Per Aspera: Methodism in Kansas

Methodists entered into Kansas establishing Indian missions by 1831, and their dominant presence has remained ever since. Today the United Methodist Church is the largest single Protestant denomination in Kansas, with around a quarter of a million members -- about ten percent of the population of the state.

Lawrence Grove Oral History

Oral history interview with Lawrence Grove conducted by Timothy Miller in Lawrence, Kansas, on September 23, 2009. Robert Shelton also participates briefly in the interview. In this interview, Lawrence Grove discusses the history of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Kansas, including its involvement in the abolitionist movement prior to and during the Civil War, the temperance movement, and conflict within the denomination on social issues such as homosexuality. He describes the organizational structure of the Methodist conference and the role of bishops. He also discusses his own education and history as a Methodist minister. This interview was conducted for the Religion in Kansas course taught at the University of Kansas by Dr. Timothy Miller in the fall of 2009.

Methodist Episcopal and Methodist Episcopal, South

By the days of general settlement in Kansas, the Methodist Church was no longer one organization. In their early years, Methodists had been firm opponents of slavery; over several decades, however, members supportive of slavery turned up in the church in increasing numbers. The resulting dispute between slave and free ultimately divided the church into northern and southern braches. In the summer of 1844 a “Plan of Separation” was enacted when difference over slavery could not be resolved. Missouri became a major center of Methodist contention because of tis border-state status, and by 1848 the Southern church had come to see the Northern church as an intruder there. Tension between the north and south continued as Methodists moved into Kansas Territory, with Methodists from both factions developing their separate organizations. The late 1850s and early 1860s was a period of unrest that saw many ugly slavery-related raids along the Kansas-Missouri border; they peaked in deadliness with the Quantrill massacre in Lawrence on August 21, 1863, in which a United Brethern missionary, the Reverend S.S. Snyder, was among the over 100 people killed (4). Methodism suffered from internecine warfare so grievously that the years between 1844 and the Civil War are name "the tragic era of American Methodism" (5).

In 1856, the Northern Church reported “996 members, 108 probationers, and 144 Indian members, which the Southern Church had a total membership of 692, including 176 Indians and 2 Blacks” (6). Circuit riders covered the new territory, taking religious services to remote locations, and membership grew rapidly, with the Southern Church reporting 2,997 members by 1860. Southern Methodist work in Kansas would halt, however, during the Civil War, and the Northern Methodist Episcopal Church would surge forward after the war, experiencing a rapid growth in membership.

The Civil War and the AME

The national tragedy of the Civil War influenced religion in Kansas as elsewhere. During the war years, most religious bodies did not grow as rapidly as they had previously. Methodists in Kansas grew only by about 1,000 members, despite their well-established status before the war. Meanwhile, the racial makeup of Methodism had changed. As the war continued, many blacks came into the state and Methodists took them in. From 1860 to 1865, more than 12,000 African Americans arrived in Kansas and settled mostly in towns near the border such as Wyandotte, Lawrence, Atchison, Leavenworth, Topeka, and Hiawatha. A Methodist minister commented that so many had settled in the Lawrence area by 1862 their numbers caused a “heavy burden” because the congregation was too large for its physical facilities.

This migration resulted in the establishment of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, as well as other black churches. In Lawrence the Reverend J.M. Wilkenson established an AME church in 1862, with thirty-seven charter members. Wilkenson also established AME churches in Topeka and Atchison. By 1892, African Methodist Churches were established in Leavenworth, Topeka, Olathe, Paola, Atchison, Council Grove, Hiawatha, Holton, Garnett, Parsons, and in the following years at Junction City, Fort Scott, Girard, Wichita, Oswega, Chetopa, Burlington, and Osage City (7). One of the largest AME churches was in Wyandotte; established in 1880, by 1882 it had 275 members.

wpl_wpl2058.jpg

German Methodist Church (now Calvary United Methodist Church) in Wichita, Kansas, 1878.

wsu_ms99-3.3.churches.1.jpg

Groundbreaking of Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church, Wichita, Kansas

Methodist Branch Origins

The northern and southern Methodist Episcopal churches were not the only Methodist denominations in frontier Kansas. Others included the United Brethren, German Methodists, Methodist Protestants, Free Methodists, and several Holiness groups such as the Church of the Nazarene.

United Brethren

In the fall of 1855 the Rev. S.S. Snyder organized a United Brethren Church in Lawrence. The first Kansas Conference took place in Snyder’s home at Prairie City in October 1857 (8). The growth of the United Brethren in the area led to the organization of the Osage Conference in April, 1870 at Greely. IN 1882 the United Brethren restructured their Kansas presence into four conferences, Kansas, Osage, Western, and Arkansas Valley (and later, in 1914 merged the four into a single Kansas Conference). The United Brethren grew steadily, from 196 members in Kansas in 1857 to 18,915 in 1894. There were notably hard times in the 1890s when the Brethren, like others, were affected by drought and crop failures. United Brethren records indicate that the Kansas pioneers received only limited help from the mission boards and also lacked sufficient and competent ministers (9).

German Methodism

German Methodists arrived in Kansas at Leavenworth in 1855 with the Rev. Carl Langer, appointed to establish a church. Other Kansas towns soon had German Methodist churches was well, Lawrence, Fort Riley, and Columbus (10). The General Conference of 1864 answered the requests of the German ministers and established three new conferences, the Central German, the Northwest German, and the Southwest German. Wichita was the home of several German Methodist families who requested a preacher in 1876. The Rev. P. W. Matthaei answered the call and conducted his first service in a schoolhouse in May 1876. This church became notable for producing Methodist ministers including Raymond Dewey, George Richards, and Franklyn Edwards, all later leaders of Kansas Methodism (11).

Methodist Protestant

The birth of the Methodist Protestant Church in Kansas came in the late 1860s, when the Rev. Samuel Young followed a group of Methodists from West Virginia to Johnson County and established a church there. Around 1867 a missionary, the Rev. Moses Jared, organized a permanent church association in Kansas. By 1880 Methodist Protestants organized two conferences, Kansas and North Kansas, with a total membership of 2,000 (12).

Holiness Movement

During the 1850s and 1860s the Holiness Movement arouse as a pietistic revitalization movement within Methodism. Holiness believers wanted to recapture the perfectionist teaching that John Wesley first proclaimed in the Church of England. In order to do so, they believed they had to leave the main Methodist churches and start new ecclesiastical organizations. The Southwestern Association, a Holiness body, established itself in Kansas around 1879. The Church of the Nazarene, a part of the national holiness movement, had its beginnings in Kansas in the late 1800s. The first known Nazarene Church west of the Mississippi River was started in Howard, Kansas, in 1904. The Free Methodists are also prominent among Kansas holiness believers.

Pentecostalism grew out of the Holiness Movement in the early years of the twentieth century, and it has been by far the most significant Kansas contribution to religion, at least in the sense of its impact on the larger religious scene. Tens of millions of Americans, and hundreds of millions of believers around the world, now adhere to this innovation that historically may be eventually reckoned the most important development in Western Christianity since the Protestant Reformation. Charles Parham sparked the first Pentecostal revival, when the students at his Bethel Bible College in Topeka began speaking in tongues on the last day of 1900. The Religion in Kansas Project conducted a research project and organized a digital exhibition on Charles Parham and the Kansas origins of Pentecostalism, “The Roots of Pentecostalism in Kansas” which can be viewed by following the link.

wsu_ms99-3.1.churches.1.jpg

Annual meeting of the Kansas Holiness association in Wichita's South Riverside Park, August 1909.

Methodist Trends and Movements

Revivals and Camp Meetings

Camp meetings, also known as revivals, were an integral, if unofficial, part of Methodist life in Kansas. Church buildings were often too expensive for small congregations, and camp meetings were a way of bringing people together to worship in rural areas. Camp meetings provided much needed fellowship in an often-isolated landscape. People looked forward to the events, as camp meetings provided them with an opportunity to see friends and meet new settlers to the area (13). There were also no gender barriers at revivals; both men and women could discover “the second blessing” or experience of sanctification sought by Methodists (14).

Baker.jpg

Bird's eye view of Baker University, 1909

Bluemont.jpg

Drawing of Blue Mont Central College

Lane_University.JPG

Lane University building, now used as the Kansas Territorial Capital Museum

Education

The 1856 Kansas-Nebraska Annual Conference formed a Committee on Education and laid out plans during its first session for the establishment of “seminaries of learning and universities” (15). The Conference approved an 800-acre site for the establishment of a Methodist University near Palmyra, naming this new institution after Bishop Osman Baker, who presided at the first conference. The Kansas Educational Association of the Methodist Episcopal Church (KEAME) formed to support the school financially. Thus, Methodists established the oldest four-year college in Kansas, Baker University, on February 12, 1858.

Two abolitionists, Isaac Goodnow and his brother-in-law the Rev. Joseph Denison, came to Kansas after hearing a lecture by Eli Thayer describing Kansas as the place where “the rule of slavery or of freedom in the nation would be settled” (16). Goodnow left his home in Rhode Island and settled at what is now Manhattan in the spring of 1855. Two hundred others from Rhode Island would join him later. Goodnow, Denison, and the Rev. Washington Marlatt soon formed the “Blue Mont Central College Association”, and the Kansas Annual Conference of the Methodist Church endorsed the establishment of the school in 1857. The college was chartered on February 9, 1858 and by 1860 “a building, library, and apparatus were secured” (17). In 1862 the Kansas legislature authorized the establishment of an agricultural school, and that institution, now Kansas State University, incorporated the existing Methodist college. Rev. Joseph Denison assumed the presidency of the new state school for the next ten years.

Several other educational endeavors were undertaken by the Methodists and their related denominations: Marvin College (established in Oskaloosa in 1876 by the Methodist Episcopal Church, South), Lane University (established in Lecompton in 1865 by the United Brethren), and Kansas City University, which, although founded by Congregationalist D. Samuel Fielding Mather (a descendant of Cotton Mather), operated as a Methodist Protestant school from 1986  to 1913.

00132288.jpg

Temperance poster, Temperance Union 1903

The Temperance Movement

Methodists have a long history of opposing certain behaviors regarded as immoral. Methodism’s founder, John Wesley, initiated Methodist moral activism by taking a strong stance against drinking as early as 1743. In Kansas, the temperance crusade began around 1844 or 1845 when Methodist missionaries tried to curb drinking among the Wyandot Indians, organizing a local temperance society that at one time had forty members.

Kansas Methodists’ views on drinking and tobacco use are revealed in the reports of the Committee on Temperance approved by the Kansas and Nebraska Annual Conferences in 1856-60 and the Kansas Conference in 1861. The first declaration of the Committee on Temperance in 1856 decreed that “we give king alcohol no quarters within our bounds,” and in 1857 tobacco was described as “a baneful poison unnatural to the human system… we will hereby recommend to all members and probationers of the Conference to desist from the use of it” (18).

The distraction of the Civil War led to a loss in membership among temperance organizations, even though the use of liquor at this time increased greatly. However, after the war, memberships soared and many new organizations formed. Notable among them was the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, formed in 1873 under the leadership of Methodist Frances E. Willard. Willard, more than any other leader of her time, mobilized women to promote the temperance cause and the Victorian values it represented. The WCTU was “the spark that inflamed Kansas” (19), and the decade of the 1870s proved to be a time of massive prohibitionist crusading.

By the late 1870s, there was a strong effort to enact prohibition through a national constitutional amendment. Among the denominations that favored national prohibition were the United Brethren Church, the Evangelical Association, and the Methodist Protestant Church. In the meantime, Methodist ministers were influential in the passage of legislation enacting statewide prohibition in Kansas. The state amendment was enacted by referendum with a margin of 8,000 votes.  Kansas became the first state to pass a constitutional amendment, inaugurating a dry era that lasted until 1948 (20).

00052733.jpg

First National Temperance Camp meeting at Bismark Grove, outside of Lawrence, Kansas.

Methodism 1930s-1960s

The economic effects of the Great Depression and the devastating dust storms of the 1930s greatly affected Methodist churches. Pastoral support declined forty-four percent from 1930 to 1934 in the Kansas Conference, forty percent in the Northwest Conference, and thirty-three percent in the Southwest Conference. Total benevolences dropped even further during the same years – a sixty percent decrease hit the Kansas and Northwest Conferences, and fifty-four percent for the Southwest Conferences (21). As a result, missionaries were sent home, foreign and home mission work declined or was eliminated, and fewer minsters were permitted to join the conferences. A Dodge City District pastor, William Ramsdale, gave vivid examples of the dust storms effect on his ministry:

We had to delay a burial for nearly an hour before we were sure we could see the grave sufficiently well so the pallbearers would not misstep and fall into the grave. Another was on Black Sunday when one of our members coming to choir rehearsal for the Easter Cantata ran into the building before he saw it… (22).

In April and May 1939, delegates from the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and the Methodist Protestant Church met at the Methodist Protestant Church in Kansas City, Missouri, and merged these three bodies. Thus established the Methodist Church. A more localized union also took place in Kansas during that year with the merger of the Northwest Kansas Conference and Southwest Kansas Conference into the Central Kansas Conference (23). The administrative units of the newly merged church were divided into six jurisdictions, five of which were geographical and one racial – the Central Jurisdiction, a separate unit for African American Methodists.

Uneasiness over the presence of a racially segregated church unit grew steadily over the years, and consequently the Central Jurisdiction was abolished in 1968. A 1964 article in the Topeka Journal described an early effort to unite the black and white churches: “The General Conference… agreed to merge white and Negro subdivisions… the last of the eleven Negro churches in Kansas were transferred to a geographical conference in the state late February” (24).

The United Methodist Church was established on April 23, 1968 when Bishop Reuben H. Mueller of the Evangelical United Brethren Church and Bishop Lloyd C. Wicke of the Methodist Church pronounced the two organizations one in Dallas, Texas (25). The Evangelical United Brethren Church already represented a union of the United Brethren in Christ and the Evangelical Church that had been effected in 1946 (26).  The Central Kansas Conference and the Kansas Conference of the E.U.B. Church had voted in favor of the measure two weeks earlier.

Mike Rose Oral History

Mike Rose Oral History

Oral history interview with Mike Rose conducted by Lauren Helmer in Salina, Kansas, on December 31, 2010. In this interview, Mike Rose, pastor of the University United Methodist Church in Salina, describes his experiences growing up Methodist, marrying a Catholic, attending an Episcopal Church, and then answering a call to become a United Methodist minister. He discusses the history of the Methodist Church, including the philosophy of John Wesley, the introduction of Methodism to the United States and then to Kansas, and the role of Methodists in the abolition and temperance movements. He also discusses the development of two branches of the Methodist Church which emerged when the Evangelical United Brethren merged with Methodists to become United Methodists in the late 1960s. He also describes his roles and responsibilities as pastor, his church's outreach within the Hispanic community in Salina, and the history of the University United Methodist Church building and parsonage.

Janice Bryant Oral History

Oral history interview with Janice Bryant conducted by Lauren Helmer in Marion, Kansas, on December 29, 2010. In this interview, Janice Bryant, a former church secretary for Valley Methodist Church, discusses the history, organization, and programs of Valley Methodist Church and Eastmoor United Methodist Church, both in Marion, Kansas. She also discusses a period of conflict within Valley Methodist Church, when a faction of the congregation explored speaking in tongues and laying on of hands. She describes her decision to leave Valley Methodist Church for Eastmoor United Methodist Church. This interview was conducted for the Religion in Kansas course taught at the University of Kansas by Dr. Timothy Miller in the fall of 2010.

Liz Vanloenen Oral History

Oral history interview with Liz Vanloenen conducted by Sarah Heidrick in Bogue, Kansas, on November 14, 2009. In this interview, Liz Vanloenen describes the activities of and her involvement with the Bogue United Methodist Church, which she has attended continuously since 1958. She describes the size of the congregation, the funding and maintenance of the church, the organizational structure of the church, the role of the board of trustees, and the relationship between the congregation and its pastor, who is currently shared with the churches of two other local communities. She describes aspects of the church building, the church service, and the programs for baptism and confirmation. She discusses the history of the Methodist Church in Kansas, and the issue of race within the church and the local community. She also discusses the closure of local churches, and the history of the Bogue United Methodist Church. This interview was conducted for the Religion in Kansas course taught at the University of Kansas by Dr. Timothy Miller in the fall of 2009.

Methodism into the 21st Century

The denominations that finally became the United Methodist Church survived into the 20th century, becoming the largest Protestant denomination in Kansas by the 1950s. During the later half of the 20th century, the United Methodist Church continued its outreach and support of foreign missions, and increasing numbers of women were ordained as minsters and elected into leadership roles. The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church states, “the church has endeavored to become a community in which all persons, regardless of racial/ethnic background, can participate in every level of its connectional life and ministry” (26).

Methodsim continues to flourish in Kansas. Founded in 1990, the Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas has grown into the largest United Methodist Church in the U.S. The church has 25,000 members and multiple locations around the Kansas City metro area. Seeking to expand and remodel its existing main facility on a 76-acre site, the church had a grand opening of its new $90 million sancutrary in 2017 (27).

LGBTQ Clergy and Marriage

In the 2000s, however, the Methodist Church has again become the site of controversy and division. The United Methodist Church announced a proposal in 2020 to split the denomination over what it called "fundamental differences" regarding its beliefs on same-sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy. Currently, ordained pastors are not allowed to perform same-sex marriages, risking disciplinary action if they do, and "practicing" LGBTQ people also cannot become ordained pastors. Calls to split the denomination in the United States have grown since a 2019 special session of the General Conference approved the Traditional Plan strengthening its bans on the ordination and marriage of LGBTQ United Methodists.

The new proposal to split the church, signed by 16 church leaders from around the world, will be voted on at the church's 2020 general conference, postponed until 2022 due to the worldwide pandemic that originated in 2019. If passed, the proposal would allow for a "traditionalist" denomination to separate from the United Methodist Church (28).

The new traditionalist denomination, which has already developed the name "The Global Methodist Church," would open the door for the existing United Methodist Church to repeal the church's ban on same-sex marriages and LGBTQ clergy.

cor-church-of-the-resurrection-4388.jpg

Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas.

Parts of this exhibit page were adapted from "Per Aspera: Methodism in Kansas History" by Kellie Harmon-Lodwick in "Religious Kansas: Chapters in a History." Read the entire chapter on Methodism in Kansas by clicking on the link. 

1. Don Holter. Fire on the Prairie. (Methodist Publishing House, 1969), 13, 29-30, 44.

2. Ibid., 31-32.

3. Ibid., 65.

4. William T. Ward. Pioneering in the Great West. (Topeka: Kansas State Historical Society), 18.

5. Don Holter. Fire on the Prairie. (Methodist Publishing House, 1969), 61.

6. Mason Crumm. The Negro in the Methodist Church (Editorial Department Division of Education and Cultivation, Board of Missions and Church Extension, The Methodist Church, New York, 1951), 51.

7. Don Holter. "United Methodist Frontiers in Kansas". Freedom Under Grace: Papers Presented to the Methodist Historical Symposium (Baker University, October 30 to November 1, 1983, Baldwin, Kansas), 144.

8. Don Holter. Fire on the Prairie. (Methodist Publishing House, 1969), 102, 84.

9. "History of the E.U.B. Church in Kansas." Methodist Advance 27:3 (September, 1968), 1.

10. Don Holter. Fire on the Prairie. (Methodist Publishing House, 1969), 146.

11. Ibid., 103.

12. Ibid., 105.

13. Ibid., 106.

14. Ibid., 112.

15. Emory Lindquist. "Religion in Kansas During the Era of the Civil War." Kansas Historical Quarterly 25:3, Autumn, 1959, 430.

16. Virginia Markham. John Baldwin and Son Come to Kansas, An Early History of Baldwin City, Baker University, and methodism in Kansas (Baldwin: Baker University, 1982), 5.

17. Don Holter. Fire on the Prairie. (Methodist Publishing House, 1969), 90.

18. Ibid., 90.

19. Ibid., 116.

20. Don Holter. "United Methodist Frontiers in Kansas". Freedom Under Grace: Papers Presented to the Methodist Historical Symposium (Baker University, October 30 to November 1, 1983, Baldwin, Kansas), 155.

21. Don Holter. Fire on the Prairie. (Methodist Publishing House, 1969), 119.

22. Ibid., 188.

23. Ibid., 190.

24. Ibid., 190.

25. "Kansas Churches Already on Way." Topkea Journal, May 1, 1964.

26. Book of Discipline. (United Methodist Church, 2016). https://www.cokesbury.com/book-of-discipline-book-of-resolutions-free-versions. Accessed April 12, 2021.

27. Church of the Resurrection. https://cor.org/. Accessed April 12, 2021.

28. Meg Anderson. "United Methodist Church Announces Proposal to Split over Gay Marriage". National Public Radio. January 4, 2020. https://www.npr.org/2020/01/04/793614135/united-methodist-church-announces-proposal-to-split-over-gay-marriage. Accessed April 12, 2021.

Per Aspera: Methodism in Kansas