Wesley Freedom UMC Historical Foundations
Wesley Freedom United Methodist Church is guided by our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ who share the story of God’s grace. Out of this mission our vision was born; to see the lives of people in our community forever changed by God’s grace. Yet neither of these are new or unique they have been part of our DNA, since our founding in 1780.
Methodism in America has its roots in Carroll County Maryland. Robert and Elizabeth Strawbridge are credited with establishing the Methodist movement in America. Starting at his home in what was then Sam’s Creek, Maryland, Strawbridge held the first class meeting (about 1761) and organized the first enduring Methodist Societies – beginning in his own home, and then at other locations in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. His preaching carried him throughout the colonies, and helped establish a movement that, following the Revolutionary War, would become a new denomination.
It was at one of these Class Meetings, accountability groups whose primary purpose was to support members’ development in the Christian faith, that the original founders of Wesley Freedom, came to know Jesus Christ. This class meeting took place in the home of Daniel Elliott, in is what was known as Delaware Bottom Maryland. In 1788, a second class was organized at the home of William Beasman, located closer to what we know as Eldersburg. At first members of these Class Meetings worshipped at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, but soon set out on their own, as the new denomination, Methodist Episcopal Church, was created in 1784. Documents indicate that from 1803 until at least 1815, the Methodists of Eldersburg met in the home of Robert Shipley, which was located in the vicinity of the Optimist Club on route 32.
As the movement grew, a need for a permanent place of worship was needed. At the quarterly conference of the Baltimore Circuit of the Methodist Episcopal church, held at Stone Chapel Methodist Episcopal church, Wesley Chapel was born. The first Trustees were Elisha Bennett, Daniel Elliott, Samuel Gore, Robert Shipley and William Beasman, all who began their journeys as disciples of Jesus Christ, in the earlier Class Meetings. Our first meeting house was a log structure, which the members called “Antioch”, which is believed to have been located near the site of the Eldersburg Elementary school. Worship was held in this location until 1821. On July 20, 1821, Helena and John Welsh conveyed to these early Trustees one acre of land, part of a tract of their farm called Perseverance. It was on this site that the present Wesley Chapel was built.
The story of Wesley Freedom is a story of pruning and growth, and at its center are people throughout the ages seeking God and God’s will for this congregation. The Civil War cast a dark shadow. Being situated at a point in Maryland where the north and south converged, there was great division among the people of Carroll County. Slave owners were invited – at gunpoint – to no longer attend Wesley Chapel. They began worshipping in an abandoned building and in 1869 constructed Freedom Church – ironically named for its location in the Freedom District. This church became a part of a new denomination, the Methodist Episcopal Church South, and was located on our current property, closest to Liberty Road and Johnsville Road.
This was a contentious and difficult time for the church. This was not a large community and these divisions pitted neighbor against neighbor. People who had worshipped together for generations were now divided. It was not until 1947 that the two churches came together as Wesley Freedom, led by their cooperating youth and young adults under the guidance of their hard-working pastor. Throughout the years, the church has persevered and grown because of its focus on God and commitment to education and community engagement.
It is this grounding in God and commitment to education and community engagement across the decades that has fueled our growth. In 1972, the church took leap of faith and added its first education wing to Freedom Church. An addition was added in 1980 and in the 1990s we broke ground for our current sanctuary and Education Wing. Once again, in 2006, more space was added through the construction of our Community Life Center and additional classrooms. While education and community engagement spurred growth, the church struggled to stay afloat with building projects. While some sought to remain the small country church of their ancestors, others had a larger-scale vision for the capacity to welcome and support the greater community.
It is this current reality in which we find ourselves. Now, instead of investing in bricks and mortar, we are investing in people. At this crossroads of our history we are returning to our Wesleyan roots, to challenge and equip people to become and live as disciples of Jesus Christ. Through all that we do and who we are, we desire to share the story of God’s grace, the same grace which moved in the lives of our ancestors, and which grows in our hearts today.