United Methodist Free Churches

This was the largest of the three denominations which came together as the United Methodist Church in 1907. As the name implies, it was itself the product of a union of the Wesleyan Methodist Association and the Wesleyan Reformers. Negotiations were opened between the two groups in 1851, and attempts were made in 1853 to broaden them to include others. Terms of a union were finally agreed in 1856 and a uniting Assembly met at Baillie Street chapel, Rochdale, in 1857. Though the WMA had a slight majority, the reformer James Everett was elected President.

The UMFC was eager for union with other 'liberal' Methodists. Other Reform circuits joined individually over the next 10 or 15 years, so that the total membership grew between 1857 and 1867 from 39,968 to 67,488, with over 6,000 on trial. The main strength of the denomination lay in the West Country and the North.

The distinguishing features of the UMFC were circuit autonomy and freedom to be represented in the Assembly by whichever minister or layman they elected, with only four ex officio members. This represented an attempt to unite connexionalism and Congregationalism and worked in practice. In general, the UMFC had all the familiar features of Methodism, such as an annual Conference (though called the 'Assembly'), circuits, itinerancy and class tickets. Everett produced a denominational hymn book, based on the WM one, with John Wesley's portrait as its frontispiece. There was a Magazine; they published annual Minutes of Conference, and started overseas missions.

The earliest overseas work was in Jamaica in 1838; this had a chequered history, although it led to work in Central America. Missionaries were sent to Australia in 1851 and to New Zealand and Sierra Leone in 1859. There were notable missions in East Africa, especially Kenya, and in China.

  • Matthew Baxter, Memorials of the United Methodist Free Churches, with recollections of the Rev. Robert Eckett and some of his contemporaries (1865)
  • Thomas Swallow, Disruptions and Secessions in Methodism: their causes, consequences and lessons (1880)
  • Joseph Kirsop, Historic Sketches of Free Methodism (1885)
  • New History of Methodism (1909) 1 pp.514-39
  • Oliver A. Beckerlegge, 'United Methodism [the UMFC] in Scotland', in WHS Proceedings, 28 pp.96-98
  • E.C. Urwin, The Significance of 1849: Methodism's greatest upheaval (1949)
  • Oliver A. Beckerlegge, The United Methodist Free Churches (1957)
  • Oliver A. Beckerlegge, A Bibliography of the United Methodist Free Churches (Westcliff-on-Sea, 1988)
  • Gareth Lloyd, Index of Obituaries of members ... of the United Methodist Free Church[es] from 1857 to 1907 (Manchester, 1993)