The thesis explored and developed in this book is that the episcopacy was the binding and cohesive power which joined and kept the Methodist connection together, especially during its early period of rapid expansion.
One question which needs far more consideration by students of Methodist history is why the various parts of the movement held together. Kirby’s thesis is that it was because of the episcopal office as exercised by Francis Asbury. The Episcopacy in American Methodism briefly examines the origins of the episcopal office in early Methodism, but the central focus is on the episcopacy's form, practice, and evolution in America. The volume is primarily about the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, although it acknowledges other relevant movements in Methodist history in America. The narrative continues to the present and outlines the implications of changes which have taken place as the Methodist church has moved from an itinerant, general superintendency to diocesan episcopacy with leaders no longer elected to the office by their peers.
This book provides the only in-depth study of the episcopacy in Methodism. It offers helpful insights for rethinking the episcopal office today. It is written in an accessible style appropriate for both students and lay readers. Readers will understand the origin and early history of the episcopacy as well as the ways in which the denomination, its polity and the episcopacy have changed throughout history. Readers will also become conversant with at least one proposal about how the episcopal office can provide needed leadership in the future