The United Methodist Church is the descendant of a religious movement begun in the early eighteenth century by an English clergyman named John Wesley and his brother Charles. Wesley sought to reinvigorate the church of his day with renewed energy and a commitment to social action. The Wesleyan movement that began as a result emphasized a personal relationship with God, and a growth in both personal and social holiness for the believer. That is, the Methodists sought to grow not only in their worship, devotion and personal piety, but to live out an active social piety, engaging in acts of service and working for justice. One of the hallmarks of Methodism is an understanding of God's grace that is present everywhere, to everyone, at every time, that invites, reconciles, and empowers the believer. As a result, since its beginnings as a religious movement, Methodism has remained open to all people and sought to help all people develop a personal relationship with God and to live out that relationship in service to the world.
After its introduction to America in the 1760's, under the leadership of the first Methodist bishop Francis Asbury, Methodism grew rapidly in the late eighteenth century. Throughout the nineteenth century, Methodism expanded rapidly across the United States due to its practice of using "circuit riders"--itinerant preachers who traveled on horseback who were able to serve churches across the frontier. The early Methodists worked to end the slave trade, sought prison reform, and worked to help the working classes and the poor. Methodists were also involved in abolition, suffrage efforts, child labor laws, and many other social movements. The church was also committed to education, and founded colleges and universities throughout the country. American University was founded as a national Methodist university in the nation's capital to train leaders for public service, embodying the Methodist ideal of faith into action--values it continues to share today. The United Methodist Church today is the second largest protestant denomination in the United States and remains committed to creating communities in which God's love can be known and shared with the world.