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Early Methodism Pilgrimage 2020

By Rachel Gilmore

Pilgrimage 1
All of the churches visited on the early Methodism pilgrimage

Path 1 is committed to creating spaces where those discerning a call to plant or planters who have just begun their ministry can gather together to learn and forge relationships that continue after the event ends.

From February 17-20, 2020, Path 1 hosted its first Early Methodism Pilgrimage along the eastern seaboard of the United States. Visiting four states in just three days, we learned about the roots of Methodism on our whirlwind experience. One annual conference has inquired about hosting a similar pilgrimage for all of the church planters in their conference.

“Pilgrims are persons in motion passing through territories not their own, seeking something we might call completion, or perhaps the word clarity will do as well, a goal to which only the spirit's compass points the way.” – H. Richard Niebuhr

Here is some of the feedback we received from those who were a part of our first pilgrimage:

Pilgrimage 2
The Early Methodism Pilgrimage group at Mother Bethel AME Church in Philadelphia.

Baranda Fermin – North Texas Annual Conference

The pilgrimage solidified my identity as a Methodist, my own identification without qualifying or apologizing or explaining anything else. As a planter I often feel as if I have to defend the (UM) church, and I don't always feel welcome in my local/conference/state conference context because of all the things (fear of innovation, race, gender, LGBTQ+, justice stuff, housing insecure folk stuff, etc.). It sometimes seems I'm more other things than Methodist, or I'm putting on my "Methodist outfit." But this trip showed me unequivocally that I am Methodist. The stories, the places, the people, didn't just resonate, they overlapped, and enveloped me in a way that even as a history geek, my UM history or Doctrine class didn't. I'm not more Methodist because of the pilgrimage, I'm unapologetically Methodist. I couldn't deny or denounce it if I tried.


Pilgrimage 5
Lovely Lane UMC in Baltimore

I was invited to tagalong on an early American Methodism Pilgrimage for church planters. I got the chance to meet so many amazing church planters from around the country and see some amazing houses of worship. In uncertain times, these spectacular humans give me hope for the future of our church.


“We are pilgrims on a journey;
we are travelers on the road.
We are here to help each other
walk the mile and bear the load.”

Simply put, this week has been both soul-refreshing and spirit-stirring.

To sit where Barbara Heck in 1766 turned over money-changing tables in New York to birth the first Methodist church in America;

to walk between Ocean Grove and Asbury Park where Methodist revivalism spread like wildfire during the Second Great Awakening;

Pilgrimage 6
A panel discussion at St. Geoge's UMC in Philadelphia

to ride with circuit riders and American Methodism's first superintendents and bishops like Francis Asbury, who were willing to be vile and rebellious for the sake of the Gospel;

to stand at one of the first pulpits of Methodism's earliest church planter Captain Thomas Webb in Philadelphia who planted 250+ churches across New England throughout the late 18th century;

to kneel and repent where Richard Allen and Absalom Jones prayed in civil disobedience in a segregated sanctuary before being forcibly removed to eventually found the African Methodist Episcopal Church;

to sojourn and digest the discrimination and urban white flight that has plagued the Methodist movement from the start;

Pilgrimage 3
Michelle Matthews and Rachel Wallace make bread at "Rise" church plant in Philadelphia.

to gather around the table where the first convert to Methodism in the New World was the result of the faith of lay woman Elizabeth Strawbridge who hosted the first Methodist small group in America;

and to pray the 1784 Christmas Conference communion liturgy with fellow church planter pilgrims at Lovely Lane in Baltimore where stands still a complicated monument to Methodism's rapid success and rapid decline –

All of this has been more than I can possibly process over this entire year, much less in 3 days.

But it has been such a gift. And to do so with one of my best friends, Rachel Peters Wallace, is an experience we will never forget.

Rachel Gilmore and Michael Baughman, you both are inspirations and deserve so much gratitude. This trip has been the most worthwhile clergy development opportunity I have ever attended.

Rachel Gilmore is the Director of Recruiting, Assessing & Training for Church Planting with Path 1. She stays away from foliage but loves to plant other things like churches, preschools, and ideas in the minds of those looking for innovation and inspiration in the church.

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