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Biographical Essay

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Biographical Essay
John Wesley
Bishop Richard Allen

by

David Walter

History of Christianity
Course TH 605. NA
Dr. Louis DeCaro
November 7, 2012

Church history is intertwined with many historical dates, events, and personalities. Two extraordinary influential personalities that shaped the landscape of early church history are John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Episcopal Church and Bishop Richard Allen, founder of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. The organizational skills and leadership of John Wesley and Richard Allen is the foundation for the permanence of the Methodist denomination.
John Wesley was an Anglican minister and Christian theologian. Wesley is recognized as the founding father of the Methodist faith. His conversion to Methodism occurred while attending an outdoor evangelism service conducted by George Whitfield. Wesley, an 18th Century preacher, held to Arminianism which was the prevailing faith of the Church of England. Wesley persuaded others to experience a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The traditions of Wesley, known as Wesleyanism, gave beginnings to many powerful church movements: Methodist, Holiness, Pentecostalism, Charismatic, and Neo-charismatic. Wesley stressing evangelism purified Arminianism and the doctrine of justified by faith was reformed. John Wesley was born June 28, 1703 in Epworth, Linconshire, England. He was the fifteenth child of Samuel and Susanna Wesley. As the custom of that day, his parents provided their children with an early education. John and his siblings could read by the time they were able to walk. By age 11, Wesley attended Charterhouse School: Where he lived a meticulous, systematic, religionist lifestyle. In the early to middle 1720’s Wesley advanced his education when he attended Christ Church College in Oxford, England. In 1725, Wesley was ordained a deacon. The following year, he was elected fellow of Lincoln College. He earned a Master’s degree in 1727 and spent two years as a curate for his father and then returned to Oxford to complete his responsibilities as fellow. After returning to Oxford, John learned that his brother, Charles Wesley, established a group comprised of fellow students including George Whitfield, who would later become well known in the Methodist faith. The group was named the Holy Club. These were young men who were attracted to spiritual growth. The Holy Club met weekly and they systematically set about living a holy life. They were branded as “Methodist” by students at Oxford who derided the methodical way they ordered their lives.1 John soon moved to a leadership role with the group. In 1735, John and Charles were on a voyage to the colonies of America and this is where the Wesley’s first were connected with Moravian settlers. Wesley was persuaded by the depth of their faith and spirituality deep-seated in pietism. During the voyage high gale winds arose and severed the mast off the ship. While the English were unnerved, the Moravians serenely sang hymns and prayed. This encounter guided Wesley in a belief that the Moravians possessed an inner strength in which he was deficient.2 The intensely personal faith that the Moravian pietists practiced profoundly prejudiced Wesley's theology of Methodism.2 After a series of events that caused Wesley to feel despondent and downtrodden, he returned to England. His liberation from this opposition came through a young Moravian missionary named Peter Boehler: who was for the short term in England pending authorization to set out for Georgia. In May of 1738, Wesley had his now famous "Aldersgate experience.” Attending a Moravian assembly in Aldersgate Street, London, Wesley listened to a reading of Martin Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans, and wrote his renowned saying, "I felt my heart strangely warmed.”3,4 This reformed the moral fiber and method of his ministry.5 Several weeks after this experience, Wesley delivered a message on the teaching of personal salvation by faith and God’s Grace is “free in all, and free for all.”6 Beginning in 1739, a strong persecution arose against Wesley and the Methodists. Wesley scorned many of the practices of the Church of England, especially concerning parish margins and who had authorization to preach. Wesley’s actions caused dissention between him and the church. He was charged as a disseminator of false teachings, inciting religious disorder, blind militant, heretic, etc. Wesley felt that the church had become corrupt and were failing the many souls that needed to come to Christ and repent of their sins. Unable to convince the church to change and unable to reach lost souls from the pulpit, Wesley follows the pattern set by George Whitfield and begins preaching outside the walls of the church. After realizing, that he along with the few clergy that were assisting him, could not meet the demand of reaching the lost souls, Wesley began to approve lay preachers. These were men who were not ordained by the Anglican Church: Wesley would evaluate and approve them for preaching and pastoral work. Methodism experienced tremendous growth from the development of lay pastors. In 1744, the Methodist movement increased in number. The number of Methodist preachers also increased. Wesley establishes the first Methodist conference and is officially appointed as president of the Methodist conference. Wesley employs helpers to “definitive circuits” or assigned areas. Through this process, Wesley institutes the “itinerancy” preachers. The process included a minimum of thirty preaching appointments per month. Each preacher and congregation was required to submit to the “itinerancy” practice. The separation between Wesley and the Church of England broadened. Several of Wesley’s preachers implored him to sever all ties with the Church but Wesley rejected leaving. He felt that “Anglicanism was with all her blemishes, […] nearer the Scriptural plans than any other in Europe.”7 By 1784 the Church of England had lost its effect in the United States. Wesley could not wait any further for the Bishop of London to ordain a preacher for Methodism in America. And since the Church of England did not appoint an American bishop, Wesley ordained Thomas Coke, Richard Whatcoat, Thomas Vasey, and Francis Asbury (whom Coke ordained) to lead in the newly formed Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States. Near the end of Wesley’s career, he was a strong advocate against slavery. He stood against the slave trade and distributed anti-slavery circulars. One article he wrote against the slave trade was entitled, Thoughts Upon Slavery, (1774). Wesley professed: "Liberty is the right of every human creature, as soon as he breathes the vital air; and no human law can deprive him of that right which he derives from the law of nature”8 Wesley was associated with noted Britain slave abolitionists, John Newton and William Wiberforce. Wesley was an outstanding figure when it came to his faith. His personal conviction was the nucleus of the Christian faith bared out in God’s word. Wesley believed, also, that the Bible was the exclusive underpinning source of theological or doctrinal training.
John Wesley's significance as a biblical scholar and educator endures. He remains the prime theological commentator for Methodists all over the world; the largest bodies being the United Methodist Church, the Methodist Church of Great Britain and the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Wesleyan tradition also serve as the starting point for the holiness movement, which includes denominations like the Wesleyan Church, the Free Methodist Church, the Church of the Nazarene, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, and many other small groups, and from which Pentecostalism and portions of the charismatic movement are offshoots. Wesley's call to individual and collective sanctity continues to instigate Christians who attempt to differentiate what it means to involve yourself in the Kingdom of God. The early church was also highly influenced by Bishop Richard Allen. Richard Allen was a black religious leader, educator, and author, and the organizer of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, which was the first private Christian denomination headed by blacks in the United States. He commenced the first AME Church in the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1794. He was installed as the first ordained bishop in the AME Church in 1816. Among the many independent black congregations, the AME church is the oldest denomination. Allen, who was born a slave, earned a living to purchase his independence from his slave owner. He was a long time member of St George’s Methodist Church. Due to segregation practices by the Methodist Church, Allen departed and established his own organization. He was the co-founder of the Free African Society (FAS) along with Absalom Jones. The organization aided blacks specifically widows and children. Richard Allen is one of the most brilliant and leading men in church history.
Richard Allen was born on February 14, 1760 to his slave owner Benjamin Chew. Chew was an affluent businessman and lawyer in the city of Philadelphia, Pa. Allen, his siblings, and his parents were later sold to a Delaware plantation owner named Stokley Sturgis. When Sturgis fell on economic hard times, he separated Allen’s family by selling them to different plantation owners. Allen’s mother and three siblings were sold to one owner and Allen and two other siblings were sold to another. Soon, Allen started attending meetings at a nearby Methodist assembly. Slaves and blacks that were free were allowed to attend the meetings and eventually Allen was converted to the Methodist faith. Sturgis, who also converted to Methodism, invited an itinerant preacher named Freeborn Garrettson to his plantation. Garrison was a former slave owner and persuaded other slave owners to liberate their people. When Garrettson visited the Sturgis plantation to preach, "Allen's master was touched by this declaration... began to give consideration to the thought that holding slaves was sinful..."1 Sturgis was swayed that slavery was immoral, made way for his slaves to purchase their right to be free. Allen committed to additional labor to earn enough money to purchase his freedom. He worked nights and at off-hours cutting cord wood and doing odd jobs. Allen paid Sturgis $2000 for his freedom.2 In later years, Allen settled in the city of Philadelphia. There he met and married his first wife, Flora. In March of 1801, Flora died due to the consequences of a long-term illness. Soon after, while on a preaching tour, Allen met his soon to be wife, Sarah Bass. Within a year’s time they were married. The Allen’s had six children. Sarah and the children enthusiastically aided Allen in the church. Allen began his ministry in Baltimore, Maryland. The Methodist church ordained him as a preacher. He was only able to conduct services at very early morning hours. Customarily blacks attended the 5 am services. When he moved to Philadelphia, he joined and was able to preach at the St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church. Allen still, however, was limited to early morning services. As attendance grew with new black congregants, Allen was regulated to a detached area for worship. Allen and fellow Methodist minister, Absalom Jones, took exception to White church congregants separating the Blacks for worship and prayer. They decide to set out from St. George’s Church and construct an independent worship structure for blacks. At first, both, the white and black communities opposed the endeavor. Allen and Jones, notwithstanding, guided Blacks out of St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church and formulate the Free African Society (FAS). The FAS organization helped escaped slaves and asylum seekers into a new city. The FAS constituents decided to partner with the Episcopal Church considering many Blacks were formerly Anglicans. Allen, however, remained committed to his Methodist faith. Allen shared: “I informed them that I could not be anything else but a Methodist, as I was born and awakened under them.”3 Allen organized a local church and after repeated conflicts with the white hierarchy of his denomination eventually led to its separation from the white church and the birth of a new denomination-the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church.4 In 1816, African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church became the first fully independent Black denomination in the United States. On April 10, 1816, Allen was elected its first bishop. The African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church is the oldest and largest formal institution in black America.5 Bishop Richard Allen passed away at his home on Saturday, March 26, 1831. It is said that he was sitting at his front window in a rocking chair. His remains, along with those of his wife Sarah, are entombed at Mother Bethel Church Philadelphia, Pa to this day.6 He was “widely revered as, in the words of abolitionist David Walker, one of "the greatest divines who has lived since the apostolic age."7

Comparison of Historical Figures
John Wesley and Richard Allen were born in two distinct times in church history. They served two different populations of people. Yet they had many comparable features. I will examine Wesley and Allen as denominational founders, anti-slavery activists, literary writers, and advocates for education.
John Wesley and Richard Allen are founding pastors in the Methodist Episcopal Church. Each experienced conflict in the church before they launched out and started their own branch of the Methodist Church. Wesley was engaged with numerous challenges with the Church of England. He felt that it was corrupt in its functioning and Wesley believed the church had lost its desire for the repentant soul. This conflict motivated Wesley to organize the Methodist Episcopal Church. Allen was also having challenges with the church. Allen was an ordained minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church but after experiencing racist practices—restricted to preaching only during the early morning hours, blacks could only sit in the balcony during the worship services, or receiving Holy Communion after white worshipers—Allen and many other blacks left the Methodist Episcopal Church. Allen then founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church. African-Americans were now able to worship God freely and independently.
Wesley and Allen were strong anti-slavery advocates. Wesley directed many of his Methodist church leaders to become connected to the social and economic challenges of their day. This included spearheading prison reform and becoming actively involved in the abolitionism movement. In Wesley’s later years, as slavery and racist practices was an unremitting problem in the church and in society. He publicly spoke out against the slave trades. He wrote and printed leaflets that were provided to slaves and slave owners. Wesley partnered with known slave abolitionists to help the plight of blacks. Allen, on the other hand, experienced slavery and racism first hand. Allen was born into slavery. He would spend his entire life fighting against its vile effects on blacks and society at large. At a young age he worked hard until he was able to earn enough money to buy his own freedom. Allen and his wife Sarah provided underground protection for slaves who had become fugitives. Allen’s church, Mother Bethel Church, also provided aid to slaves. The Pennsylvania Abolitionist Society petitioned Allen to house over 30 Jamaican runaway slaves. Not only did he provide for their safety, but also he trained and integrated them into the black community.
John Wesley and Richard Allen possessed outstanding literary skills. Wesley was a sage and a scholar and his communications came from his writings. He wrote sermons by the thousands. His sermons were doctrinal in nature. He educated thousands with notes on the New Testament. He has hundreds of volumes of collected works. His adaptation on the Book of Common Prayer is used by American Methodists. Wesley published a magazine entitled, The Arminian Magazine. Wesley’s purpose for the magazine was to preserve Methodists. Allen was one of the first black contributing correspondents for a newspaper. He wrote hundreds of articles for the first Black newspaper called Freedom’s Journal. Allen was a prolific sermon writer. His messages prophetically confronted the social and economic issues of his day. He often addressed those who would keep slaves and approve the practice.
John Wesley and Richard Allen were both passionate educators. Wesley founded the Kingswood School. He wanted to educate the children of Methodist preachers. Wesleyan University in Connecticut was opened as a Methodist college and named after Wesley. Over 20 schools throughout the US bear the name John Wesley. Allen also was concern about education for blacks. He opened up schools in the early 1900’s and founded the "Society of Free People of Colour for Promoting the Instruction and School Education of Children of African Descent." By the early 1900’s, there were nearly dozens of schools Allen opened for black children. There are hundreds of Allen’s schools still open today.

Contrast of Historical Figures
John Wesley and Richard Allen were two exceptional contributors to the Methodist faith. Although they were both founders of a denomination, ministers, theologians, educators, and scholars, their personal lives were immensely different from one another.
Wesley was born a free man in Epworth, England. Allen, on the other hand, was born a slave in Philadelphia, PA and had to purchase his freedom. Wesley lived an affluent lifestyle with his parents providing for him. Allen worked small odd jobs to sustain himself. Wesley received the best possible education that was afforded to him. As a youth, he was sent to study at a prestigious charter school in London. In his 20’s, Wesley attended Christ Church College in Oxford, England. In contrast, Allen’s parents were illiterate and incapable of teaching him how to read. Allen, therefore, taught himself how to read and write. Wesley was beset with a series of controversial troubles. Wesley became romantically involved with a woman named, Sophia Hopkey. Hopkey had traveled with Wesley on the journey from Oxford to Savannah, Georgia. Heavily concerned about this relationship, Wesley sought counsel from a Moravian minister. The minister advised him to break off the relationship. After a sudden end to the relationship, Hopkey charged that Wesley had asked for her hand in marriage and is now breaking his promise to marry her. Soon after, Hopkey marries another man named, William Williamson. Wesley’s challenges really boiled to a point when he refused to serve Hopkey Holy Communion. Her and her husband bring a lawsuit against Wesley in court. The case resulted in a mistrial and was dismissed. Wesley’s personal life was further complicated when he entered into an unhappy marriage with a widow named, Mary Vazeille. Vazeille was a well-to-do widow and mother of four children. Her and Wesley were at odds throughout their marriage. Because Wesley was frequently away from home on long preaching trips, Vazeille would often accuse him of having adulterous affairs, especially after she read letters from other women to Wesley seeking counsel and guidance. After the marriage became irrevocably harmed, Vazeille leaves Wesley unable to deal with the competition for his time and devotion presented by the ever-growing Methodist movement. After about 15 years of marriage, Vazeille leaves, Wesley notes in his journal, “I did not forsake her, I did not dismiss her, I will not recall her.”9 Allen, on the other hand, did not have such challenges with his personal life. There was no proof of any salacious events connected to Allen. He was highly revered by his peers. He was in good standing with his church. Many people followed him because of his integrity. He was in a long committed marriage to his wife Sarah, who played an active role in the life of her husband and the life of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. He was a family man who loved his six children. And most of all he loved the people he served.
In closing, the legacies of John Wesley and Richard Allen still remain today. Their lives paralleled as founding fathers of the church, antagonists against slavery and racism, writers of many doctrinal truths, and advocates for education.
There lives were dissimilar as well. Wesley’s life was more affluent with opportunities that were readily available to him. Allen fought for everything he received. Opportunities were not as available but Allen was determined that he would not be limited by.
John Wesley and Richard Allen are both extraordinarily courageous leaders. From each we obtain an exceptional and poignant guide into the truths of God. Both men have blessed us with their unfeigned commitment to their faith. The durability, stability, and immovability of the Methodist Church are due to John Wesley and Richard Allen.

John Wesley
Notes
1. John Wesley the Methodist, http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/john-wesley-the-methodist/chapter-v-the-holy-club/ (accessed October 12, 2012).

2. Kathy W. Ross and Rosemary Stacey, “John Wesley and Savannah” http://www.sip.armstrong.edu/Methodism/wesley.html (accessed September 18 2007). 3. Frederick A. Dreyer, The Genesis of Methodism (Bethlehem: Lehigh University Press, 1999), 27. 4. Dan Graves, “John Wesley's Heart Strangely Warmed”, http://www.christianity.com (accessed October 21, 2012). 5. J. F. Hurst, John Wesley the Methodist (Whitefish: Kessinger Publishing, 2003), 102–103. 6. The Sermons of John Wesley - Sermon 128, http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-sermons-of-john-wesley-1872-edition/sermon-128-free-grace/ (accessed November 1, 2012). 7. Don Thorsen, The Wesleyan Quadrilateral (Lexington: Emeth Press 2005), 97. 8. Charles Yrigoyen, John Wesley: Holiness of Heart and Life (Nashville: Abington Press 1996). 9. John Wesley the Methodist, http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/john-wesley-the-methodist/chapter-xx-the-true-john-wesley (accessed November 5, 2012).

References Collins, Kenneth J. The Scripture Way of Salvation: The Heart of John Wesley's Theology. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1997. Gonzalez, Julio L. Church History: An Essential Guide. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996. Gonzalez, Julio L. The Story of Christianity Volume II: The Reformation to the Present Day New. York: Harper Collins, 2010. Harper, Steve. The Way to Heaven: The Gospel According to John Wesley. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003. Lindström, Harald, Wesley and Sanctification: A Study in the Doctrine of Salvation, Lexington: Francis Asbury Press, 1998. Maddox, Randy L. and Jason E. Vickers (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to John Wesley. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Oden, Thomas. John Wesley's Scriptural Christianity: A Plain Exposition of His Teaching on Christian Doctrine, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.

Bishop Richard Allen
Notes
1. Charles H. Wesley, Richard Allen (Washington: Associated Publishers, 1935), 15–18

2. Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church, http://www.ushistory.org/tour/mother-bethel.htm (accessed October 1, 2012).

3. James Henretta, "Richard Allen & African-American Identity", Early America Review, Spring 1997 http://www.earlyamerica.com/review/spring97/allen.html (accessed October 10, 2012).

4. Julio L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity Volume II: The Reformation to the Present Day (New York: Harper Collins, 2010), 335

5. Bishop Richard Allen, http://claver.gprep.org/fac/sjochs/allen.htm (accessed October 21, 2012).

6. People & Events Richard Allen 1760-1831, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part3/3p97.html (accessed October 11, 2012).

7. Church History, http://www.motherbethel.org/content.php?cid=112 (accessed October 14, 2012). 8. People & Events Sara Allen 1764 –1849, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part3/3p246.html (accessed October 11, 2012).

References
Asante, Molefi Kete. 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2005
Bowden, Henry Warner. Dictionary of American Religious Biography, 2d. ed. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1993
Gonzalez, Julio L. Church History: An Essential Guide Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996
Gonzalez, Julio L. The Story of Christianity Volume II: The Reformation to the Present Day. New York: Harper Collins, 2010
Henretta, James. "Richard Allen & African-American Identity", Early America Review, (Spring 1997) http://www.earlyamerica.com/review/spring97/allen.html (accessed October 10, 2012).
McMickle, Marvin A. An Encyclopedia of African American Christian History. Valley Forge: Judson Press, 2002
Newman, Richard S. Freedom's Prophet: Bishop Richard Allen, the AME Church, and the Black Founding Fathers. New York: University Press, 2008
Simmons, Martha and Frank A. Thomas. Preaching With Sacred Fire: An Anthology of African American Sermons 1750 to the Present New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2010

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