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Moravians and Methodists
Mary Jane Brothers Smith
Two days after attending the May meeting of the board of directors of the Wachovia Historical Society, Mary Jane was stricken with an acute illness that led to her death June 1, 2002. Her like will not come to us again. For those who knew her, little need be said of her devotion to Old Salem and to Moravian history. For all of us, Mary Giunca’s column in the June 13, 2002, issue of the Winston-Salem Journal, Devoted: She loved all things Moravian, is a remarkable tribute that captured her devotion, knowledge, and enthusiasm so well that more words would be superfluous. As Giunca emphasized, Mary Jane was as good a Methodist as she was an expert on the Brethren. The following article about Moravians and Methodists that was written several years ago has been on our web site for some time.
The Wachovia Historical Society has elected to honor her by dedicating this story of Methodists and Moravians to her memory.
In the Beginning: England, Oxford, and Georgia
The historical connection between Moravians and Methodists may lie in the question, “What is your blood pressure?” An important early human bridge between the two denominations was Reverend Stephen Hales, an Anglican priest in Cambridge who in 1707 was the first person to measure blood pressure in mammals. Later he became deeply involved with General James Oglethorpe in establishing the colony of Georgia as a refuge for English debtors because his brother, Robert, a goldsmith, has died in debtor’s prison in London. The priest and the soldier were friends and trustees of two organizations we today call charitable foundations. When Oglethorpe was named to chair a committee about debtors, he chose Hales as a member. The colony of Georgia, founded in 1733, resulted.
Hales recommended his young friends, John Wesley, as priest for the new colony, and John’s brother, Charles, to be Oglethorpe’s secretary, posts they gladly accepted. Central European Protestants, sorely pressed by the Catholic Counter Reformation, were then seeking haven in the New World. Moravians and Austrian Lutheran Salzburgers, though not debtors, received grants of land in coastal Georgia and the first Moravians, led by August Gottlieb Spangenberg, landed at Savannah on April 5, 1735 after two months at sea. A second contingent, led by David Nitschman, left on the Symonds from Gravesend in England on October 10 with about 200 on board, among them the Wesleys who soon became friendly with the Moravians. Hales watched from the pier as the ship set sail, his part in our tale nearly done.
The Wesleys and the Moravians began to teach each other their native tongues and John, spiritually a very troubled young man, found great comfort in this new relationship. At Savannah and Fort Frederica John continued conflicted, uncertain, and increasingly dependent emotionally on his Moravians colleagues. He was soon in romantic difficulty with Sophie Hopkie who had every reason to expect a proposal of marriage. But Wesley was never comfortable with women and on the advice of his friends accepted the casting of the ‘Lot’ which providentially came out ‘Nein.’ Sophie then married another and the frustrated John denied her communion. His behavior provoked a lawsuit that forced him to flee Georgia abruptly and return to London. The trustees learned that one of the plaintiffs in the suit had committed fraud and exonerated Wesley of wrong doing but not without critical judgment as recorded in the diary of another trustee who had stood at the pier with Hales.
His successor was George Whitefield who had been a member of Wesley’s worship group at Christ Church College, Oxford, called “The Holy Club” by many of their contemporaries. Because of their systematic approach to all aspects of their being, they also came to be called “Methodists” as they sought perfection in Christ. Whitefield was as headstrong and dogmatic as Wesley and they eventually parted ways because they couldn’t agree about doctrine. Whitefield then led the great 18th century religious awakening in the colonies introducing many of today’s evangelical techniques; a recent biographer has called him a Peddler of Divinity. His ventures included acquiring vast tracts of land in Georgia and Pennsylvania and hiring Benjamin Franklin to publish the many volumes of his profitable best selling sermons.
Wesley’s Search for Salvation. Zinzendorf and Spangenberg.
Back in England Wesley continued to pursue the salvation that his brother, Charles, had easily found. From 1737 into 1740 he maintained an affiliation with the Brethren in the Fetter Lane Society of Germans and Methodists and other interested Englishmen near Aldersgate in London. In October 1739 with fellow Holy Clubbers Benjamin Ingham and Charles Delamotte (who later became a Moravian) he visited Herrnhut and had several talks with Zinzendorf about worship, sin, and salvation just as he had had with Spangenberg in Georgia. Perhaps as a result Wesley translated a number of Zinzendorf’s 2000 hymns and included some of them in Methodist hymnals. Four of Wesley’s letters to Zinzendorf in Latin, their common tongue, are preserved in the Moravian Archives in Herrnhut.
On his return to England he and Whitefield, back from America as well, preached frequently in open English fields to as many as 14,000 people. In June 1740 he expressed his desire for union with the Brethren, as he had in Georgia, …united by the excellence of their doctrine [although there were points] I cannot [grasp] as yet. Earlier in 1738 he had been strangely warmed at a Fetter Lane meeting. Later he became upset with fellow members because some would …raise a church [and were] unwilling to be taught, except by Moravians. Wesley could not relinquish his Anglican heritage.
Finally in 1741 he left the Fetter Lane group and established his own Foundry Society, the first doctrinal Methodists. He would make one last effort to resolve his differences with Zinzendorf, particularly about how sin was taken away and how temptation was to be avoided after salvation had been gained. But the gap between them could not be narrowed. Adelaide Fries in her Moravians in Georgia seems to have captured the very essence of Wesley’s behavior.
Both Wesley and the Unitas Fratrum fell out with Whitefield who demanded that they adhere utterly to his Calvinistic theology of predestination and in 1753 Whitefield would direct a vigorous personal polemic against Zinzendorf. Earlier the Brethren had clashed with him at Nazareth in Pennsylvania where they had started a settlement on his property. In a fit of pique he had ordered them off the tract only to sell it to them shortly thereafter. The Whitefield House there is now the seat of the Moravian Historical Society.
Francis Asbury and Methodism in America.
The Moravian Church does not countenance proselytizing among Christians, possibly a source of discard with Wesley whose progeny have increased so strikingly. Each group suffered from conflicts between their European leaders and colonials who faced geographical and political conditions unimaginable in the Old World. Spangenberg on returning to Germany was able to resolve some of the differences of the Brethren but Wesley insisted that his followers in the colonies and then in the United States play the game only by his rules.
The Methodist Church of today is the creature not of John Wesley, the incendiary Anglican, incendiary as one who lit religious fires among his listeners, but of Francis Asbury, tireless rider of horses in all seasons. Wesley was of the elite, graduate of Oxford, son of a minister, stiff-necked, dauntingly versatile, authority on everything, fanatic of genius, arch Tory; while Asbury was of the people, son of a farmer, apprentice, and Whig. After his sister, Sarah, died in infancy, he became the focus of his mother’s attentions and began to read their Bible when seven or eight years old. But both men shared traits critical to their success in founding the church Wesley never joined: incredible energy and endurance and unremitting devotion to their cause.
More than forty years younger than Wesley, Asbury found “salvation” at 14 and in 1771 at 26 responded to a Methodist call from the colonies for religious help and began his permanent itinerancy. Then came the Revolutionary War. Wesley because of his rabid Toryism exposed his colonial followers to great abuse and physical danger. So Asbury after finding sanctuary for a year in Delaware swore allegiance to the state of Maryland and resumed work in Virginia in 1778 and in the next year began his mission in North Carolina. After the Revolution, unwilling to be controlled from London, his church separated from their English colleagues at the Lovely Lane conference in Baltimore in 1784. There the Methodist Episcopal Church organized itself, established its discipline, and elected Asbury its first bishop. As Bishop Asbury took the new nation as his charge, riding, visiting, preaching, and holding conferences until his death in March 1826 north of Richmond.
Asbury in Forsyth (Stokes) County
Between February 1783 and February 1808 he was in Forsyth [then Stokes] county ten times and according his Journals in Salem at least five times. He was indeed an itinerant for all seasons, visiting in February 1783, May 1788, June 1790, April 1791, and October 1799. Three brief entries: 2/17/83 …we passed through Salem, a Moravian town, well built after the German manner… 5/20/88 …we proceeded to the neat and well-improved town of Salem. 10/9/99 We rode through Salem; there they had built a very grand Church. He held four annual conferences at George McKnight’s chapel, near Clemmons, just inside today’s Tanglewood Park, and preached at Love’s church in Walkertown and Daub’s chapel, the oldest Methodist church in Forsyth county.
George McKnight deserves more attention if only because of the inscription on his first tombstone in the Sharon Methodist Church cemetery on Shallowford Road. It read, The memory of George McKnight Senu borned July 8, 1765. Departeed this life March 22, 1847 He lived 81 years 8 mont and 14 days In his youth he joind the Methad then maryed got sotfkt joind the Morafens then moved to Stoks had preaching in oan house. This marker deteriorated through the years and was replaced in 1960. The first inscription testifies to the advice attributed to Andrew Jackson that a man who could spell a word only one way was not to be trusted. Most of his children remained Methodists and attended Mt. Pleasant Methodist Church that still stands in Tanglewood Park.
The state of North Carolina has erected a historical marker, J 66, to commemorate McKnight’s chapel. For years it stood at the intersection of NC route 158 and Lasater road between Clemmons and the Yadkin River. When this study was being researched, I couldn’t find it and wrote the Cultural Resources people in Raleigh who reported that the original marker was lost when route 158 was widened and that its replacement was sent to Greensboro in error. It finally got to Forsyth and now stands on route 158 about 30 yards west of Meeting House Lane, the entrance to a residential development, Asbury Place, where the first street to left is McKnight’s Trace. The sign says the McKnight’s chapel was 400 yards NW of the marker. Now it is about a mile away. Raleigh then promised the new location would be indicated in next issue of listings of historical markers and that the distance would be corrected to one mile when the present sign wears out. But Raleigh has failed its promise. The latest listing of historical markers in North Carolina leaves the Asbury sign on Lasater Road.
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