You are here

Methodism as Context for Joseph Smith’s First Vision

TitleMethodism as Context for Joseph Smith’s First Vision
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsWigger, John
JournalBYU Studies Quarterly
KeywordsMethodism; Palmyra, NY; Smith, Joseph, Jr.; Smith, Joseph, Sr.; Smith, Lucy Mack

Joseph Smith and his family had considerable contact with Methodism in the years surrounding his first vision, as Richard Bushman has described. Lucy and Joseph Sr. attended Methodist meetings while the family lived in Vermont. In Palmyra, Joseph Jr. reportedly attended Methodist camp meetings, where he experienced “a spark of Methodism,” and joined a class meeting of the Palmyra Methodist Church. Willard Chase, one of Joseph’s treasure-hunting associates in Palmyra, was also a Methodist class leader. Later, Chase hired a “conjuror,” and he and his sister Sally used her “green glass” in an attempt to find where Joseph had hidden the gold plates, which apparently did not violate his Methodist scruples. During the time that Joseph translated the plates into the Book of Mormon, he and his wife, Emma, attended Methodist meetings, and Joseph reportedly joined a class.

Joining a class meeting was significant. It defined one as a member of a Methodist society. Anyone could attend public meetings, but joining a class implied a deeper level of commitment. Classes met once a week, usually in someone’s home. They were supposed to include about a dozen members, a size thought best to promote intimacy, openness, and discipline, though they often ballooned to two or three times that number. Class meetings were not preaching occasions. After singing and prayer, the leader would usually examine each member in turn, asking them to reveal their troubles and triumphs in front of their neighbors. The leader recorded attendance and contributions weekly. Attending a class meeting would have given Joseph Smith an inside look at all that it meant to be a Methodist.