"A prudential means of grace": The class meeting in early New York City Methodism

Philip Frederick Hardt, Fordham University


During its first one hundred years, New York City Methodism underwent a complete "sect-to-church" process and increasingly placed less priority on the weekly class meeting. To be sure, the Methodist movement in England (which predated New York City Methodism by approximately twenty-five years) gained numerous adherents because of its weekly class meeting which was required for both prospective and full members of its societies. Scholars, however, disagree as to what impetus led to its founding. Of course, they all agree that early British Methodism provided pastoral oversight to its members through the large Sunday evening society meeting, the smaller weekly class meeting, and the more intimate band meeting. Moreover, during the formative period of New York City Methodism (1766-1800), the class meeting system also carried out its twin program of catechetics and spiritual nurture. In addition, the class meeting system apparently fostered close personal relationships among class members, provided a place in which lay leadership could emerge, and monitored behavior. At the same time, class meetings in Manhattan differed from the British model in that they were segregated by race and gender and quickly exceeded Wesley's suggested limit of twelve persons in a class. Subsequently, in the next period, from 1800 to 1832, three factors negatively affected Methodism's earlier appeal. Specifically, these factors were the growing "sect-to-church" tensions, the effect of the weekly "prayer meeting" on the catechumenate function of the class meeting, and the difficulty of maintaining a close-knit feeling as class size grew. Eventually, during the next major period, 1832 to 1870, New York City Methodism took on even more mainstream Protestant church characteristics and attendance at the weekly class meetings dropped off considerably because of several reasons. At the same time, the settled pastorate began to gradually decrease the class leaders' role of pastoral oversight In conclusion, despite Methodism's current membership decline, a reintroduction of the class meeting can revitalize the church's effort to initiate people into the faith and also to assimilate them in the body of Christ.

Subject Area

Theology|Religious congregations

Recommended Citation

Hardt, Philip Frederick, ""A prudential means of grace": The class meeting in early New York City Methodism" (1998). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9825859.