Northern Illinois Conference

of The United Methodist Church

Aurora | Chicago Northwestern | Chicago Southern | DeKalb | Elgin | Rockford

Our Heritage

John WesleyThe heritage of METHODIST MEN is a most glorious one. True, we mark our birthday as of 1942 when the very first charter was issued, but this is not the beginning. Over 200 long years ago there welled up within the heart of a man called John Wesley such a passion for the souls of men as the world had never seen before nor has been seen or felt since.

The roots of METHODIST MEN are buried deep down in the heart of Methodism and find their source in the life and work of the founder of this great church of ours.

Wesley's first great work among men was wrought among a group of young men in Oxford University. There, these men, realizing the great need for Christian fellowship, banded together to form the Holy Church. The ultimate results of this little group are well known.

Some historians tell us that the society in Aldersgate Street, so famous in Methodist history, was a society of men; but that is debatable for the John Wesley film definitely shows women in the audience.

Wesley Memorial at AldersgateWesley's first efforts in which he concentrated chiefly upon men, were the societies and classes formed among Methodist Men in the ranks of the British army and navy. As early as 1738, we find organized work among the men of the military. How unusual to learn that organized men's work in The Methodist Church has its roots in the armed forces of a nation rather than the church.

John Wesley was a great patriot. He exalted patriotism. In 1756, when England was threatened with invasion, he offered to raise Methodist volunteers in case they should be needed. He witnessed with pleasure many military exercises and he frequently preached to men in uniform. He wrote many tracts for service men. One of his reasons for preaching out of doors was that that was usually the only way he could effectively reach soldiers. Wesley eagerly passed on this concern for the moral state of soldiers and sailors to his other preachers.

In 1779, two men in Wesley's West Street Chapel organized the Naval and Military Bible Society for supplying the men in service with pocket Bibles. This Bible Society, although no longer associated with Methodism, is still in active operation today, over 200 years later!

The effect of John Wesley's work among the men of the British army was very remarkable. Time and time again, soldiers would spring to his defense when he would be attacked by mobs.

John WesleyBrotherhoods as a definite organization, were the natural outgrowth of his work. Very early in his career, organized groups began to spring up among the men of the army. Those troops on duty in the Low Countries of Europe were probably the first to band together. Many of these men, when they returned home, instinctively turned to the ministry. It is a matter of historical record that many of Wesley's earliest preachers were former soldiers. In 1769 a brotherhood group was formed at Gibraltar among the garrison there with the full knowledge and protection of Lord Cornwallis.

Wesley maintained an interest in the abolition movement until the end: on his death-bed, he was reading the Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano, a text which Wesley discussed in his last letter - to William Wilberforce - written six days before he died, on 2 March 1791.

It is most interesting to know that in the old GENTLEMEN'S MAGAZINE a naval officer declared that at sea it was impossible to get efficient work out of the man without the use of profanity. He said,

"I never knew but one exception and that was extraordinary, I declare, believe me it is true, there were a group of men called Methodists on board the VICTORY, Lord Nelson's ship, and these men never wanted swearing at. They were the best seamen on board. Every man knew his duty. Every man did his duty. They used to meet together and sing hymns, and nobody dared to molest them. The commander would not have suffered it, even if they had attempted it. They were allowed a mess to themselves. I have often heard them singing away myself. And, incredible as it sounds, not one of them was either killed or wounded at the battle of Trafalgar, though they did their duty as well as any man. Not one of them was even hurt. These are the only seamen that I ever knew to do their duty without swearing, and I will do them the justice to say that they do it."

In almost the same sentiment, a colonel in the army said to Wesley on one occasion:

"No men fight like those who fear God; I had rather command 500 such men than any regiment in his Majesty's army."

What a tribute to our very earliest Methodist Men.

In the United States, work among the men of The Methodist Church began with the formation of various independent societies from 1875 to the turn of the century. As these independent groups grew, they took a page from the organizations already established in other Protestant denominations and formed themselves into the earliest forerunning of present-day METHODIST MEN. This organization was known as the BROTHERHOOD OF SAINT PAUL. It was established in 1894 and held what was probably the first National Conference of Methodist Men in 1898.

About the same time that the Brotherhood of Saint Paul came into being, another organization was taking shape. This was known as the MIZPAH BROTHERHOOD. After undergoing several re-organizations with several changes in name, it finally formed itself into a group called the Wesley Brotherhood--not the group that later used this same name. In 1908, a convention was held and the union of the Brotherhood of St. Paul and the Wesley Brotherhood became a fact. The new group took on the name of THE METHODIST BROTHERHOOD, an organization that continued on down through the years until unification. One of the highlights of this program was its outstanding slogan:


Surprisingly enough, this organization fostered a separate society for boys which was called the KNIGHTS OF METHODISM. In 1924 we find the organization of the WESLEY BROTHERHOODS in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, which carried on its strong program under the watchful eye and the consecrated leadership of that godly gentlemen, Dr. George L. Morelock. The ranks of leadership in the Brotherhood movement were proud to list the names and services of such men as Edgar Welch, founder of the Welch Grape Juice Company and Branch Rickey who has had a long association with big league baseball.

One other notable event took place within the program of men's work. As early as 1928, a meeting was held in the Brown Hotel in Louisville to lay plans for the possible unification of the program of men's work in the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. The Joint Committee on Men's Work was the result.

Ten years later when unification was imminent, probably the first act to bring the three churches together in any phase of their work, was a meeting of all the leaders of men's work. Here, Lay Activities became a vital part of the picture, coming to us by way of Morelock and the program then in effect in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Among the men who were at this historic meeting were Dow Bancroft, Edgar Welch, Harry Denman, Jamie Houston, George Morelock, Ray Nichols and J. M. Sullivan.

When the Uniting Conference was held, all legislation regarding men's work was ready. Through Dr. Morelock's influence, the program of Lay Activities was lifted out of the former Methodist Episcopal Church, South and made an integral part of the United Church. Men's work was made a part of the program of Lay Activities, where it has been ever since.

The very first General Conference of the Methodist Church, held in Atlantic City in 1940, set up the General Board of Lay Activities and established its headquarters in Chicago. Edgar Welch became the first President and Ray Nichols its first vice-president. Dr. Morelock was named Executive Secretary and Dow Bancroft its first Associate Secretary. It took two years to launch a program of men's work, but this was achieved in 1942.

Authority to grant charters was given and in the week ending September 29, 1942, 6 charters were granted. Three of these original 6 are alive and active today. The name METHODIST MEN was adopted in 1942, along with the present objectives, purposes, and program.

What has happened since then is a matter of historical record. In less than 13 years, METHODIST MEN grew to a point where more than 10,400 chartered groups were operating in The Methodist Church. The movement has spread far beyond the borders of the United States and we now include within our fellowship chartered chapters in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Chile, Philippines, Hawaii, Alaska and Liberia. Correspondence has been exchanged with men in Argentina, Bolivia, Costa Uruguay and Germany.