Methodism’s roots in Isle of Wight County

Published 5:10 pm Monday, August 14, 2023

Benn’s United Methodist Church, located at Benn’s Church and Brewer’s Neck boulevards, traces its roots to the “Old Brick Church,” now known as St. Luke’s Historic Church & Museum.

The county’s oral history dates St. Luke’s to 1632, though historians and archeologists, according to St. Luke’s website, now suggest construction was completed between 1685 and 1687.

“Methodism was originally a movement within the Church of England,” said John Ericson, education coordinator for St. Luke’s. “John Wesley, considered the father of the movement, was an Anglican priest to his dying day.”

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Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke, in 1784, declared themselves bishops outside of what is now known as the worldwide Anglican Communion in 1784, and by 1795, Methodism had officially split from Anglicanism.

Benn’s Church, whose members were once part of the Newport Parish of the Anglican Church, branched off from St. Luke’s in 1789, four years after protestants in the then-fledgling United States disestablished the Church of England and formed what is today known as the Episcopal Church. 

Christ Episcopal, a circa-1836 church in Smithfield, also traces its roots to St. Luke’s.

Benn’s, as the first in the county to officially split from Anglicanism, is known as the “mother of Methodism” in Isle of Wight, according to Edwards. Benn’s current sanctuary, he said, dates to 1924 and was modeled to resemble St. Luke’s.

Trinity UMC, according to its website, was built in 1812, and was the first church to open in Smithfield 60 years after the town’s 1752 founding.

Woodland UMC’s original sanctuary, built in 1873 according to its website, still stands.

“I have people in my church who are sixth and seventh generation farmers,” said its pastor, the Rev. Kay Carter.