For many of us Christmas morning means lounging in our pajamas, eating delicious food and slowly opening gifts. For those who started the Methodist church in America, their Christmas Eve in 1784 was the first of ten days of serious church business. In the end, their gift to us was the formation of a new denomination that would change history.
The decision to meet
When Thomas Coke bumped into Francis Asbury after a worship service at Barratt’s Chapel in Frederica, Delaware, he shared important news. John Wesley had sent him to ordain Asbury and appoint him superintendent of a new, Methodist church in the United States.
This had been a long time in coming. Church of England priests serving in America returned to England during the American Revolutionary War, leaving no one to administer the sacraments to the Methodists. Lay preachers kept the societies going with meetings and love feasts, but they needed ordained clergy.
When the Church of England continued to refuse Wesley’s requests to ordain some of his Methodist preachers and send them across the Atlantic, he took matters into his own hands. Wesley ordained two Methodist lay preachers to serve in the U.S., and appointed Coke a general superintendent.
After worship at Barratt’s Chapel on that November Sunday, Asbury and Coke decided to call a special conference for all the Methodist preachers in the United States. They would meet at Lovely Lane Chapel beginning December 24, 1784, to found and organize a new church. The 10 days they spent together would later become known as the Christmas Conference.