Methodism Born

Looking Back with Lloyd Mathews, originally printed December 5, 1978

 

The Methodist Church was born in 1729 as the Holy Club at Oxford University in England, and it can be truthfully stated that the father of Methodism was John Wesley, a non-conformist, who was not content to go along with many of the practices and beliefs of the established church of the time. This discontent finally led to the start of a church based on the premise established by the Holy Club that people must be methodical in their religious worship.

Without going too deeply into the early history of the Wesley family, I feel it a point of interest that John Wesley’s parents were the parents of 19 children. That was some record, but Wesley’s grandmother did better, because her offspring numbered 24.

The first Methodist Meeting House in America was in the home of Robert Strawbridge, on Sam’s Creek, in Maryland’s backwoods in 1760. This led to the building of a church nearby. This cradle of Methodism was 22 feet square, with a doorway on one end, and openings for windows on the other three sides. It had a dirt floor, underneath which two of the preacher’s children were buried. From Sam’s Creek, the new form of religion spread through the frontier settlements of America.

Methodism’s rapid spread was due largely to the circuit riders, preachers who traveled by horseback from community to isolated community preaching the gospel, and forming new groups, known as societies. These societies were the first Methodist congregations, and they often met in private homes until meeting houses could be constructed. The first Methodist Circuit in this country was “America,” a very large circuit.

In 1773, the Rev. Edward Morgan built Page’s Meeting House, about three miles west of Radford, in what is now Pulaski County. This was the first Methodist Meeting House west of the New River, and was the start of Methodism in this area. Page’s was a log building, and served as a church for a hundred years. Francis Asbury, the first Methodist Bishop in America, preached there on at least three occasions and on one of these visits he ordained Edward Morgan.

Page’s Meeting House was abandoned when the population shifted to the area of New River, and when it was re-established there it became Morgan’s Chapel, after the Rev. Edward Morgan.

One of the first deeds recorded in Pulaski County was from Henry Patton to the Methodist Church. The deed was dated 1841, and was to the land on which was built the original Thornspring Church and Campground. Churches of that time were a far piece apart, and when there was a big revival meeting the people came from miles around and stayed for the duration of the meeting, sometimes a week. They camped on the grounds, prepared food, and spent full time getting nourishment for body and soul.

The church and campgrounds were located up Thornspring Breach, north of the present Lee Highway across from the Country Club. The shell of the old building which was still standing a few years ago was once described as being “like an old skeleton with sightless eyes.” In 1876 the old Thornspring church held its last service. The congregation divided, some going to the new and present location of Thornspring Church, and others going to form a new church on Pepper’s Ferry Road, between the entrance to Morehead Lane and Twin Oaks Subdivision. the church was called Oak Chapel, because of its location on top of a hill in a grove of oak trees.

Mrs. Ellen Moore, in her lifetime, described early times at the old chapel when Brother Robert Sawyers “Bob” Sheffey, the famous itinerant mountain preacher came there for services. “He would come into the church carrying his saddle over his arm, and throw it into the amen corner and start preaching. He was a powerful preacher.” When Oak Chapel had served its purpose it was moved to the intersection of Morehead Lane in 1918, on land donated by Mr. A.L. Jordan, a prominent farmer in the area, who was a very devout Christian.

Because of the generosity of A.L. Jordan and his wife, Sarah, the church was able to survive some trying times, and when it was re-located it was named Jordan’s Chapel.

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