Free Methodist Church
The Free Methodist Church is a conservative branch of historic Methodism with headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana. Shortly before the outbreak of the Civil War, certain Methodist Episcopal pastors led by Benjamin T. Roberts came into conflict with their regional leadership over their perception that the Methodist Episcopal Church was drifting from its traditional standards. The church's leadership was unmoved by Pastor Roberts' concerns, leading ultimately to his expulsion.
Meeting in New York State in 1860, Roberts' followers founded a new church. Because they were concerned about issues that could be termed “freedoms,” the name "Free" Methodist Church was chosen for the new body. Among those issues were the anti-slavery cause and ending the practice of "pew rent" by which wealthy members of the church had been permitted to pay for (and so reserve for their exclusive use) the particular church seating they preferred.
The Free Methodist Church is a “modified episcopacy." Geographical regions are overseen by bishops, although the number of Free Methodist bishops is far less than is true of most other episcopally-governed Christian churches. Connections between local units of the church are stressed, but much latitude is allowed each congregation in ritual, vestments, and other matters.
Like other Methodist bodies, the Free Methodist Church is a Holiness and an Arminian church with a strong emphasis on charitable works, evangelism, and personal sanctity. The doctrine of the real presence in the sacrament of Communion is affirmed. Both infants and older persons are baptised, according to the decision of the family or individual. The mode of baptism may be immersion, affusion (pouring), or, less commonly, sprinkling.
In 2008 there were approximately 1,000 Free Methodist churches with 77,000 members in the United States and 731,791 members worldwide. The Free Methodist Church is a member of the National Association of Evangelicals, Christian Holiness Partnership, and the World Methodist Council.