Francis Asbury Disciplined For Wandering About

William Orpe Letter

Staffordshire High Round
Used with Permission by Tyler Fegley
Staffordshire Low Round
Used with Permission by Tyler Fegley

Francis Asbury Early Circuit

This article details one of the first disciplinary actions taken against Francis Asbury. For more detail on this subject please visit the article originally posted. This disciplinary action occurred when Francis Asbury was a young preacher in England, his first year on trial. The result of this action clearly enhanced Francis Asbury’s commitment to ministry. Moreover, this serious event constructed for Francis Asbury a vision for the itinerancy to become more dynamic, allowing preachers to reach for new preaching territory. According to the Francis Asbury Disciplined article: “In addition to the above lessons learned, this event also taught Francis Asbury a valuable life lesson that seems to solidify his never-failing commitment to obedience.” 

Francis Asbury and William Orpe

The article referenced above details the relationship between Francis Asbury and his superior, the itinerant he was to report to: “Beginning in January of 1766, John Wesley’s young itinerant preacher on trial, Francis Asbury, was assigned to team with William Orpe, a young preacher himself. William Orpe was the most unlikely fellow to initiate this “Francis Asbury disciplined” event. However, despite the young age of William Orpe, he was already an accomplished teacher of Hebrew at John Wesley’s Kingswood School in Bristol.” Clearly shorthanded for such a large circuit, Francis Asbury and William Orpe set out to cover the large Staffordshire circuit, a preaching chore which encompassed the Black Country towns of Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Willenhall, Walsall, Wednesbury, Darlaston and Billbrook. In addition to these Black Country towns who in the past had dealt sharply with John Wesley, the low end of the circuit, known as the Staffordshire ‘Low Round’ covered the towns of Worcester, Tewkesbury and Gloucester. This entire circuit, the low and high rounds, was beyond large, it was immense, spanning more than one-hundred-twenty miles in a straight line. Despite the almost insurmountable task, the young pair did their best, Francis Asbury primarily in his familiar territory of the upper end of the Black Country and William Orpe handling Worcester, Tewkesbury and Gloucester.”

Francis Asbury Disappointed

In the spring of 1766, word arrived that Francis Asbury and William Orpe would receive an additional preacher for the large Staffordshire circuit. Unknown to Francis Asbury was that William Orpe’s desire and plan was for Francis Asbury to continue the Staffordshire high round. This all-too-familiar assignment obviously frustrated the young itinerant. To confirm his assignment of Francis to high round, William Orpe informed Francis Asbury to be in Billbrook on the first day of May. It was there that they would meet the newly assigned helper for the Staffordshire circuit. At this time, Francis Asbury hoped that the newly arrived itinerant would be assigned to the Staffordshire high round and Francis Asbury would relocate to low round of the Staffordshire circuit.

Francis Asbury’s frustration with the familiar high round of the Staffordshire circuit was unknown to William Orpe. Francis Asbury had been preaching in these towns for more five years when you consider that he used to accompany his mother to local prayer meetings in these Black Country towns. Francis Asbury struggled with a sense that this familiar territory limited his efforts. Clearly, Francis Asbury needed to venture out into new territory.

According to the article cited above, “Francis Asbury looked forward to this upcoming  meeting with William Orpe in Billbrook, a meeting where Francis Asbury was sure that William Orpe would reassign Francis to the low round. Despite Francis Asbury’s wishes, the meeting did not go as planned, William Orpe assigned Francis Asbury to the familiar high round of the Staffordshire circuit. Francis Asbury was told by William Orpe to remain in the circuit, (the circuit in which Francis Asbury had been preaching since he was sixteen years of age). As one can imagine, this did not sit well with the young and adventurous Francis Asbury.”

Francis Asbury Wanders About

After this unexpected assignment from this meeting in Billbrook, Francis Asbury aimed for his next required preaching engagement at Billbrook. With William Orpe out of town and his mandatory preaching to the locals of Billbrook completed, Francis Asbury decided to disregard William Orpe’s assignment. Francis Asbury left Billbrook and ventured out on his own.

Once again, the article covers it well: “From the written notations of Francis Asbury, it is clear that he exited the town of Billbrook and headed for new territory. The first stop was the town of Stafford. After attempting to preach in Stafford, he turned for the villages of Stone, Newcastle, and Ashbourne. Ashbourne he had visited years before with the Scottish itinerant and mentor, Alexander Mather. All seemed to go well for the young, disobedient itinerant. But somehow, William Orpe found out about the headstrong act of Francis Asbury. Perhaps, William Orpe’s opinion of Francis Asbury was formed in the short time that the two worked the Staffordshire circuit together, perhaps others had warned and advised a test. However this knowledge came about, William Orpe immediately set out to enact this “Francis Asbury disciplined” event.”

Francis Asbury Disciplined

As a result, of the insubordination, William Orpe penned the following letter to Francis Asbury:

Dear Frank,

After having so firmly engaged you to supply Hampton and Bilbrook at the end of the week, I could not but be surprised to hear you are turned dictator. Certainly, you must either think I was not able to see the places properly supplied or else that I am fickle and inconsistent, and therefore you expect to hear my new mind. I take this opportunity of informing you that I shall not be at those places, and shall expect you to see them supplied in due time. It is true another preacher is come, but he goes immediately into the low round. In the meantime, I wish you would hearken to those verses of Hesiod,(A Greek farmer-poet from the eighth century BC. He lived about the same time as Homer, author of the Iliad). “Let him attend his charge, and careful trace the right-lined furrow; gaze no more around, but have his mind employed upon the work.” Then I should hope to hear that your profiting would appear unto all men. You have lost enough already by gazing all around; for God’s sake, do so no more. I wish that I might see you on your return from Hampton on Sunday evening. I shall be at Wednesbury if it pleases God. I have a little concern to mention. I hope you’ll call.

I remain yours affectionately,

William Orpe

The immediate response for Francis Asbury was one of self-preservation. Written on the back of the preserved letter which Francis Asbury received from William Orpe are details of his last few weeks. Clearly, none of these stops coincided with his assignment. Examination of the correspondence details the following:

My brother, if the same you be,

        I hope in the time appointed you’ll visit me.

        May 1 for Stafford

        And then for Stone

        And then for Newcastle

        And then for Ashbourne

        And then William Gibson

        at Birmingham


Well documented is the fact that William Orpe’s letter reached Francis Asbury before he reached Birmingham. In addition, in the handwriting of Francis Asbury details his first attempt to create a circuit of his own.

It is unlikely that Francis Asbury expected this scathing letter from William Orpe. In the mind of Francis Asbury, his attempt to find new preaching places was potentially more profitable than preaching to places where he had already labored for his entire preaching life to date. Despite the admirable efforts of Francis Asbury, he was being disciplined for abandoning his assigned circuit. Recalling the wise counsel of his mentor, Scottish preacher Alexander Mather, the counsel to go where your superiors send, Francis Asbury wisely decided to continue the familiar high round circuit until the upcoming conference in August.

Francis Asbury Low Round Staffordshire Circuit

Again, we cite the article: “The following account plays out in the book, Black Country. Al DeFilippo created this scenario based on research of the early circuits of Francis Asbury in England. Another article covers these circuits in more detail. In Black Country, the account goes as follows: in the mind of Francis Asbury, the summer of 1766 conference also did not go well for the young itinerant from the Black Country. Once again he was assigned to the high round of the Staffordshire circuit, and once again, he was assigned under the leadership of William Orpe. This assignment was upsetting to Francis Asbury. Ignoring the letter of William Orpe from the previous spring and worse yet, the assignment by John Wesley, Francis Asbury pushed his Scottish mentor, Alexander Mather, to overrule the assigned circuit from William Orpe. Despite his young and inexperienced willingness to go to the Staffordshire low round, Francis Asbury was successful.”

Not one to go against John Wesley, Alexander Mather unconventionally assigned Francis Asbury to the low round of the Staffordshire circuit giving Francis Asbury exactly what he wanted.

For the next year, Francis Asbury experienced numerous near-death experiences from the anti-Methodist mobs of Staffordshire’s low round. Quickly, Francis Asbury considered the possibility that he made a mistake. The article cited offers one tragic event where Francis Asbury is nearly drowned in the River Severn. The inescapable self-doubts resulting from these experiences drove Francis Asbury to his lowest point physically and emotionally.

Francis Asbury Disciplined Summary

In the book, Black Country, the advice given to Francis Asbury from his long-time mentor, Alexander Mather is priceless:

“Opposition is to be expected, but with disobedience, you only further its effects.”

What else did Francis Asbury learn from this experience? He clearly saw something profitable in his wandering about. This fact is evident when you consider his future efforts in America. He became the master of wandering about, inspiring generations of circuit-riding preachers to yearn for the frontier. One other lessoned learned seems to be that Francis Asbury also saw the wisdom in obeying your superiors. This commitment to obedience became especially handy when dealing with the stubborn New York and Philadelphia congregations who had abandoned some of the key Methodist disciplines.   


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