Francis Asbury delivers a memorial for Phillip William Otterbein before the Baltimore Conference

The Revd. Francis Asbury, Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States
Engraving of Rev. Francis Asbury, by Benjamin Tanner, March 27, 1814. Library of Congress, LC-USZC4-6153.

On March 23, 1814, four months after the death of Phillip William Otterbein, Francis Asbury spoke before the members of the Baltimore Conference. Otterbein’s biographer Augustus Waldo Drury later recalled that Asbury spoke “by request of the conference and certainly at the hearty desire of the stricken congregation” when he delivered a heartfelt memorial in a packed church on Conway Street.

Asbury recorded his personal reflections in his journal that evening:

“By request, I discoursed on the character of the angel of the church of Philadelphia, in allusion to William Otterbein, the holy, the great Otterbein, whose funeral discourse it was intended to be. Solemnity marked the silent meeting in the German church, where were assembled the members of our conference and many of the clergy of the city. Forty years have I known the retiring modesty of this man of God, towering majestic above his fellows, in learning, wisdom, and grace, yet seeking to be known only to God and the people of God.”

Among the many people who had been touched by Otterbein’s religious leadership, present that day was Bishop Christian Newcomer who recorded the scene in his own diary:

“Heard Asbury’s funeral discourse on the late William Otterbein. The church was much too small to contain all who came, among them being Methodists, United Brethren, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians. Bishop McKendree closed the service.”

The memorial must have offered a unique poignancy for Newcomer. He had first met Otterbein on June 3, 1800 at the home of Peter Kemp located a few miles west of Frederick.  On October 2, 1813, just weeks before his death, Otterbein laid his hands on Newcomer and made him (along with two others) the first ordained ministers in the United Brethren Church. Otterbein’s remarks to Newcomer before the ceremony that fall highlight the same modesty recalled by Francis Asbury and the knowledge that he was nearing the end of his own life:

“I have always considered myself too unworthy to perform this solemn injunction of the Apostle, but now I perceive the necessity of doing so, before I shall be removed.”

German Church from J.H.B. Latrobe's Picture of Baltimore (1832). Johns Hopkins University Sheridan Libraries, F 189.B1 P53 1842 QUARTO.
German Church from J.H.B. Latrobe’s Picture of Baltimore (1832). Johns Hopkins University Sheridan Libraries, F 189.B1 P53 1842 QUARTO.

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