WASHINGTON – George W. Bush is only the third president officially recognized by the Encyclopedia of World Methodism as a Methodist when he took the oath of office, but others later joined the church.
Methodists who have served previously were William McKinley (1897-1901) and Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881). Their church affiliations do not seem to be in dispute.
Two others, President Ulysses S. Grant, who immediately preceded Hayes in office, and James Knox Polk (1845-1849), are both reported to have been baptized by Methodist bishops during illnesses at the end of their lives.
The Rev. William K. Quick, an executive of the World Methodist Council, believes that Polk became a Methodist following a camp meeting in 1833, where he was moved by the preaching of the Rev. John McFerrin.
Polk and his wife, Sarah, attended Methodist services and followed the church’s practices at the time of shunning dancing and card playing, and they did not serve alcohol, said Quick, who has an abiding interest in Methodist history.
In 1849, then-Bishop McFerrin baptized Polk a few days before the president died.
Likewise, Grant (1869-1877) was baptized by Methodist Bishop John Phillip Newman, while suffering from cancer just months before he died in 1885. Newman subsequently entered Grant’s name on the rolls of the Metropolitan Memorial Church in Washington and was present when Grant died. Grant became a churchgoer after marrying Julia Boggs Dent, who was a lifelong Methodist.
Andrew Johnson (1865-1869) often attended Methodist services with his wife, the former Eliza McCardle, and occasionally attended Catholic mass, according to Quick. Johnson never formally joined a church.