Circuit-riding Faith …

She reads to me about his life, this man named Francis Asbury.

Do you know of him? I do. I’d better. Why?

Well, I’m the daughter of a Methodist preacher. I’m married to one as well.

I grew up in Wilmore, KY, home to Asbury College and Asbury Seminary. I graduated from the former and ran the halls of the latter during my growing up years, cutting a path between my professor, daddy’s office and my registrar, momma’s office. In a later season, I’d have an office of my own in that hallowed institution. Francis Asbury was, in part, one of the reasons behind my being raised where I was raised … being reared how I was reared.

I am a Methodist. I don’t make much of it here at the blog, because I’m a Christian before I’m a Methodist, but I’d be lying if I didn’t confess those denominational lines run pretty deep within me. So when my daughter was assigned another book report (she’s a fan of Christian biographies recently reading the stories of Corrie ten Boom, Amy Carmichael, and William Booth), I hand selected this one for her. Perhaps it is time she knows something of her spiritual roots.

Francis Asbury was one of the first circuit riding preachers in America. Sent here by John Wesley in 1771, Francis (a.k.a. Frank) spent the next forty-five years riding the circuit amongst the burgeoning Methodist societies and preaching the kingdom of God. He averaged 6,000 miles a year on horseback (a lifetime total of over 270,000 miles) and delivered over 15,500 sermons. His first night in America he chronicled his thoughts in his journal:

“ … When I came near the American shore, my very heart melted within me to think from whence I came, where I was going, and what I was going about. But I felt my mind open to the people and my tongue loosed to speak. I feel that God is here and find plenty of all we need.” (Benge, Francis Asbury: Circuit Rider, 2013, p. 53)

From whence he came was England into an America convinced of their need to cut ties with their mother-country. Francis tried to delicately step his way through the growing controversy between the colonies and England, governing his thoughts, words, and deeds by his desire to spread the Gospel and grow the church. However, because of their ties to the Church of England, circuit-riding preachers were often met with suspicion by colonists who tagged them as Loyalists. Many circuit riders abandoned their posts – some into hiding, some sailing back to England. By late 1777, Francis and another preacher named George Shadford were the last two, English-born Methodist circuit riders in America. Again, from Francis’s journal:

“Three thousand miles from home—my friends have left me—I am considered by some as an enemy of the country—every day liable to be seized by violence, and abused. This is just a trifle to suffer for Christ, and the salvation of souls. Lord, stand by me!” (ibid, p. 98)

The Lord did stand by Francis. He must have. I am (in small measure) living proof. And although my daughter and I have yet to finish this biography, I know how it ends … at least for now. God’s Word is alive in my heart and, just this morning, I meditated on that Word while listening to the words of my preacher-husband standing behind his Methodist pulpit. My mother did the same, listening to my daddy who stood behind his own pulpit. My in-laws the same. My sons? Well, they were in the pews of their own Methodist congregation. This is who we are. Christians first. Methodists second, and by the grace of God, saved to the uttermost.

I don’t know if Francis Asbury understands the influence he’s had on the spiritual landscape of America, but if he could look down from his heavenly post today and catch a glimpse of what his forty-five years and 270,000 miles’ worth of riding has birthed, he would know that his faith—his witness and his willingness—was no trifling matter. His faith was an eternal matter, one that continues to reap kingdom dividends some 250 years after he first glimpsed the American shore.

May it be so for each one of us. May our faith—the witness and willingness of our hearts—be no trifling matter. May it, instead, last eternally as we travel our circuits and spread the love and life of Jesus wherever we go.

Ride on, Christians, and leave a holy trail of Jesus behind you as you go. Someday we’ll all look back on these lives that we’ve lived and be amazed by how our paths of grace have changed the landscape of humanity. What a privilege to share this traveling ministry with you. As always…

Peace for the journey,

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9 Responses to Circuit-riding Faith …

  1. Thanks for the history lesson. I did not really know the details of Asbury’s life and ministry. I love history, especially when it intersects with God’s purposes and plan. Thank God for faithful servants like Asbury. May I be faithful, too.

  2. Your reflections on your “roots” have parallels to my own (though mine are a bit more tangled). I share your daughter’s love of biographies. She’s read some good lives already!

  3. Thanks for this, Elaine. I LOVE learning the history of our faith-filled forefathers. Your Methodist roots are a big part of what has blessed us all here on this site.

    Love you!

  4. I’ve never really thought about the lives of circuit riding preachers before. Thanks for giving a glimpse into what it must have been like for them. Can’t imagine what all they encountered and the faithfulness it took for them to keep to it. May we keep as faithfully to our journeys as well!

  5. When I was a sophomore in h.s., we had to write a paragraph about our life in 10 years. I wrote I wanted to marry a methodist because they were the only ones I knew who lived God outside Sunday church:) I didn’t marry a methodist – but my aunt’s MIL was the daughter of a methodist minister in Kentucky – I have one of his little vacation bible school books from when he was a child in KY – in around 1870. She quilted beautiful quilts with the Middletown Methodist quilting group:) A long time ago, I was reading George Eliot’s Adam Bede – and it was about the beginning of “Methodism” – which sounded a bit like the Shakers:) I’m a Kentucky girl, too – I love those roots like you describe that are a rich inheritance:)

  6. I like the idea of leaving a holy trail behind me! A legacy of faith. I have had the awesome privilege of having a Christian heritage that preceded me. I personally knew four of my great-grandparents, and they were all strong believers. And yes, though you can’t *inherit* faith – you sure can benefit from standing on the shoulders of these blessed examples of strong belief!

    I’m hoping that I am leaving good *footprints* behind me – may the next generation learn from my faith.


  7. wifeforthejoureny:

    The story of Francis Asbury and so many other great servants of God are often lost among the sea of modern Christian pastors and authors. There is so much out there to inspire and encourage, if we are willing to look for it. These men and women from days gone by were not mega-church pastors and were never NYT Bestsellers, but they paved the way for generations of American Christians and did so with untold hardships as well as amazing triumphs of the faith.

    No matter what Christian denomination we might identify with, every historical denomination has “heroes” of the faith like: Asbury, John and Charles Wesley, Harry Hoosier, Charles Spurgeon, william Booth, DL Moody, & Phoebe Palmer. The church, as we know it, has been passed down to us by generations past. Their stories are some of the best biographies of faith and I feel richer for your reminder.

    Books written before AMAZON are still worth reading!
    Love to all,
    ~ preacherBilly

  8. Thank you so much for the way you gave tribute to Asbury and the beginnings of this historical endeavor that he and others submitted themselves to…to ‘save’ America. It was not an easy profession… in fact, regardless of how one arrives to share the gospel of Jesus Christ….they still met up with a fair amount of resistance.

    Mike Atip contributes the ‘saving of America’ to the circuit riders…in his opinion..
    “…they saved America from the utter moral and ethical bankruptcy that has shackled other Central and South American countries!” He’s written an ebook on the subject – given for the public domain –

    wikipedia states that …”They traveled with few possessions, carrying only what could fit in their saddlebags. They traveled through wilderness and villages, they preached every day at any place available (peoples’ cabins, courthouses, fields, meeting houses, later even basements and street corners). Unlike clergy in urban areas, Methodist circuit riders were always on the move. Many circuits were so large that it would take 5 to 6 weeks to cover them. The ministerial activity of the circuit riders boosted Methodism into the largest Protestant denomination at the time. In 1784, there were 14,986 members and 83 traveling preachers. By 1839, the denomination had grown to 749,216 members served by 3,557 traveling preachers and 5,856 local preachers.”

    I have never given up my life…like these…to share the Gospel of Christ. They were dedicated souls. I give thanks for them…where would we be today, without their diligence.

    Maybe they were met with less resistance than those who consistently endeavor to be a minister for Christ today. I was told recently that America is the only country where the Christian church is not growing. Maybe we need to learn to ride again 🙂 Get back to the basics. Weather the elements a bit to remind us of what we’ve lost with all – this technology and fast paced living.

    Blessings to you and yours
    this CHRISTmas season
    patrina ><

    • So awesome this additional information, Patrina! Yes, let’s get back to the basics with our Jesus’ talking and grace dispensing.

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