December 21, 1823
The Bible Christian Church opens in Philadelphia and writes a constitution whereupon “none can be members . . . but those who conform to the rules, regulations, and discipline of said Church; which rules require abstinence from animal food.”
The Bible Christians came to the United States as a largely working-class group, drawn toward a meatless diet in cities like Liverpool and Manchester because of its affordability. While the group advocated for dietary reform while in England, it did little to reach out beyond its own small community. However, once in the United States and under Metcalfe’s guidance, Bible Christians began to branch outward. While many of the church’s original settlers left Bible Christianism aft er arriving in Philadelphia, the group’s reform-oriented ethos appealed to sectors of the city’s growing middle class.
Spurred by Metcalfe’s growing visibility, and despite the group’s avowed antisectarian principles, the Bible Christians began to formalize their organization. In May 1823, they purchased a plot of land in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood on the north side of the city. On December 21, the Bible Christian Church opened its doors for the first time on North Third Street and Girard Avenue. With a new, more visible presence the group continued to grow, welcoming in a combination of converts and recently arrived British Bible Christian migrants. In 1830, the group was formally incorporated by the Pennsylvania state legislature. As the Bible Christians’ constitution specified, “none can be members . . . but those who conform to the rules, regulations, and discipline of said Church; which rules require abstinence from animal food.”
Metcalfe’s increasing public presence helped spread the vegetable diet gospel outside the walls of the Bible Christian Church, introducing the notion to a general public that was becoming increasingly interested in reform. With its evangelical, reformist tradition, Philadelphia was the perfect city for the Bible Christians to attempt their experiment in meatless living. Knowledge of the Bible Christians’ creed continued to grow, even beyond Philadelphia.