Evangelical Association, an ecclesiastical body, sometimes erroneously called the German Methodist church, probably because its confession of faith and its polity are very similar to that of the Methodist Episcopal church, while its members are chiefly Germans or of German descent. It took its rise in the eastern part of Pennsylvania in the year 1800, and resulted from an organization into classes and congregations of the disciples of the Rev. Jacob Albright, who, being impressed by the general decline of religious life, and the corruption of doctrines and morals that prevailed in the German churches in that portion of the country, undertook about 1790 to work a reform among them. The effect of his first efforts encouraged him to travel through a great part of the country, preaching in churches, in schools or private houses, in the public roads, etc. He soon found it necessary to unite his converts, scattered over several counties, into small societies for mutual support and sympathy. At a meeting called for the purpose of consulting upon the best measures to be adopted, the assembly unanimously elected Mr. Albright as their pastor, authorizing him to exercise all the functions of the ministerial office over them, and declared the Bible to be their rule of faith and practice.
This organization was soon after considerably improved by the adoption of a creed and rules for church government. In the course of time annual conferences were held; and in 1816 a general conference met for the first time in Union co., Pa., which consisted of all the elders in the ministry. Since 1843 a general conference, composed of delegates elected by the annual conference from among their elders, has held quadrennial sessions. This body constitutes at once the highest legislative and judicial authority recognized in the church. The ministry is divided into two orders, deacons and elders ; and, faithful to the principles and example of their founder, they practise itinerancy. Its highest permanent order is the eldership ; for, although the society has its bishops and presiding elders, yet these, to be continued, must be reelected every four years; and if not reelected, they hold no higher rank or privilege than that of an elder. For the first 25 years of its existence the society struggled against violent opposition, but since then it has made rapid progress, so that in 1873 it comprised 15 annual conferences, consisting of over 600 itinerant and 400 local preachers.
The church has hardly any congregations in the New England and the southern states, and is most numerous in Pennsylvania and the northwestern states. It has two conferences outside of the United States, Canada and Germany, both established in 1863. The aggregate membership in 1873 was 83,195, an increase over the preceding year of 2,505. The membership of the Canada and Germany conferences was about 8,500. The institutions of learning sustained by the church in 1872 were, the Northwestern college in Naperville, 111.; the Union seminary in New Berlin, Pa.; the Blairstown seminary in Blairstown, Md. ; and the Ebenezer orphan institution at Flatrock, Ohio. Its publishing house at Cleveland, Ohio, issues six periodicals, three in German and three in English, besides which two periodicals are published in Germany. The society forbids its ministers and members the use of intoxicating liquors as a beverage, and refuses church fellowship to manufacturers and vendors of them. In theology it is Arminian, but holds the essential doctrines of the gospel as they are held in common by the various evangelical churches, with all of whom it aims to cultivate a fraternal spirit.
The first volume of a " History of the Evangelical Association " has been published by the Rev. W. W. Orwig.