One noisy mouse

Part of Asbury’s legendary ability to connect with people consisted of the humor he used to defuse tense situations. In the summer of 1776, Thomas Rankin, whom Wesley had appointed as head of American Methodism, toured Virginia. There he was dismayed by the raucous emotionalism of southerners’ meetings for worship. At a conference of the preachers soon afterward, Rankin launched into a tirade against “the spirit of the Americans,” criticizing the preachers for allowing “noise” and “wild enthusiasm” in their meetings and for becoming “infected with it” themselves.

As the tension in the room mounted, Asbury “became alarmed, and deemed it absolutely necessary that a stop should be put to the debate,” according to a preacher who witnessed the event. Jumping up, Asbury pointed across the room and said, “I thought—I thought—I thought,” to which Rankin replied, “Pray . . . what did you thought [sic]?”

“I thought I saw a mouse!” exclaimed Asbury. This “electrified” the preachers, and in the ensuing noisy laughter, Rankin realized that he had misjudged his audience. Asbury clearly knew the American preachers (and their enthusiasm) better than Rankin. His timing must have been perfect because otherwise the joke isn’t that funny.

By John Wigger

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #114 in 2015]

John Wigger is professor of history at the University of Missouri and author of American Saint: Francis Asbury and the Methodists.
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