved May 24, 25 and 26, 1961 at the Quarterly Conferences of the Congregations and made binding on the Churches by Congregational vote of each church on June 8, 1961 and at a Special Quarterly Conference on June 11.
The organizational meeting of the new Church was held in the Pitman Methodist sanctuary on June 11 at which time the church officers were selected. During the Summer of 1961 the official name of the new Church was chosen to be “The Methodist Church at New Brunswick” and a Board of Trustees with equal representation from each of the former Congregations selected.
The history that follows was prepared by the members of the Anniversary Committee at the celebration of the union of First, Pitman, and St. James Methodist Churches in 1961. This was also a celebration of the sesquicentennial of Methodism in the City of New Brunswick. In the forward to the program booklet commemorating both events the Anniversary Committee wrote, “It is particularly appropriate that the year 1961, marking the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of organized Methodism in New Brunswick, should witness the formation of a new Methodist Congregation from the union of the three Methodist Churches in the City. This booklet commemorates our sesquicentennial, marks the charter of our new congregation and looks to our future.”
THE BEGINNING OF METHODISM IN NEW BRUNSWICK
The dates of the first Methodist activity in the New Brunswick area are obscure. When Bishop Francis Asbury visited in 1797 he found that a preacher from Elizabethtown (Elizabeth) had already begun work in New Brunswick. Asbury’s journal indicates that in 1798 he started a subscription for a House of Worship here and that he preached at the Court House on June 15, 1800 and again on May 20, 1802.
Asbury’s efforts and those of others must have been fruitful for we learn from old records that, “The Rev. Joseph Totten and the male members of the Methodist Episcopal Church of New Brunswick, N. J., did assemble at their usual place of meeting for public worship on the 27th day of May 1811, and did then and there by plurality of voices of the congregation present elect Jacob Snyder, James Williams, David Oliver, Michael Pool, Joel Conger, Henry Goose and John Vliet to be trustees of the same.” On July 18, 1811, this congregation chose “The Methodist Episcopal Church, Shiloh, New Brunswick,” as its corporate name which was changed December 3, 1912, to “The First Methodist Episcopal Church of New Brunswick.”
The first site of the Church was on Liberty Street on a lot purchased from the Trustees of Queens College (Now Rutgers, The State University) for $528. It was a brick structure, two stories high with a corner stone bearing the date A.D. 1811. It was located just below the present site of First Methodist where the Opera House subsequently stood. The brick Church was greatly damaged in the tornado of 1835 and the pastor, Rev. W. H. Bull so severely injured that he died. The Church was replaced with a wooden structure in 1836 on the same lot.
During the pastorate of Rev. A. V. Lawrence (1865-68) a lot was purchased at the corner of George and Liberty Streets for $7,700 from A. J. Buttler who owned a pottery there. In 1869-71 a Church foundation was laid on the new site and in 1876, when the State Legislature passed an act enabling the disposal of the old Church, it was sold to a Hebrew Congregation for $2,000 and the erection of the new Church begun. It was dedicated by Bishop Matthew Simpson in that year although not completed in its present form until 1896. The Chapel portion, now called the Education Building, was completed in 1885. During the twentieth century both Chapel and Sanctuary portions of the Church have undergone alterations and renovations.
In 1961 the membership of the Church was 625 and the budget $27,000. The Church has endowment funds amounting to $87,000.
United Methodist History
- The United Methodist Church shares a common history and heritage with other Methodist and Wesleyan bodies. The lives and ministries of John Wesley (1703–1791) and of his brother, Charles (1707–1788), mark the origin of their common roots.
- The Second Great Awakening was the dominant religious development among Protestants in America in the first half of the nineteenth century. Through revivals and camp meetings sinners were brought to an experience of conversion. Circuit riding preachers and lay pastors knit them into a connection.
- John Wesley was an ardent opponent of slavery. Many of the leaders of early American Methodism shared his hatred for this form of human bondage. As the nineteenth century progressed, it became apparent that tensions were deepening in Methodism over the slavery question.
- The Civil War dealt an especially harsh blow to The Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Its membership fell to two-thirds its pre-war strength. Many of its churches lay in ruins or were seriously damaged.
- In the years immediately prior to World War I, there was much sympathy in the churches for negotiation and arbitration as visible alternatives to international armed conflict. Many church members and clergy openly professed pacifism.
- Although Methodists, Evangelicals, and United Brethren each had published strong statements condemning war and advocating peaceful reconciliation among the nations, the strength of their positions was largely lost with American involvement in the hostilities of World War II.When The United Methodist Church was created in 1968, it had approximately 11 million members, making it one of the largest Protestant churches in the world.
From: The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church – 2004. Copyright 2004 by The United Methodist Publishing House.