Heroes of the Faith: Francis Asbury

Anyone travelling through the United States will come across schools, colleges and universities that carry the name of Asbury. They bear witness to a remarkable hero of the faith.

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Francis Asbury was born in Staffordshire in 1745 to a poor Methodist family. With only limited education he began training as a blacksmith. After coming to faith in Christ at 15, he began preaching within the growing Methodist movement, then still part of the Church of England. In 1771 when the Methodists asked for volunteers for the British colonies of North America, Asbury responded and sailed west, never returning to Britain.

Asbury resolved to be an itinerant preacher and for the next 45 years that was exactly what he was. Travelling by horseback or carriage and carrying all his possessions with him, Asbury criss-crossed the eastern United States, preaching everywhere he could get a crowd. He never owned or rented property or even had a fixed base but instead depended on the hospitality of supporters. In his life, Asbury travelled over a quarter of a million miles and preached well over 10,000 times.

The American Revolutionary War of 1775–1783 triggered a church crisis across both sides of the Atlantic. The open hostility of the British church to the rebels resulted in almost all the Anglican and Methodist ministers in America returning to Britain, but Asbury stayed. The ensuing absence of bishops and priests meant that American Christians found themselves struggling to find either communion or baptism. To resolve this, John Wesley began ordaining his own ministers, a process that resulted in the sepa