The Wesleyan Methodist Chapel of Montreal, 1808-1821

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Montreal from St. Helen’s Island. Note that the city still has its walls around it but is a busy port.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. For more information on John Wesley click here, here and here Wesley’s preaching included among other things an emphasis on the personal relationship possible between the individual and God, and the ready availibility of God’s grace as well as a dedication to improving society. He and the hundreds of lay preachers he trained preached wherever people would gather to hear them. One of the oldest Methodist churches in the Western Hemisphere is John Street United Methodist Church in New York City which traces its origins to a sermon preached to a small group there in 1766 by Philip Embury, an Irish-born carpenter who knew Wesley and who physically helped build that church. Embury’s grandson Daniel Fisher was an enthusiastic and active supporter of Methodists in Montreal and a member of our congregation.

A Methodist circuit rider. Until the first church was built, Montreal Methodists were served by Circuit Riders –itinerant preachers based either in northern New York or Quebec City who would travel on regular routes through the country on horseback and preach in public places and in private homes. At least one, a Mr. Tuffy who was based in Quebec City, had ridden with John Wesley in Britain. In 1803, a circuit rider from New York, Samuel Merwin, estabished a permanent “class” of seven members in this city which is considered the start of our congregation. After the church pictured below was built it too became a base for circuit riders who preached on routes running south of Montreal, east into the Eastern Townships. north to the Laurentians and west on both sides of the Ottawa Valley at a time when roads were either primitive or non-existant.

The Wesleyan Methodist Chapel of Montreal.

At the time the chapel was built in 1808 with funds donated from England, many Methodists belonged to other denominations as well. British authorities in Quebec at the time allowed only the three “established” or official churches to keep birth, marriage and death records. These were the Roman Catholic Church, which did not have such status in England or Ireland until 1829, The Anglicans, (the Church of England), and the Presbyterians, (the Church of Scotland). Many Montreal Methodists were also on the roles of the Anglican or Presbyterian churches. Methodists in Quebec obtained the right to ‘keep registers’ in 1818, 11 years before Methodists obtained such rights in Britain.

For more information about the building, click here

This modern plaque in the sanctuary dedicated to Lydia McCullough, one of the church’s great deaconesses, also pays tribute to Catherine Embury Fisher, a founding mother of the congregation. It says:

« The mother of Daniel Fisher might well be considered as the Mother of Montreal Methodists (and of ‘the people of St. James’). Catherine Embury Fisher, daughter of Philip and Margaret Embury, married Scottish highlander Duncan Fisher . . . . one of the leading figures in the establishment of the St. Gabriel ‘Scotch’ Church in 1792. But Catherine had strong Methodist sympathies. It is likely that she encouraged the little Methodist Society and was kind to the preachers. The Fisher sons and daughters in due course became outright Methodists and leading forces in rendering ‘the people called Methodists’ respectable in the City of Montreal. Catherine herself had a Methodist burial when she died in 1838. »

Exerpt from ‘The People of St. James’ by Nathan H. Mair.

The Wesleyan Methodist Chapel of Montreal.

Until the War of 1812, the first ministers in the new chapel came from New York, often by way of Ontario although the church was funded largely by donations from England. The local Anglican clergy and British colonial authorities mistrusted Methodists, particularly those from the United States, as religious dissidents posing a revolutionary threat to social order. So Montreal Methodists petitioned England for British-born ministers. One of the first was the felicitously named John B. Strong who was appointed in 1815. Methodist ministers from the United States continued to be named to Montreal until 1820. In July 1819, a young American — Aurora Seeger — arrived to find the chapel in charge of a British-born minister — Robert Lusher. Seeger stayed in the city and on a cold November night was part of a volunteer bucket brigade with other citizens attempting to put out a fire. The effort exhausted him and he came down with a severe cold which turned into a worse illness that killed him. Mr. Lusher preached at his funeral.

A portrait of the Rev. Robert L. Lusher.

In 1819, Mr. Lusher sent a report to the British Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society in London, England, that included his personal observations about the Methodist community in Montreal. “I am happy to assure you that our cause never was so pleasing and encouraging an aspect in this city before,” he wrote. “The work of God is spreading: we have prayer meetings in various parts of the city, and they are found by many to be solemn and refreshing seasons. We have nearly 40 prayer leaders actively engaged. The Society is also increasing and growing in grace; upon the whole, I feel greatly encouraged in my work.” Quoted by G. E. Jaques, Jun., in Chronicles of the St. James St. Methodist Church.

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