This church sprang directly from the work of John Wesley (1703-1791) and his brother Charles (1707-1738), which was part of the Evangelical Revival of the 18th century. John dedicated himself to serious Christian living in 1725; they met with others at Oxford to form the Holy Club, also nicknamed “Methodists” because of their rigorous approach to Christian life. They were ordained deacons and priests of the Church of England and went to Georgia as missionaries. On the voyage they were greatly impressed by the faith of the Moravians.
They returned to England dissatisfied with their spiritual state. On May 24, 1738 in a room in Aldersgate, John felt his heart strangely warmed; Charles had a similar experience. After this new beginning, reluctantly following the example of George Whitefield they began open-air preaching, despite the opposition of bishops and hostile mobs. Societies were formed, first in Bristol in London and then in many places. Lay preachers were employed; a system of circuits was formed and from 1744 onwards there was an annual conference of preachers, a centralized system geared for mission. John traveled 250,000 miles and preached 40,000 times and by 1791 there were over 70,000 members and over 400 chapels.
John Wesley never intended his movement to separate from the Church of England, but in 1794 he gave legal status to his Conference and ordained ministers for America. Disputes about the status of the traveling preachers and the administration of the sacraments were resolved by the Plan of Pacification (1795) which was a decisive break with the Church of England. Divisions arising from the constitutional disputes and fresh revivals led to the creation of the Methodist New Connexion (1797), to the Primitive Methodists (1812), the Bible Christians (1816) and smaller groups which largely united in the United Methodist Free Churches in 1857. All except the Wesleyan Reform Union and the Independent Methodists united with the main body, the Wesleyans, to form this Methodist Church in 1932.
This Church, which covers England, Scotland and Wales, is the largest of the Free Churches in England. It belongs to the Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland (CBBI) and other ecumenical bodies and takes part in over 300 local ecumenical projects. It serves local churches through a connexional team, with four coordinating secretaries responsible for church life, church and society, inter-church and other relationship and central services. It has 333 districts, each with a Synod, presided over by a ministerial chairman. It emphasizes education in general and training for varied forms of ministries, both lay and ordained. The traditional Wesleyan stress on evangelism, social concern and the struggle for justice is expressed in its involvement for education and service, with young and older people respectively, through NCH and MHA, its two main social work agencies, as well as many local mission projects in inner city and rural areas.
Our calling challenges the Methodist Church to respond to the present age, in its worship, learning and caring, service and evangelism. Its worship is a mixture of formal and free, with the Wesley hymns still important to a people “born in song”. Its commitment to prayer and bible study in small groups, to youth work, pastoral care and social outreach, are the main characteristics of a Church proud to celebrate over 250 years of Methodist witness and over 200 years of overseas missions as its contribution to the World Church. The rediscovery of Wesley’s message for today and the connection between our Methodist heritage and contemporary mission, as we prepare to celebrate the 300th anniversary of John’s birth (2003), is a vital part of its ongoing commitment to evangelical revival and the quest for holiness, personal and corporate, offering Christ to all through worship, witness, preaching and service.
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