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Friday, 13 May 2016


In 1729 university students John Wesley and his brother Charles founded with 14 other Oxford undergraduates the Holy Club. Charles Wesley, the chief founder of this religious association, was alarmed at the threat of the influence of Deism in the University. The Holy Club members fasted, went without sleep, laid down on grass during frosty nights, visited the sick and prisoners, but it was all good works and no personal salvation. Due to their methodical ways they were scathingly called "Methodists"

John Wesley attended a Moravian meeting in Aldersgate Street, London, on May 24, 1738, in which he heard a reading of Martin Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans. Wesley felt his heart "strangely warmed." The event revolutionized the character and method of his ministry.

Wesley preaching, by William Hamilton

After Wesley had this conversion experience he visited Count Zinzendorf's Moravian community to see how the Gospel was lived out in community. He then returned to England and founded the Methodist movement, an off shoot of the Anglican Church, to spread "scriptural holiness."

England in the 1730s was in need of spiritual surgery. This was the era of the hunting, shooting, bottle a day parson who entered the ministry not on account of a vocation but because it offered a gentlemanly way of living. Often the church was the only profession open to a younger son who got his post through family influence. He embraced religion as casually as he might have bought a commission in a regiment. The churches often stood empty and there were multitudes in the cities and countryside that knew no more of the Christian message than an inhabitant of the "Dark Continent." John Wesley saw his mission as to reform the nation and spread Scriptural holiness over the land.

John Wesley built the first Methodist chapel, the New Room in Bristol in 1739. Here men and women were separated to aid concentration, women were sat downstairs and men upstairs.

Interior of New Room Chapel

Across the border in Wales the Welsh Methodists were being nicknamed "Jumpers" as they habitually jumped for joy.

The first conference of Methodist workers was held in 1744. John Wesley was influenced by Count Zinzendorf's Moravian community whereby he  created a fellowship based structure with prayer bands where everyone was accountable to each other and where new converts were placed in small meeting groups.

Wesley had a heart for the working class such as the miners, whom after their conversion he encouraged to meet in their own Christian congregations, sing their own songs and mix with their own kind. Many middle class Christians were shocked at this strategy, but it proved successful and helped the Methodist Church to grow.

The Wesley Chapel on John Street in New York City was dedicated in 1768. It was the first Methodist church building to be erected in the American colonies, and was restored in 1817, and again in 1840. In 1769 John Wesley sent his first Methodist missionaries to America.

The powerful preacher Francis Asbury (August 20, 1745 – March 31, 1816) was the first American Circuit Rider (a Methodist minister who preached round his circuit). He arrived from England in 1771 and started touring the colonies and the Mississippi territory and developed the system of circuit riding for the frontier ministry.

The Ordination of Bishop Asbury, an engraving of an 1882 painting of the scene.

By covering thousands of miles each year as a circuit rider, Francis Asbury established Methodism as one of the leading American denominations. Asbury delegated authority to other Methodist lay preachers but had high standards. These lay readers had to be willing to get up at 4.00 in the morning for one hours Bible study then be outside by 5.00 to meet people going to work.

Francis Asbury saw the new denomination grow from under 500 members to over 200,000 by the time of his death in 1816.

By 1784, John Wesley believed he could not longer wait for the Bishop of London to ordain someone for the American Methodists, who were without the sacraments after the American War of Independence. Wesley ordained his friend Thomas Coke, a priest in the Church of England, to be the co-superintendent of Methodists in the United States along with Francis Asbury, by the laying on of hands.

Barratt's Chapel is a Methodist chapel located to the north of Frederica in Kent County, Delaware. Coke came to Barratt's Chapel on Sunday, November 14, 1784, expecting to find Asbury. As Wesley's personal emissary, Coke was invited to preach. During this service the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion were administered for the first time by ordained Methodist clergy.

Barratt's Chapel,

The 1784 Christmas Conference marked the beginning of the Methodist Episcopal Church of the United States. For the following 32 years, Asbury led all the Methodists in America.

In 1776 fewer than 2 per cent of Americans were Methodists. By 1850, the movement claimed the allegiance of 34 percent of the population.

Methodism is known for its rich musical tradition; Charles Wesley was instrumental in writing much of the hymnody of the Methodist Church,

The Methodist Church and Evangelical United Brethren Church merged to form the United Methodist Church  on April 23, 1968.

Almost all Methodist denominations are members of a consultative body called the World Methodist Council, which is headquartered at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, in the United States.

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