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Some Historical Background
WHAT A MOUTHFUL! But a very important reminder to those of us who are trying to find out more about the religious lives, backgrounds and associations of our ancestors. What they found or did not find in the way of religious bodies as they journied west is bound up in the hodge-podge movement of people westward across America. And the hugh variety of ways and reasons for moving west is intimately associated with our nation's politics and history.
Never forget that while the principle of the separation of church and state is an undergirding understanding that has helped us remain a free people, nevertheless, religious bodies have both made and been made by the stuff of American politics.
Methodism is no exception. Norwood points out that, "Methodists were to be found [as they moved west] almost everywhere among all the groups," i.e., frontierspeople, Indians, Mexicans, Englishmen, explorers, furriers, traders, miners, cattlemen, farmers and town developers.
Norwood relates several factors that have to be taken into account when looking at Methodism as it moved westward.
"We must beware...of unqualified reliance on statistics of church membership, expecially before and after the Civil War. The main point lies in standards for membership which were at first strict and increasingly relaxed later. In the early period attendance at worship ran three times larger than the membership, and the constituency was twice the attendance. After the Civil War these relationships tended to reverse..."
In 1840 there were these denominations in existence that now make up the United Methodist Church: Methodist Episcopal Church, Methodist Protestant Church, United Brethren Church, and the Evangelical Association
The Missionary movement in all these denominations is a "complicating factor," Norwood writes. "The pioneer circuit rider came more amd more to look like a home missionary. Indeed, the Missionary Society had a clear purpose and policy of involvement, ...'By sending them a pastor, and affording them an appropriation from the missionary funds, they lay the foundation of a Church, which, as it grows requires less missionary support, until in a few years, it becomes a self-supporting Church, and begins to contribute to the missionary cause... So we must endeavor to do in Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota and westward to the Rocky Mountains.'"
Illinois and Missouri, both had pioneer circuits dating from the early nineteenth century and were at the same time regarded as "missionary territory." (see Missouri Methodist Archives)
In addition, shortly after the Homestead Act of 1862, the Church Extension Society of the ME Church came into being (1864) and Methodist Church expansion westward was strongly supported and determined by their work. The expectation was to "build two a day."
Another factor, had two aspects: 1) the presence of the Plains Indians and 2), the Removal of the Tribes and the Trail of Tears. Methodism's move westward is also told in its missionary work among both groups of Native Peoples. (see links to Kansas Methodist Missions online)
"As it turned out," Norwood writes, the "forced removal of Indians to lands west of the Mississippi River was part of the westward movement of Methodism. The first fruit was the establishment of the Shawnee Methodist Mission and Indian Manual Training School near Kansas City in 1830. ...It continued in service till 1862, and was the most successful of Christian missions among the Indians in Kansas." (see online biography of Thomas Johnson and "The First Methodists in Kansas", for more information about this longtime superintendent)
The work with the Kansas or Kaw Indians resulted in "substantial log and brick buildings, now a state historical site, still stand[ing] as a monument to this significant endeavor. The work with the Kaw, who settled in Council Grove after 1847, was not successful."
There is a key figure in the story of the movement of the church into the Great Plains: William H. Goode. In fact, one of the important documents of westward expansion is found in his autobiography, "Outposts of Zion," written in 1864.
"Two years before political organization under the Kansas-Nebraska Bill of 1854, Nebraska Territory was added to the Missouri Annual Conference. Goode was appointed to scout the land in the interests of Methodism. The result was the formation of four mission circuits, over which he became the presiding elder and which he helped develop into the Kansas-Nebraska Conference." (see map of this Conference)
He preached what was said to be the first sermon to white settlers in a log cabin near Baldwin City, Ks.
"For the most part, early leaders had to do without even log cabins on the high plains, where the dearth of trees forced settlers to live in sod huts. The early church buildings were also of sod construction. These privations, combined with the uncertainties of recurrent drought and always current threat from unsubdued Plains Indians, made life extremely hard in the first generation."
But this hardships did not prevent "lively competition," Norwood reports, between the branches of the ME Church, since they each began to work in the Territory at about the same time. But the political realities of the denominational split were as serious and those of the Nation. So Methodist Church expansion in the area languished during the Civil War.
It was the southern branch -- the Methodist Episcopal Church, South -- that "was naturally more active" in Kansas.
This site was originally designed by Steve Chinn.
It is maintained by Linda Morgan Clark, MTh., a ministerial member of First United Methodist Church, Muskogee, Oklahoma, Oklahoma Conference of The United Methodist Church.Your suggestions for additions to this site are welcomed. If you find information here that is erroneous, the author welcomes your comments. Also, please report any links that aren't working.