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The USPS and The UMC

April 18, 2021

Quoting the United States Postal Service, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” The very same could be said of our itinerant Methodist ministers. It is our clergy who put the move into our movement and, as they prepare to pack up all of their worldly belongings and relocate to a new town, we’d like to highlight What’s Old Is New Again!

The itinerancy is as fundamental to Methodism as John Wesley and merry, old England. In a letter to the Rev. Samuel Walker in 1756, Wesley wrote, “We have found by long and consistent experience that a frequent exchange of preachers is best. This preacher has one talent, that another; no one whom I ever yet knew has all the talents which are needful for beginning, continuing, and perfecting the work of grace in a whole congregation.” Of course, England was developed long before the motor car and many villages are within a pleasant horseback ride if not a long walk.

America, with its abundant land and sparse population, added a whole new dimension to the moving of clergy. If it had been left to Richard Boardman and Joseph Pilmore, the Methodist Episcopal Church may have become a settled ministry, but Francis Asbury would have none of that. Like St. Paul, Asbury believed ministers should travel and that these places weren’t empty of people but full of possibility. Asbury created the character of the church for the next 100 years by creating large areas requiring ministers to preach in all types of places. By focusing on the movement of the people, the Methodist Episcopal Church kept its focus on the frontier, and large camp meetings developed at the expense of class meetings, which were more prevalent in Britain.

In the earliest days of the South Georgia Conference, it was not only clergy who relocated, bishops moved each year, as well. From 1868 until 1873, the South Georgia Conference was led by Bishops Pierce, Kavannah, Wightman, Marvin, and Paine. The first of our bishops who stayed longer than two years did not occur until 1916 when Bishop Warren A. Candler was appointed for five years. I wonder if the fact that his older brother had owned Coca Cola and was developing Atlanta had anything to do with Bishop Candler’s longevity…

So, as spring turns to summer and our thoughts turn to the Annual Conference Meeting (in any form), we remember those who are moving, who have moved, or who will move in the future. We are grateful for your continued devotion to the Methodist movement and to the South Georgia Conference and wish you godspeed.

Anne Packard serves as Conference Historian and director of the Arthur J. Moore Methodist Museum on St. Simons Island. Contact her at director@mooremuseum.org.

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