Bishop Francis Asbury
(August 20, 1745 – March 31, 1816) was one of the first two bishops of the Methodist Episcopal Church, now The United Methodist Church in the United States.
Born at Hamstead Bridge, Staffordshire, England of Methodist parents, Asbury became a local preacher at eighteen and was ordained at age twenty-two. His boyhood home still stands and is open as a museum in West Bromwich, England. In 1771 he volunteered to travel to America. When the American War of Independence broke out in 1776, he was the only Methodist minister to remain in America.In 1784 John Wesley named Asbury and Thomas Coke as co-superintendents of the work in America. This marks the beginning of the “Methodist Episcopal Church of the USA”. For the next thirty-two years, Asbury led all the Methodists in America. However, his leadership did not go unchallenged. His idea for a ruling council was opposed by such notables as William McKendree, Jesse Lee, and James O’Kelly. Eventually, a General Conference to which delegates could be sent was established on the advice of Asbury’s fellow bishop Thomas Coke in 1792.
Like Wesley, Asbury preached in all sorts of places: courthouses, public houses, tobacco houses, fields, public squares, wherever a crowd assembled to hear him. For the remainder of his life, he rode an average of 6000 miles each year, preaching virtually every day and conducting meetings and conferences. Under his direction, the church grew from 1,200 to 214,000 members and 700 ordained preachers. Among the men he ordained was Richard Allen in Philadelphia, the first black minister in the United States.
In an exciting time in American history, Asbury was reported to be an extraordinary preacher. Biographer Ezra Squier Tipple wrote: “If to speak with authority as the accredited messenger of God; to have credentials which bear the seal of heaven … if when he lifted the trumpet to his lips the Almighty blew the blast; if to be conscious of an ever-present sense of God, God the Summoner, God the Anointing One, God the Judge, and to project it into speech which would make his hearers tremble, melt them with terror, and cause them to fall as dead men; if to be and do all this would entitle a man to be called a great preacher, then Asbury was a great preacher.” Bishop Asbury died in Spotsylvania, Virginia. He was buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Baltimore near the graves of Bishops John Emory and Beverly Waugh.