John Wesley made the first of his twenty-one visits to Ireland in 1747, finding 280 Methodists who had been gathered together in Dublin by pioneer lay preachers. The word spread very rapidly inwards and served to strengthen the Protestant witness in a country which is predominantly Roman Catholic except what is now known as Northern Ireland. The first chapel was opened at Dublin in 1752 and the first conference was held at Limerick in the same year. Emigrants from Ireland during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were of immense importance in spreading Methodism to other parts of the world. They included Barbara Heck, Philip Embury, Robert Strawbridge, and Robert Williams, pioneers in the United States of America, and Laurence Coughlan, the founder of Methodism in Newfoundland. The Irish Methodist Church has one constitution throughout the Republic and Northern Ireland with a President of the Methodist Church in Ireland. The President of the British Conference, as the successor of John Wesley, presides, however, over the Irish Conference, and six Irish representatives sit as members of the British Conference. There are 222 congregations, 16,200 recognized adult members and a total community roll of almost 55,800. There are 130 ministers in active work and 60 retired ministers. Local preachers total 293, with 68 local preachers on trial.
Methodism has made an important contribution to Irish education, including the establishment of Wesley College in Dublin, Methodist College in Belfast, and Gurteen College in Co Tipperary-this last a college of agriculture. It has developed a wide-ranging social work service, largely through its five city missions in Dublin, Belfast, Newtonabbey and Londonderry, which control several homes for the elderly, hostel accommodation for needy men and woman, residential care for adolescents and day care centers for the elderly. An increasing number of churches in other towns provide a range of services on their premises, including luncheon clubs, community advice centers, pre-school play groups, practical help and work with the elderly, etc.
Together with other churches, the Methodist Church in Ireland is deeply concerned with the issue of reconciliation and peace in Ireland. Many of the ministers and people have taken leading roles on efforts to establish peace during recent years of community strife.
Methodism was introduced into Italy during the second half of the last century, when the Risorgimento movement for reunification of Italy was in full force.
In 1859 the Wesleyan Missionary Society of London sent its general secretary to sound out what possibilities there were of Protestant preaching in this country. The Rev. Henry Piggott and his co-workers arrived in 1861 and their preaching gave birth to the “Wesleyan Methodist Church.”
Methodism first spread in Northern Italy, then from 1864 through the South. A theological school was founded together with social centers, and a few periodicals started publishing. This work, however, met with great difficulty after the rise of fascism in the 1920s and one by one the centers were forced to close. The government sent some ministers away from their churches and revoked others’ permission to preach. The decade from 1935 to 1945 could be defined by the motto “resist at all cost.” Thanks to the Lord the congregation did resist and since then they have continued to witness their faith, within the limits of their possibilities.
In 1871, the year after the break of Porta Pia, when the Pope’s temporal power was limited to the Vatican City, the Episcopal Methodist Missionary Society of New York sent the Rev. Leroy Vernon, who began his work in Modena, Bologna, Florence and Rome. In 1873 he was in Milan and proceeded to visit many other cities and smaller towns all over Italy. The Episcopal Methodist Church reached its widest diffusion during the years 1911-1935. At the same time, once again because of the financial crisis and the fascist regime, many of its achievements had to be renounced, both in the field of evangelization and the social and educational works.
Piggott and Vernon had not been the classic missionaries of the colonialistic age. They had a very clear understanding of the historical period Italy was going through. They put themselves to the task of contributing, by preaching the gospel, to developing an all-Italian Protestant Reformed Movement. This also served to expand those areas of freedom which were already open. A Protestantism completely immersed in the spirit of the Risorgimento was developing.
In May 1946 the union took place of the two branches of Italian Methodism. The Evangelical Methodist Church of Italy was born as a district of the British Methodist Conference. In 1948 the Italian Methodist Church took part in the founding of the World Council of Churches. In 1962 it achieved full autonomy with its own Conference. In 1975 the process of federation began between the Waldensian and Methodist churches and became operative in 1979. Churches have maintained their individual identities and organization, including financial administration. We share ministers between our churches, have one theological college, and one united circuit and district meeting.
Today there are about 4,200 Italian Methodists of whom 2,700 are baptized members. They are constituted in about 50 congregations spread all over the country. There are numerous Methodist social projects, especially in the south of Italy. The most significant are the “social center” in Villa S. Sebastiano (Abruzzi), and in Scicili (Sicily) “Casa Materna” in Portici near Naples; “Centro Emilio Nitti,” “Casa Mia” in Naples, the youth center “Ecumene” near Velletri that runs biblical training and which promotes debates on social and political problems; “Creating Hope” Intra for refugees and migrants’ Methodist Center.