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The Wesleyan Church in America (formerly Wesleyan Methodist) was officially formed in 1843 at an organizing conference in Utica, New York, as a group of ministers and laymen splitting from the Methodist Episcopal Church, primarily over the issue of slavery, though they had secondary issues as well. Rev. Orange Scott presided, as the meeting formed a federation of churches at first calling themselves the Wesleyan Methodist Connection, was formed. (The name was chosen to distinguish themselves from the British Wesleyan Methodists.) Other leaders at the founding of the church were LaRoy Sunderland , who had been tried and defrocked for his antislavery writings, Lucious C. Matlack , and Luther Lee , a minister who later operated an Underground Railroad station in Syracuse, New York.
In addition to anti-slavery, the early Wesleyan Methodists championed the rights of women. Luther Lee, General President in 1856, ordained the very first woman to the Christian ministry in the United States at Oberlin College, Ohio. A Canadian group which merged into the Wesleyan church and mentioned in the next paragraph, ordained the very first woman to the ministry in Canada in the late 1800s. At the General Conference in 1867, a resolution was adopted favoring the right of women to vote (as well as the right of freedmen — blacks). This was 44 years before the U.S. constitution was amended to allow women voting privileges.
In 1966 the denomination merged with the Alliance of Reformed Baptists of Canada and 1968 with the Pilgrim Holiness Church. The Pilgrim Holiness Church started in 1897 in Cincinnati, Ohio with Martin Wells Knapp (a Methodist) and Seth C. Rees (a Quaker) as the founders. It spread through revivals emphasizing a deepening experience with God called holiness or sanctification. Heart purity was a central theme. During this period of time, many small churches developed through revivals and the emphasis of sanctification (taught by John Wesley), but not emphasized by many Methodists. As many as 25 or 30 small denominations were formed and eventually merged with other groups to enlarge the church. The church was strong in missionary and revival emphasis. The Wesleyan merger took place in 1968 at Anderson University, Anderson, Indiana.
Today the largest local congregations are Central Wesleyan Church in Holland, Michigan and Skyline Wesleyan in suburban San Diego, California. Well known leaders in the church in recent years includes author John Maxwell and author James Garlow, both who have pastored Skyline Wesleyan near San Diego. George Beverly Shea was raised in a Wesleyan parsonage. The denomination has nearly 5,000 member churches in the United States, Canada and almost 100 nations with over 300,000 members. "Wesleyan Life" is the official publication of the Wesleyan Church, and the world headquarters is near Noblesville, Indiana, about 10 miles northeast of Indianapolis. The church has an international Radio broadcast weekly known as The Wesleyan Hour with Dr. Norman Wilson as the speaker over 25 years. The Wesleyan Church is a member of the Christian Holiness Partnership of 23 denominations, member of the National Association of Evangelicals, and the World Methodist Council. They do not hold membership in the National Council of Churches nor the World Council of Churches.
The church is an evangelical holiness church which believes in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and is Wesleyan-Arminian in doctrine. Local churches are organized into a network of districts with equal representation of clergy and laity at their annual conferences. Each has an elected administrator known as the District Superintendent and has a district board of administration with both lay and clergy serving. National networks are called General Conferences with very strong national leadership and meet every four years. The North American General Conference has three General Superintendents and each of them have about 1/3rd of the church under their adminsitrative control. In 2004, the three General Superintendents are Dr. Earle Wilson (who also serves as one of eight presidents of the Methodist World Council), Dr. Thomas Armiger and Dr. David W. Holdren. General conferences exist in the Philippines, the Caribbean, and North America. Emerging strong groups which could request such status in the future are in Latin America, Japan, Australia, and regions of Africa. Wesleyans rank among the top three or four denominations in per capita giving to God's work. The church maintains a website at http://www.wesleyan.org.
Schools in the United States and Canada
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