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The Free Methodist Church is a denomination of Methodism, which is a branch of Protestant Christianity. It was founded in 1860 in New York's Burned-over district by a group, led by B. T. Roberts, who was defrocked in the Methodist Episcopal Church for criticisms of the spiritual laxness of the church heirarchy. The Free Methodists are so named because they believed it was improper to charge for better seats in pews closer to the pulpit. They also opposed slavery and supported freedom for all slaves in the United States, while many Methodists in the South at that time did not actively oppose slavery. Beyond that, they advocated "freedom" from secret societies, which had allegedly undermined parts of the Methodist Episcopal Church.
At first the church consisted of many former Methodist Epicopal people who had been actively involved in the Underground Railroad just prior to the American Civil War, which had sought to aid escaped slaves gain safety and freedom in Canada. Some of the stations are still centers of Free Methodist activity today, such as North Chili, New York, site of present day Roberts Wesleyan College, a Free Methodist school named after the founder. From there fugitive slaves were taken to Lake Ontario and boated across to Canada. Another Underground Railroad site was Pekin, New York, near the Niagara River, where slaves also crossed. This tiny town was the site of a Holiness camp meeting, as well, and the site of the organizational conference of the church in 1860. The denomination also has numerous churches in the Mid-west, some of the oldest ones also being in communities that were abolitionist centers and Underground Railroad stops along the southern shore of Lake Michigan.
Today, the Free Methodist Church is considered to be a part of Evangelical Protestant Christianity, and its theology is similar to that of the Wesleyan Church, the Church of the Nazarene and other Holiness churches. Members have traditionally abstained from alcohol and tobacco.
The largest Free Methodist church in the world is in Spring Arbor, Michigan.