Methodism began as a movement led by John Wesley (1703–1791), a priest of the Church of England who followed the Christian year as set forth in The Book of Common Prayer. When the Methodists in America set up the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1784, Wesley sent them an adaptation of The Book of Common Prayer, entitled Sunday Service of the Methodists in North America. In this work, he simplified the Anglican version of the Christian year to include: Sundays of Advent (four), Nativity of Christ (Christmas), Sundays after Christmas (up to fifteen), Sunday before Easter, Good Friday, Easter Day, Sundays after Easter (five), Ascension Day, Sunday after Ascension Day, Whitsunday (Pentecost), Trinity Sunday, and Sundays after Trinity Sunday (up to twenty-six). Every Sunday was, of course, the Lord’s Day, and all the Fridays in the year (except if one fell on Christmas Day) were “days of fasting or abstinence.”
At the heart of United Methodist worship is music. Music is the language of the congregation, and it is widely understood that the function of music in worship is to help the congregation encounter God. Whether a United Methodist Church is “high church,” “low church,” or somewhere between the two, the philosophy of the function of music rarely deviates. Music is the human expression by which we are joined one to another and by which we claim our understanding of God and our relationship to God. Music is the vehicle, the action, of the work of the people.
The United Methodist Church has a complex heritage that has predisposed it toward an eclectic style of worship and given it an openness to influences from many Christian traditions and contemporary worship renewal movements.