We saw last time how Francis Asbury, as an 18-year old teen, attended a Methodist revival service and was very taken by it. He and a friend, William Avery, were praying afterward in the old barn at the Asbury home. Something happened to him. He doesn’t describe it as a heart suddenly warmed, but in a matter of just weeks, Asbury was reading Scripture and giving out the hymns in the women’s meeting to which he accompanied his mother. Soon, he was exhorting. At the tender age of just 18 years old he became a local Methodist preacher and delivered his first sermon while standing behind a chair in a cottage near Manwoods, a quarter mile south of Forge Mill Farm, a house erected in 1680 by a great-uncle of Dr. Samuel Johnson.
Events began to move rapidly now for young Francis Asbury. He was still working as a blacksmith at the Foxall forge at this time. But he says he traveled widely through the region and preached several times each week. In 1766 he left his work and took the place of an ailing itinerant preacher for nine months in Staffordshire and Gloucestershire. During this service he was rebuked greatly by the “assistant” of the Staffordshire Circuit, W. Orp, because of certain alleged neglect. Maybe it was just the sort of training the teen needed to become the man he was to become.
The following year, Asbury was admitted on trial as a traveling preacher and appointed to the Bedfordshire Circuit. Other assignments followed regularly. In 1768, he was admitted in full connection and appointed to Colchester.
As an aside, Asbury seems to have had a sweetheart at Great Barr, a girl named Nancy Brookes. But their romance was broken off by his mother. (Mother’s are like that. My mother tried to break off a teenage romance of mine once.) The result was Asbury’s commitment to lifelong celibacy.
In 1771, when Asbury was now 26 years old, he attended his first Methodist conference in Bristol, site of The New Room, and where John Wesley had first been taught by George Whitefield to take up field preaching. At that conference, when John Wesley declared, “Our brethren in America call aloud for help,” Asbury raised up and said, “Here am I, send me.”
On September 4, 1771, Francis Asbury began his journey to Philadelphia from the port of Pill near Bristol, the scene depicted in the above painting. “It cost him much to leave home and kindred, as is witnessed by his affectionate letters and sacrificial remittances home: but the call of God was not to be denied” (Frank Baker). Before he left, Asbury wrote a letter to his family. “I wonder sometimes how anyone will sit to hear me, but the Lord covers my weakness with his power…. As for me, I know what I am called to. It is to give up all, and to have my hands and heart in the work, yea, the nearest and dearest friends…. Let others condemn me as being without natural affection, disobedient to parents, or say what they please…. I love my parents and friends, but I love my God better and his service…. And tho’ I have given up all, I do not repent, for I have found all”.
Finally, on October 27, 1771, Francis Asbury landed at his destination in Philadelphia. And America would never be the same.
Next time, we’ll look at tensions and controversies as Revolution looms in America.
(Source: “The Journal and Letters of Francis Asbury: Volume I, The Journal,” and Wikipedia entry for Francis Asbury)