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This article is about the former denomination. For individual churches of the same name, see Methodist Episcopal Church, South (disambiguation)

The Methodist Episcopal Church, South, or Methodist Episcopal Church South, was the so-called "Southern Methodist Church" resulting from the split over the issue of slavery in the Methodist Episcopal Church which had been brewing over several years until it came out into the open at a conference held in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1844. This body maintained its own polity until it reunited with the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Protestant Church to form the The Methodist Church in 1939, which in turn later (1968) merged with the Evangelical United Brethren Church to form The United Methodist Church. Some more theologically conservative MECS congregations dissenting from the merger formed the Southern Methodist Church in 1940.


History of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was appalled by American slavery. When the Methodist Episcopal Church (MEC) was founded in the United States in 1784, the denomination officially opposed slavery. In the early nineteenth century, the MEC stance on slavery was weakened by wealthy Southerners. Though clergy were still expected not to own slaves, conflict arose in 1840 when the Rev. James Osgood Andrew of Oxford, Georgia, a bishop, acquired a slave. Fearing that she would end up with an inhumane owner if sold, Andrew kept her but let her come and go. The 1840 MEC General Conference considered the matter, but did not expel Andrew. Four years later, Andrew married a woman who owned a slave inherited from her mother, making the bishop the owner of two slaves.

The 1844 General Conference voted to remove the bishop from his bishopric unless he freed his slaves. The decision raised questions (particularly among Southern delegates to the conference) about the authority of a General Conference to discipline bishops. Of course, the cultural differences that had divided the nation during the mid-19th century had also been dividing the Methodist Episcopal Church. The 1844 dispute led Methodists in the south to break off and form a separate denomination, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South (MEC-S).

The statistics for 1860 showed rapid growth. MEC-S enrolled 757,205 people including 537,136 whites, an increase of 37,442 over 1858; 207,776 negro members (nearly all slaves), an increase of 19,740; and 4160 Native American members, an increase of 286. In 1858 MEC-S operated 106 schools and colleges. The Civil War was devastating to farms, church buildings and institutions, but it was marked by a series of strong revivals that began in Lee's army and spread throughout the region. The chaplains tended the wounded after the battles. John B. McFerrin recalled:

At Chickamauga, the slaughter was tremendous on both sides, but the Confederates held the field. I remained on the battlefield eleven days, nursing the sick, ministering to the wounded, and praying for the dying. The sight was awful. Thousands of men killed and wounded. They lay thick all around, shot in every possible manner, and the wounded dying every day. Among the wounded were many Federal soldiers. To these I ministered, prayed with them, and wrote letters by flag of truce to their friends in the North.[1]

African Americans

After the American Civil War many African American Methodists in the South left the Methodist Episcopal Church, South and joined either the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, or the Methodist Episcopal Church. Out of 200,000 African American members in 1860 there in 1866 remained only 49,000, and most of them split off on friendly terms in 1870 to form the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church, now the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, taking with them $1.5 million in buildings and properties. The new denomination avoided the Radical Republican politics of the AME and AMEZ churches. It had over 3000 churches, over 1200 traveling preachers, 2500 local preachers, about 140,000 members, and 22 Annual Conferences, presided over by four bishops.

Growth in late 19th century

The MEC-S energetically tended its base and by 1880 counted 798,862 members (nearly all white), 1,066,377 in 1886. It expanded its missionary activity in Mexico. Although usually avoiding politics, MEC-S went on record in 1886 denouncing divorce and calling for Prohibition, stating:

The public has awakened to the necessity of both legal and moral suasion to control the great evils stimulated and fostered by the liquor traffic. We recognize in the license system a sin against society. Its essential immorality cannot be affected by the question whether the license be high or low. The effectual prohibition of the manufacture, sale, and use of intoxicating liquors would be emancipation from the greatest curse that now afflicts our race. The total removal of the cause of intemperance is the only remedy. This is the greatest moral question now before our people....Resolved, That the time has now come when the church, through its press and pulpit, its individual and organized agencies, should speak out in strong language and stronger action in favor of the total removal of this great evil.[2]
1850 Census map shows very widespread and uniform distribution

The Methodists modernized after 1844. Ambitious young preachers from humble, rural backgrounds attended college, moved to town, and built larger churches that paid decent salaries and gave the social prestige of a highly visible community leadership position. These ministers turned the pulpit into a profession, thus emulating the Presbyterians and Episcopalians. They created increasingly complex denominational bureaucracies to meet a series of pressing needs: defending slavery, evangelizing soldiers during the Civil War, promoting temperance reform, contributing to foreign missions (see American Southern Methodist Episcopal Mission), and supporting local colleges. The new urban middle class ministry increasingly left their country cousins far behind. As the historian of the transformation explains, "Denomination building—that is, the bureaucratization of religion in the late antebellum South—was an inherently innovative and forward-looking task. It was, in a word, modern."[3]

The returns for 1892 showed:[4]

  • Traveling preachers: 5,368
  • Local preachers: 6,481
  • White members: 1,282,750
  • Colored members: 357
  • Indian members: 10,759
    • TOTAL: 1,305,715
  • Sunday-schools: 13,426
  • SS teachers: 95,204
  • SS students: 754,223
  • Churches: 12,856
  • Value: $20,287,112

The hardscrabble condition of the church is shown by the statistics of academies. Nearly all had been closed by the war. There were 179 schools and colleges open in 1892, but they had only 892 teachers and 16,600 students. The church in 1881 opened Holding Institute, which operated as a boarding school for nearly a century in Laredo, Texas, having instructed numerous pupils from Mexico during its years of operation.[5]

The colleges were in scarcely better condition, though philanthropy was about to dramatically change that. Most were primarily high-school level academies with a few collegiate courses. The dramatic exception was Vanderbilt University, at Nashville, with a million dollar campus and an endowment of $900,000, thanks to the Vanderbilt family. Much smaller and poorer were Randolph-Macon College in Virginia, with its two affiliated fitting-schools and Woman's College; Emory College, in Atlanta (with Candler money far in the future); Emory & Henry, in Southwest Virginia; Wofford, with its two fitting-schools, in South Carolina; Trinity, in North Carolina—soon to be endowed by the Duke family and change its name; Central, in Missouri; Southern, in Alabama; Southwestern, in Texas; Wesleyan, in Kentucky; Millsaps, in Mississippi; Centenary, in Louisiana; Hendrix, in Arkansas; and Pacific, in California. The growing need for a theology school west of the Mississippi was not addressed until the founding of Southern Methodist University in 1911. The denomination also supported several women's colleges, although they were more like finishing schools or academies until the twentieth century, when they began to meet the standards of new accrediting agencies, such as the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The oldest Methodist woman's college is Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia; other Methodist colleges that were formerly women's institutions are Lagrange College and Andrew College in Georgia, Columbia College in Columbia, South Carolina, and Greensboro College in Greensboro, North Carolina.

While the two other major Methodist denominations in America—the MEC and the Methodist Protestant Church—had agreed to ordain women either as local elders and deacons (the MEC) or full clergy (the Methodist Protestant Church), the MEC, South did not ordain women as pastors at the time of the 1939 merger that formed The Methodist Church.

Legacy of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South

The Methodist Episcopal Church, South is most remembered for its reluctance to oppose slavery and its lack of hospitality toward African Americans. However, the church was responsible for founding four of the South's top divinity schools: Vanderbilt Divinity School, Duke University Divinity School, Candler School of Theology at Emory University and Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. Vanderbilt severed its ties with the denomination in the early 1900s. Duke, Candler, and Perkins maintain a relationship with The United Methodist Church. All four enroll students primarily from mainline Protestant denominations, and all four have a reputation for being progressive.

The denomination's publishing house, opened in 1854 in Nashville, Tennessee, would eventually become home to The United Methodist Publishing House.


  1. ^ Alexander pp 71-72
  2. ^ Alexander p 110
  3. ^ Schweiger p. 85
  4. ^ Alexander p 133
  5. ^ "John H. McNeely, "Holding Institute"". The Handbook of Texas. Retrieved September 30, 2009.  


  • Alexander; Gross. A History of the Methodist Church, South in the United States 1907
  • Bailey Kenneth K. "The Post Civil War Racial Separations in Southern Protestantism: Another Look." Church History 46 ( December 1977): 453-73.
  • Bailey, Kenneth K., Southern White Protestantism in the Twentieth Century 1964.
  • Bode, Frederick A., Protestantism and the New South: North Carolina Baptists and Methodists in Political Crisis. University Press of Virginia, 1975.
  • Boles, John B., The Great Revival, 1787-1805: The Origins of the Southern Evangelical Mind University of Kentucky Press, 1972.
  • Farish, Hunter D., The Circuit Rider Dismounts: A Social History of Southern Methodism, 1865-1900 1938
  • Hatch, Nathan O., The Democratization of American Christianity Yale University Press, 1989.
  • Heyrman, Christine Leigh. Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.
  • Hildebrand; Reginald F. The Times Were Strange and Stirring: Methodist Preachers and the Crisis of Emancipation Duke University Press, 1995
  • Loveland, Anne C., Southern Evangelicals and the Social Order, 1800-1860 Louisiana State University Press, 1980
  • Lyerly, Cynthia Lynn. Methodism and the Southern Mind, 1770-1810 (1998)
  • Mathews, Donald, Slavery and Methodism: A Chapter in American Morality, 1780-1845 Princeton University Press, 1965.
  • Mathews, Donald. Religion in the Old South University of Chicago Press, 1977.
  • McDowell, Patrick, The Social Gospel in the South: The Woman's Home Mission Movement in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, 1886-1939. Louisiana State University Press, 1982
  • Morrow; Ralph E. Northern Methodism and Reconstruction 1956
  • Owen, Christopher H. The Sacred Flame of Love: Methodism and Society in Nineteenth-Century Georgia University of Georgia Press, 1998.
  • Raboteau, Albert J. Slave Religion: The "Invisible Institution" in the Antebellum South Oxford University Press, 1978.
  • Richey, Russell. Early American Methodism Indiana University Press, 1991.
  • Schweiger; Beth Barton. The Gospel Working up: Progress and the Pulpit in Nineteenth Century Virginia Oxford UP, 2000
  • Snay, Mitchell. Gospel of Disunion: Religion and Separatism in the Antebellum South Cambridge University Press, 1993.
  • Sparks, Randy J. On Jordan's Stormy Banks: Evangelicalism in Mississippi, 1773-1876 University of Georgia Press, 1994.
  • Stowell, Daniel W. Rebuilding Zion: The Religious Reconstruction of the South, 1863-1877 Oxford University Press, 1998.
  • Stroupe, Henry Smith. The Religious Press in the South Atlantic States, 1802-1865 Duke University Press, 1956.
  • Sweet, William Warren. Virginia Methodism: A History 1955.
  • Westerfield Tucker; Karen B. American Methodist Worship Oxford University Press. 2000.
  • Wigger, John H. Taking Heaven by Storm: Methodism and the Rise of Popular Christianity in America . Oxford University Press, 1998.


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