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Methodist Mission in Argentina

Origins of the Methodist Mission in Argentina

The first years of Methodism in the Rio de la Plata area were quite unstable with little recorded of the happenings. From 1828 to 1853, Buenos Aires was ruled by Juan Manuel de Rosas. His policy of restriction to a free market economy soon brought some reprisal measures, especially from France and England, who were competing for the South American market. One of those measures was the blockade of the Rio de la Plata entrance by the French navy. Thus, the wide estuary of the Rio de la Plata became an endless conflict scene for twelve years (1838-1850), affecting the commerce and the free navigation to both cities: Buenos Aires and Montevideo.

The political conflict also had its impact in the social situation of the region. A clear description of the situation is depicted in one of John Dempster’s letters, the first missionary appointed to the River Plate area, dated November 28, 1840:

I have this hour stepped on the shore at Buenos Aires, and find that up to the first instant the port continues shut. For almost three years its broad waters lay unmoved by commerce, as if slumbering on the bosom of some inland desert. …Activity and hope had deserted it. The forms that moved along the streets had something depicted on their faces which language was not made to portray…Laboring are exceedingly scarce….  

But the menace came not only from the outside. The political situation of both countries, Argentina and Uruguay, was highly violent and unstable, and an endless civil war had transformed the lives of people of both cities into a nightmare. In the same letter, Dempster gave a picture of that situation:

…….Indeed, the whole province is summoned to arms, as nearly all the other provinces have dissolved their connection with this, and are in hostile array against it. Just prior to the removal of the blockade, at the approach of the insurgents, scenes of cruelty, violence, and bloodshed of the blackest character opened on this city and province….During this reign of terror a sepulchral gloom veiled the city; no one of the opposing party knew the hour when his blood should swell the tide which was flowing so copiously around him….It is stated that horsemen have been seen conveying several human heads attached to their saddles; one was fastened to the monument in the center of the public square….but any attempt to particularize must produce heart-sickness. The scene must remain undescribed, and as it is now closed we cannot but fervently pray that it may open no more.

This is the background that accompanied the first years of the Methodist mission in Buenos Aires, and one of the reasons for its almost definitive end.

Rev. Fountain Pitts was the first Methodist missionary arrived to Buenos Aires in October 1835. He was actually a missionary “spy.” He wouldn`t stay at the field, he just was sent by the Missionary Society in order to survey the region and report to the society about whether a missionary enterprise was worthy to start in that part of the continent. He moved cautiously in the political field and on September 26, 1835, he requested permission to exercise his ministry to the government of Buenos Aires through the American Consulate:

Consulate of the United States of America, Buenos Aires, September 26, 1835:

To his Excellency the Minister of Foreign Relations:

The undersigned, Consul of the United States of America, has the honor to advise His Excellency the Minister of Foreign Relations that the Rev. Fountain E. Pitts, recently arrived from the United States of America has requested to be allowed to make an application on his own behalf asking that he be permitted to reside in the Province and exercise the functions of a clergyman.

He himself has presented the documents which are attached hereto, which seem to be authentic and which accredit him to be a clergyman. In addition, a letter of special recommendation addressed to the undersigned by the President of the United States testifies to the respectability and appreciable qualities of the applicant already named.

His passport is deposited in the Department of Police.

God keep his Excellency the Minister for many years.

                                        Eben Ritchie Dorr

This request was referred to the proper authorities of the nation, and finally, under the date of February 8, 1836, the following Decree was issued:

The Rev. Fountain E. Pitts, presbyter of the Methodist Episcopal Church, is permitted the public exercise of the functions of his ministry in this Province…

Pitts returned to the United States and was by resolution invited to visit the General Conference at Cincinnati and present his report in person, which he did. Thus, the Missionary Committee of the Cincinnati General Conference in a report dated May, Friday 27, 1836, stated:

Having an interview with brother Fountain E. Pitts respecting the states of things in South America. From the information received from him, as well as from their sources, it appears that there are most encouraging openings for missionary labor in that country, and that brother Pitts had succeeded in securing the confidence and protection of the government of the Buenos Aires….At Buenos Aires there are, it seems, not less than ten thousands Protestants but partially supplied with the means of grace, and that here a Methodist society has been formed, and a house of worship commenced….These facts induce us to believe that a promising field for labor is opened in South America, therefore,

Resolved: That the bishops be and are hereby requested to select two additional missionaries or more for South America, to labor at such places as the bishop or bishops appointing them may direct.

                                Nathan Bangs, Chairman

It is necessary to remark, as stated above, that the original goal of the mission to the Rio de la Plata, in this period, was not thought in terms of an evangelistic crusade, but a mission for spiritually support to those Protestant immigrants “partially supplied with the means of grace.”

Written by Daniel Bruno


Quoted by J.M.Reid. Missions and Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Vol.1. (New York: Eaton and Mains,1895), 310, 311.


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