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Francis Asbury Edit Profile

clergyman , minister , theologian

Francis Asbury, English-born American clergyman, broke with the English Methodists in 1787 and established the Methodist Episcopal Church in America.

Background

Francis Asbury Francis Asbury was born on August 20 or 21, 1745, in Staffordshire, England.  

He was the son of Joseph and Elisabeth Asbury. ‌ His mother exerted great influence over Francis.

Education

His mother taught him to read the Bible before he was 6 years old and instilled in him a strong fear of sin.

He dropped out of school before he was 12 to work as a blacksmith's apprentice. By the time he was 14, he had been "awakened" in the Christian faith.

Career

He and his mother attended Methodist meetings, where soon he began to preach; he was appointed a full-time Methodist preacher by the time he was 21. In 1771, at a gathering of Methodist ministers, John Wesley asked, "Our brethren in America call aloud for help. Who are willing to go over and help them?" Asbury volunteered.

When in October 1771, Asbury landed in Philadelphia, there were only 600 Methodists in America. Within days, he hit the road preaching but pushed himself so hard that he fell ill that winter. This was the beginning of a pattern: over the next 45 years, he suffered from colds, coughs, fevers, severe headaches, ulcers, and eventually chronic rheumatism, which forced him off his horse and into a carriage. Yet he continued to preach.

After the war, John Wesley ordained Englishman Thomas Coke as Wesley's American superintendent. Coke, in turn, ordained Asbury at the famous Baltimore "Christmas Conference" of 1784, which gave birth to the American Methodist Episcopal Church. On Christmas Day, Asbury was ordained a deacon, the following day, an elder, and on December 27, a superintendent (against Wesley's advice, Asbury later used the term "bishop"). As Coke put it, "We were in great haste and did much business in a little time. " Within six months, Coke returned to England, and thereafter, Asbury held the reins of American Methodism.

Organization was Asbury's gift. He created "districts" of churches, each of which would be served by circuit riders—preachers who traveled from church to church to preach and minister, especially in rural areas. In the late 1700s, 95 percent of Americans lived in places with fewer than 2, 500 inhabitants, and thus most did not have access to church or clergy.

This is one reason Asbury pushed for missionary expansion into the Tennessee and Kentucky frontier—even though his and other preachers' lives were constantly threatened by illness and Indian attacks. According to biographer Ezra Tipple, Asbury's preaching was more zeal than art, and highly effective. Tipple wrote there were occasions when "under the rush of his utterance, people sprang to their feet as if summoned to the judgment bar of God. "

Though a school dropout, Asbury launched five schools. He also promoted "Sunday schools, " in which children were taught reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Asbury didn't limit his work to administration and preaching. Asbury hated slavery and petitioned George Washington to enact antislavery legislation. "My spirit was grieved at the conduct of some Methodists, " wrote Asbury, "that hire slaves at public places to the highest bidder, to cut skin, and starve them. "

Asbury pushed himself to the end. After preaching what was to be his last sermon, he was so weak he had to be carried to his carriage. By then, though, Methodism had grown under his leadership to 200, 000 strong. His legacy continued with the 4, 000 Methodist preachers he had ordained: by the Civil War, American Methodists numbered 1. 5 million.

Achievements

  • Asbury's boyhood home, the Bishop Asbury Cottage, Newton Road, Great Barr in Sandwell, England, is now a museum.

    The first Methodist Episcopal school of higher education was named Cokesbury College (1785 - burned 1796) in honor of Asbury and Thomas Coke, drawing some concern from John Wesley. The name lives on in Cokesbury, part of the United Methodist publishing arm.

    At least six schools have been named after Asbury:

    Asbury Methodist Primary School in Lai King, Hong Kong.

    Two are in Wilmore, Kentucky: Asbury University and Asbury Theological Seminary.

    In addition, DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana was originally known as Indiana Asbury College after him.

    Francis Asbury Elementary School in Hampton, Virginia.

    Asbury House Child Enrichment Center in Longview, Texas

    Asbury High School, Marshall County, Alabama

    Asbury College, in Pangasinan, Philippines.

    James A. Bradley, a convert to Methodism, named the town he founded on the New Jersey shore, Asbury Park, after Asbury. The Mascot of the Asbury Park High School is "The Bishops. "

    The former Asbury Methodist Church on Staten Island (now the Son-Rise Interfaith Center) stands as a monument to his memory.

    In 1796 Bishop Asbury helped lay the cornerstone for the church in Hall's Mills, NJ which shortly changed its name to Asbury (now a village in Franklin Township, Warren County, NJ).

    A statue, Francis Asbury, was erected in Washington, D. C. in 1921.

    A statue of Francis Asbury on horseback was erected at Drew University in Madison, NJ.

    The Francis Asbury Trail at Lake Junaluska, NC was constructed around 1930.

    A hiking trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park follows part of the path Asbury took when crossing the mountains in the early 19th century. There is a monument dedicated to Asbury at Shiloh Memorial Cemetery in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, where Asbury delivered a sermon on October 20, 1808.

    Stratosphere Balloon Cave in Germany Valley, West Virginia was for over 150 years called "Asbury Cave". (Asbury records his 1781 visit to the cave in his Journal. )

    Many towns and villages bear an Asbury United Methodist Church, including the fourth largest United Methodist Church in the denomination, located in Tulsa, OK.

    The first Methodist Church in Northern China, the Asbury Church in Peking, built in 1870 by Rev. Hiram Harrison Lowry, was named after Asbury. Today the church is known as Chongwenmen Church.

    Asbury Avenue in Evanston, Illinois, home of Northwestern University, founded by Methodists

    Asbury, Iowa was founded by Methodists.

    Asbury Road and Asbury Avenue in Ocean Grove, NJ, next to Asbury Park, with Wesley Lake separating them, is a town founded by Methodists in the late 1870s as a religious summer camp along the mid Atlantic coast. Descendants of the original campers still use the many tents in town each season and worship in the Great Auditorium.

    Asbury Street in the second Ocean Grove, a seaside town established by Methodists in mid 1800s, in Victoria Australia.

    Asbury Road, built around 1930 on the Friar Park housing estate near Asbury's birthplace

Works

Politics

During the Revolutionary War, Asbury remained politically neutral. To avoid signing an oath disclaiming his allegiance to England and to dodge the American draft, he went into hiding for several months. "I am considered by some as an enemy, " he wrote, "liable to be seized by violence and abused. " By war's end, he had retained his credibility with the victorious Americans and was able to continue his ministry among them.