Free Methodist Revivalism Reported in Denison, January 26, 1880
Christmas Day, 1872 was a momentous day in Texas transportation history. It was on that day that the first regular train service entered Texas from the north. The Missouri-Kansas-Texas, also called the Katy and the MKT, made the cities of Denison and Sherman boom towns as they were the connection between Texas and the industrial Mid-West and East. The trains carried manufactured goods, agricultural produce, and immigrants, and also religious ideas. North Texas became the entry point for preachers, revivalists, and evangelists from the North who had been almost completely excluded during the sectional tensions leading to the Civil War.
Naturally the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Association, two Wesleyan denominations excluded from Texas during the Civil War, sent missionaries to Texas and the mission field it represented. So did the Free Methodist Church, another Northern Methodist denomination that saw opportunities in Texas.
On January 26, 1880, the Denison Daily News ran the following story
Sugar Bottom (an area of Denison near the tracks) is in a fever of religious excitement. About a fortnight ago an individual arrived in the city from Illinois claiming to be a preacher in what is known as “The Free Methodist Church.” We confess that we have never heard of such a religious sect. Services are being held nightly at private residences, and converts are reported by the score. The religious enthusiasm is so great that the people have rented a house for the new religious teachers. He works on the feelings of his hearers to such an extent that they are beside themselves with religious excitement. A literal hell with fire and brimstone and a heaven with golden streets, harps, and other angelic paraphernalia are taught.
The Free Methodist Church was a relatively new denomination in 1880, having been formed in Western New York as a reform group in the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1860. The use of the word “Free” refers to its anti-slavery doctrine, its opposition to pew rent, and a desire for freedom in worship.
The first time Texas appears in Free Methodist Journals is in 1878 when the Rev. G. R. Harvey was appointed to the “Texas District.” The first church was in Lawrence, Kaufman County, and others followed in Ennis, Dallas, Terrell, and other North Texas cities. In the 1880’s and 1890’s Free Methodist churches continued to spread including ones in Corsicana, Salado, Milford, Longview, Belton, and Salado.
The Free Methodist Church continues to provide a powerful witness of social and personal holiness and faithfulness to the Bible. There are about 800,000 members world wide.