(An excerpt from the Bicentennial Edition of The Storv of the Hay Bay Church, 1993.)
That same year, 1811, Bishop Francis Asbury made his first visit to Canada.
Following the meeting of the New England Conference in Vermont, “the aged bishop Asbury determined to go over the borders and see the country where the preachers he had sent, with God’s blessing, had raised up a Methodist body of nearly 3000 persons, and which he had long desired to see,” wrote Playter. Crossing at St. Regis, he met with and preached to most of the Methodist societies along the St. Lawrence, sometimes to as many as one thousand persons, as at Elizabethtown. His travelling companion was Henry Boehm; both of them recorded the journey in their respective diaries.
It was a triumphal tour that greatly validated Methodism as an ecclesiastical body—at least in the eyes of its adherents. The Methodist Episcopal Church really had a visible episcopos (bishop) in their midst. “Everywhere the bishop was treated as the angel of the Churches,” wrote Boehm. The reported size of the audiences indicates the presence of hundreds of non-Methodists as well.
Two Canadian preachers, Henry Ryan and Edward Cooper joined the entourage. At Gananoque, Asbury wrote of the increasing discomfort cause by his rheumatism: “The pain in my foot is so severe that I cannot much enjoy the great kindness of this people… My foot is much inflamed and my whole body disordered.” He was also stirred as he met the Canadian descendants of the originators of Methodism in America—the Hecks, Emburys, Dulmages, Carscallens, etc. Boehm wrote:
“Father Asbury was very lame in his left foot with inflammatory rheumatism. He suffered like a martyr. On Tuesday [July 9] we reached Brother Elias Dulmage’s, a very kind family, and Bishop Asbury preached in the first town [Kingston] church on Heb. x, 38,39; Brother Cooper and I exhorted. The bishop was so poorly he could not proceed on his journey, and was obliged to lie by and rest, that he might be able to attend the Genesee Conference at Paris [N.Y.]. He remained at Brother Dulmage’s, where he found a very kind home, and I went with Henry Ryan to his quarterly meeting in Fourth or Adolphus Town, by Bay of Quinte… On Friday we rode to Brother John Embury’s, by Hay Bay. He was a nephew of Philip Embury, the apostle of American Methodism… The next day, Saturday [13th], Cooper preached at eleven o’clock, and Henry Ryan and I exhorted.
“On the Lord’s day we had a glorious lovefeast, and at the Lord’s supper Jesus was made known to us in the breaking of bread. In a beautiful grove, under the shade of trees planted by God’s own hand, I preached to two thousand people from Luke xix, 10, John Reynolds and Henry Ryan exhorted. The sparks flew and the fire fell.”
The Adolphustown Quarterly Meeting on July 13 and 14, 1811, was meant to be the climax of their apostolic journey. Boehm and Ryan rode all night back to Kingston, a distance of 35 miles, retrieved the somewhat improved Asbury, sailed to Sackett’s Harbour, and travelled on to the next Conference. Asbury never returned and died five years later, greatly loved and mourned. The Hay Bay church missed Asbury’s visit, though he had been (dare we say it?)–Only a foot away!