Free Methodism was born on August 23, 1860, in Pekin, New York. Influenced by the holiness movement, Pastor Benjamin Titus Roberts and others in the Methodist Episcopal Church (the name for Methodism in America at that time) encouraged a return to the doctrines and practices of early Methodism and its founder, John Wesley. Their views were unwelcome at the time, and a new denomination was formed: the Free Methodist Church.
Several key issues of the day helped give the new denomination its name:
“Free” Methodists opposed slavery, championing every individual’s freedom. Many Methodist Episcopal Church members were slave owners.
“Free” Methodists opposed the renting and selling of church pews, a common practice that effectively disenfranchised the poor, relegating them to benches in the back of the sanctuary. (John Wesley had clearly demonstrated a desire to reach and include the poor and downtrodden.) Free Methodists called for free seats for all and emphasized tithes and offerings—not income collected for seating or raised through bake sales and such—to support the church’s ministries.
“Free” Methodists supported freedom in worship, in contrast to the deadening formalism so prevalent in the Methodist Episcopal churches of the day.
The newly named “Free Methodists” sought to maintain the heritage of original Methodism with its warm-hearted, biblical message and lifestyle. Free Methodism today continues to follow in the footsteps of its founders emphasizing faithfulness to the biblical message, personal and social holiness, a deep devotion to Bible study and discipleship, and a conservative outlook that translates into active concern for the poor and lost everywhere.
The inspired, authoritative Word of God is the basis of faith for Free Methodists. They endeavor to live their lives according to its teachings (James 1:22-25). Free Methodist churches offer Bible classes for all ages, preschool through adults, so that all may grow in grace and faith.
Free Methodists are among those who have experienced spiritual birth through faith in Jesus Christ, as explained by Jesus to Nicodemus in John 3:1-17. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, described his own conversion by saying that when Christ came into his life, "My heart was strangely warmed." The life-changing miracle of spiritual birth makes a Free Methodist, or any other believer, "a new creation" (2 Corinthians 5:17). A personal relationship with Jesus Christ and an obedient walk with Him characterize Free Methodist Christians.
As a people, Free Methodists seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), exhibit the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and live disciplined lives in accord with the Bible's teachings. The Bible speaks of being "sanctified," which has two meanings: set apart and cleansed. Being set
apart unto Christ and cleansed and filled by the Holy Spirit is more than a goal. It is a way of life taught in the Scriptures.
Free Methodists seek to worship God "in spirit and truth" (John 4:23). From church to church, and in
multiple services of some local congregations, varieties of worship styles may be found. Yet, the heart of worship is to glorify God and receive biblical instruction.
The goal of Free Methodists is to represent Jesus Christ in their daily living. They do this both through the way they live and in sharing the gospel's good news with others. Not known to be "hard sell" in their witness, they seek to be humble and winsome in showing forth Christ through their lives and lips.
Because of their love for the Lord, Free Methodists follow His example in caring and in generosity. Their track record of compassionate outreach to the needy is seen not only in local congregations, but also in institutional ministries for those with needs Christians can help to meet.
Free Methodists have planted the church and its Christian witness across the North American continent and around the world in nearly 80 countries. As a Christian denomination, Free Methodists belong to the Lord and to each other, even though they speak many world languages. They also belong to various evangelical interdenominational associations.
Taking seriously the Great Commission of Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20), Free Methodists have gone across the street, into the inner city and around the world with the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. Local churches, followed by the denomination's Christian colleges, universities and seminary programs, train and equip men and women for Christian ministry at home and abroad.
The mission of the Free Methodist Church – USA is, “To love God, love people and make disciples.” Its vision is, “To bring wholeness to the world through healthy, biblical communities of holy people multiplying disciples, leaders, groups, and churches.”
By the end of 2011, the Free Methodist Church included some 1,000 U.S. churches, fellowships and church planting projects — with more than 76,000 members — and a worldwide membership of over one million.
As its name indicates, Venice Free Methodist Church (“VFMC”) is a church in the Free Methodist denomination. VFMC was originally formed in 1925. Its founder was a Free Methodist missionary named Clyde Burnett. Clyde Burnett was called as a Free Methodist missionary to the Japanese in Santa Monica, California. During World War II, VFMC shut down due to the evacuation of all persons of Japanese ancestry to relocation centers throughout the United States.
In the late 1940s, VFMC re-opened its doors. Initially, it met in a cafeteria at the Venice hostel on Braddock Drive, Los Angeles, and then it built a chapel at the current site. Over time, the English language ministry to Japanese Americans grew, and VFMC also maintained its Japanese language ministry, known as the “Nichigo Division.” In the mid-1980s, the old building was demolished and the current building was built. When VFMC was re-opened, having moved from Santa Monica to the Venice area, its name became Venice-Santa Monica Free Methodist Church. In 2016, the church shortened its name to Venice Free Methodist Church or “VFMC.”
In 2001, VFMC adopted a Master Plan with a church Vision Statement: “A Community Growing in Christ.” Its vision expanded to reach all on the west side of Los Angeles for Jesus. VFMC’s mission is to “Love God, Love Others, and Make Disciples.”
VFMC has an historical connection with the Japanese and Japanese-American community. VFMC continues to believe it is important to continue its ministry to these groups of people. VFMC also acknowledges the changes in the constituency of the church and has broadened its focus group to
include the wider range of Asian-Americans on the west side. In recent years, responding to the direction VFMC believes God is providing, VFMC has expanded its focus to also include people of all ethnicities.
VFMC welcomes all persons of all ages, races, gender, and social status into the fellowship of our church. We embrace each person with open arms and invite all into a saving relationship with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, and to membership in our church.
Source: 2015 Book of Discipline. Free Methodist Church. Free Methodist Publishing House. Indianapolis, IN. 2016.
Source: Free Methodist Church USA