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WESLEYAN METHODIST CHURCH

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Originally appearing in Volume V28, Page 533 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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WESLEYAN METHODIST CHURCH, one of the chief branches of Methodism (q.v.). On the day of John Wesley's death the preachers in London sent a brief note to those stationed in the country: " Dear Brother, The melancholy period we have so long dreaded is now arrived. Our aged and honoured Father, Mr Wesley, is no more! He was taken to Paradise this morning, in a glorious manner, after a sickness of five days. We have not time to say more at present relative to his Demise. Only what respects out future Oeconomy. This injunction he laid upon us, and all our Brethren on his death-bed, That we each continue in our respective Station till the time appointed for the next Conference at Manchester. We have, therefore, no doubt but you will, with us, readily comply with his Dying Request. The more so, as this is consonant with the determination of the Conference held at Bristol when he was supposed to be near death there, and confirmed in succeeding Conferences." In 1790 there were 294 preachers and 71,668 members in Great Britain, 19 missionaries and 5300 members on the mission stations; 198 preachers and 43,265 members in the United States. The 6th of April was kept as a day of fasting and prayer, and the 1st of July was thus set apart in order to seek divine guidance for the approaching conference. The crisis was serious. The large proportion of Wesley's members had been gathered by the labours of himself and his helpers. They had been taught to observe the sacraments and naturally desired that provision should be made for their administration in their own chapels. Some felt that they could not go to the Lord's Table where the clergyman was a worldly man; others went, but with much fear and doubt. The Church party was influential and resolute to maintain close relations with the Church of England. Their object was to prevent Methodism becoming independent. There was also a small but determined party that leaned to dissent. The struggle between these conflicting tendencies soon began. On the 3oth of March 1791 nine preachers. sent out the famous Halifax circular making suggestions as to the choice of president and other matters that must come before the conference. The first signature to this circular was that of William Thompson who was afterwards elected as the first president. On the 4th of May eighteen lay-men met at Hull and expressed their conviction that the useful-ness of Methodism would be promoted by its continued connexion with the Church of England. They would not consent to the administration of the sacraments by the preachers in Hull, nor to Methodist preaching at the time when services were held in church. A trenchant reply to this circular was prepared by Alexander Kilham (q.v.), one of the younger Methodist preachers. The conference met in Manchester on the 26th of July 1791. A letter from Wesley (dated Chester, April 7, 1785) was read, beseeching the members of the Legal Conference not to use their powers for selfish ends but to be absolutely impartial in stationing the preachers, selecting boys for education at Kingswood School, and disposing of connexional funds. The conference at once resolved that all privileges conferred by Wesley's Poll Deed should be accorded to every preacher in full connexion. To supply the lack of Wesley's supervision the circuits were now grouped together in districts. At first the preachers of the district elected their own chairman, but they were after-wards appointed by the conference. Regulations as to its business were issued in 1812. As to the sacraments and the relations of Methodism to the Church of England the decision was: " We engage to follow strictly the plan which Mr Wesley left us." This was ambiguous and was interpreted variously. Some held that it forbade the administration of the sacraments except where they were already permitted; others maintained that it left Methodism free to follow the leadings of Providence as Wesley had always done. During the year the difficulties of the situation became more apparent. Wesley had given the sacrament to the societies when he visited them and this privilege was greatly missed. The conference of 1792 was so much perplexed that it resorted to the casting of lots. The decision was thus reached that the sacraments should not be administered that year. This was really shelving the question, but it gave time for opinion to ripen, and in 1793 it was resolved by a large majority that " the societies should have the privilege of the Lord's Supper where they unanimously desired it." In 1794, this privilege was definitely granted to ninety-three societies. The feeling in Bristol was very strong. The trustees of Broadmead, who were opposed to the administration of the sacrament by the preachers, forbade Henry Moore to occupy that pulpit. Nearly the whole society thereupon withdrew to Portland Chapel. The conference of 1795 had to deal with this controversy. It prepared a " Plan of Pacification " which was approved by the conference and by an assembly of trustees, and was welcomed by the societies. The Lord's Supper, baptism, the burial of the dead and service in church hours were not to be conducted by the preachers unless a majority of the trustees, stewards and leaders of any chapel approved, and assured the conference that no separation was likely to ensue. The consent of conference had to be given before any change was made. In 1796, Alexander Kilham, who refused to abstain from agitation for further reform, and accused his brethren of priest-craft, was expelled from their ranks and the New Connexion was formed with 5000 members (see METHODIST NEW CONNEXION). The conference of 1797 set itself to remove any ground for distrust among the societies and to enlist their hearty support in all branches of the work. Annual accounts were to be published of various funds. The Circuit Quarterly Meeting had to approve the arrangements for the support of the preachers. The preachers had long been accustomed to consult the leader's meetings of their societies, but it was now clearly decided that stewards and leaders should be appointed in connexion with the leaders' meeting, and certain rights were granted to that meeting as to the admission and expulsion of members. Local preachers had to be accepted by the local preachers' meeting, and the powers of trustees of chapels were considerably extended. The constitution of Methodism thus practically took the shape which it retained till the admission of lay representatives to conference in 1878. No period in the history of Methodism was more critical than this, and in none was the prudence and good sense of its leaders more conspicuous. Advance was quietly made along the lines now laid down. The preachers had agreed in 1793 that all distinction between those whom Wesley had ordained and their brethren should cease. In the minutes of conference for 1818 " Rev." appears before the names of preachers who were members of the Missionary Committee. Jabez Bunting (q.v.), who had become the acknowledged leader of the conference, wished to have its young ministers set apart by the imposition of hands, but this scriptural custom was not introduced till 1836. Meanwhile, Methodism was growing into a great missionary church. Its work in the West Indies was firmly established in Wesley's lifetime. In 1786 eleven hundred negroes were members of the society in Antigua. The burden of superintending these missions and providing funds for their support rested on Dr Coke, who took his place as the missionary bishop of Methodism. In 1813 he prevailed on the conference to sanction a mission to Ceylon. He sailed with six missionaries on the 3oth of December, but died in the following May in the Indian Ocean. To meet these new responsibilities a branch Missionary Society had been formed in Leeds in October 1813, and others soor sprang up in various parts of the country. The Centenary of the Missionary Society falls in 1913, but Methodist Missions really date from 1786 when Dr Coke landed at Antigua. The area of operations gradually extended. Missions were begun in Madras, at the Cape of Good Hope, in Australia, and on the west coast of Africa. Two missionaries were sent to the Friendly Islands in 1826, and in 1835 a mission was undertaken among the cannibals of Fiji, which spread and deepened till the whole group of islands was transformed. The work in China began in 1851; the Burma mission was established in 1887. The rapid progress of the Transvaal and Swazi-land missions has been almost embarrassing. The Missionary Jubilee in 1863—1868 yielded £179,000 for the work abroad. As the growth of the missions permitted conferences have been formed in various countries. Upper Canada. had its conference in 1834, France in 1852, Australia in 1855, South Africa in 1882. The missionary revival which marked the Nottingham Conference of 1906 quickened the interest at home and abroad and the Foreign Field (monthly) is prominent among missionary periodicals. The Women's Auxiliary, founded in 1858, kept its jubilee in 1908. It supports schools and medical missions, homes and orphanages. In 1828 the erection of an organ in Brunswick Chapel, Leeds, led to a violent agitation and a small body of " Protestant Methodists " was formed. A more formidable division was led by Dr Warren, a preacher of ability and influence, who was disappointed because no place was found for him in the newly-formed Theological Institution. He tried to awaken general opposition to the Institution scheme, and being suspended from his office as superintendent by a special district meeting, appealed to the law courts, which sustained the action of the district meeting. He was expelled from the conference and joined the Wesleyan Methodist Association in 1836, but shortly afterwards became a clergyman in Manchester. In his first conference in 1744 Wesley asked, " Can we have a seminary for labourers ?" The answer was: " If God spare us to another Conference." Next year the subject was broached with the reply: " Not till God give us a proper tutor." The idea was not realized in his lifetime, but Wesley did everything in his power to train his preachers. He gathered them together and read with them as he had done with his pupils at Oxford; he urged them to spend at least five hours a day in reading the best books. He made this challenge, " I will give each of you, as fast as you will read them, books to the value of £5." In 1834 Hoxton Academy was taken as a training place for ministers; and in 1839 the students moved to Abney House, Stoke Newington. Didsbury College was opened in 1842, Richmond in 1843. Headingley was added in 1868, Handsworth in 1881. The Centenary of Methodism was celebrated in 1839 and £221,939 was raised as a thank-offering: £75,609 was devoted to the colleges at Didsbury and Richmond; £70,000 was given to the missionary society, which spent £30,000 on the site and building of a mission-house in Bishopsgate Within; £38,000 was set apart for the removal of chapel debts, &c. Methodism was now recognized as one of the great moral and spiritual forces of the world. Its progress was rapid, but in 1849 there came a disastrous check. 'There was much jealousy of Dr Bunting, the master mind 'of Methodism, to whose foresight and wisdom large part of its success was due. Fly-sheets were issued attacking him and other eminent ministers. James Everett, Samuel Dunn and William Griffith were expelled from the ministry, and an agitation began which robbed Wesleyan Methodism of Ioo,000 members. Those who now left the Connexion joined the reformers of 1828 and 1836 and formed the Methodist Free Churches. In 1852 the constitution of the Quarterly Meeting was clearly defined, and the June Quarterly Meeting obtained the right to approach conference with memorials. Various other provisions were made which increased confidence. It was not till 1856 that the Connexion began to recover from the loss caused by this agitation. Methodism began its work for popular education in a very modest way. In 1837 it had nine infant schools and twenty-two schools for elder children. A grant of £5000 was made from the Centenary Fund for the provision of Wesleyan day-schools. The conference of 1843 directed that greater attention must be given to this department, and a committee met in the following October which resolved that 700 schools should be established if possible within the next seven years, and an Education Fund raised of £5000 a year. In 1849 the Normal Training College for the education of day-school teachers was opened in Westminster, and in 1872 a second college was opened in Battersea for school-mistresses. Westminster provides for 120 and Southlands for IIo students. They supply teachers not only for Wesleyan, but for council schools all over the country, and no colleges have a higher reputation. Besides its day-schools, Methodism possesses the Leys School at Cambridge, Rydal Mount at Colwyn Bay and prosperous boarding-schools for boys and girls in many parts of the country. Methodism has from the beginning done much work in the army. Dr William Harris Rule (1802–189o), who was appointed chaplain at Gibraltar in 1832, won for it fuller recognition from the authorities. Charles H. Kelly, his colleague at Aldershot, and R. W. Allen had a large share in the struggle by which Methodist work both in the army and the navy was developed. Capitation grants have made it possible to organize the work at every station at home and abroad. No homes for soldiers and sailors are more efficient or better liked by the men. The service done by Methodist chaplains in war time, and especially in the Boer War, won the warmest recognition from the authorities. In 1878, laymen were introduced into the Wesleyan conference. They had been members of the committee appointed in 1803 to " guard our privileges in these perilous times, " and had gradually taken their place on the missionary and other committees. Circuit stewards had attended the district meetings before 1817 but in that year their right to attend was established. The Financial District Meeting of which they were members was created in 1819 and the financial business of each district soon came under its control. Out of the Annual Home Missionary gathering sprang a system of committees of review which, in 1852, James H. Rigg suggested might be enlarged and combined into a kind of diet composed of ministers and laymen who should consider reports from the various departments. The time was not ripe for such a scheme, but in 1861 the principle of direct representation was introduced into the committees of review. The Representative Session which met in 1878 consisted of 240 ministers and 240 laymen. The Pastoral Session of ministers met first to deal with pastoral affairs. In 1891 the Representative Session was sandwiched between the two parts of the Pastoral Session. In 1898 it met first and its numbers were enlarged to 300 ministers and 300 laymen. In 1892 the district meeting became known as the District Synod, and in 1893 the circuits began to choose representatives to the Synod in addition to the circuit stewards. The great advance in organization made with such peace and goodwill was commemorated in 1878 by the Thanksgiving Fund which reached £297,500. Dr Rigg, the president of that year, put all his strength into the movement, and every department of Methodist work at home and abroad shared in the benefits of the fund. The Forward Movement in Methodism dates from that period. A bolder policy won favour. Methodism realized its strength and its obligations. In 1885 the Rev. S. F. Collier was appointed to Manchester and the Rev. Peter Thompson was sent to work in the East End, Next year the Revs. Hugh Price Hughes and Mark Guy Pearse began the West London Mission. Every succeeding year has witnessed development and growth. Large mission-halls have been built in the principal towns of England, Scotland and Ireland. Great congregations have been gathered, and the work done for up-lifting the fallen and outcast has, earned the gratitude of all good men. The Manchester mission is regarded as one of the glories of that city. The Forward Movement will always be associated with the name of Hugh Price Hughes (q.v.). Village Methodism shared in the quickening which the Forward Movement brought to the large towns. Chapels which had been closed were reopened ; an entrance was found into many new villages. Weak circuits were grouped together and gained fresh energy and hope by the union. No work has been dearer to Methodists than that of the National Children's Home and Orphanage founded by Dr Bowman Stephenson in 1869. Its headquarters are in Bethnal Green, but it has branchee in various parts of the country and an emigration depot in Canada. It cares not only for waifs and strays, but for cripples and delicate children. Orphans of respectable parents have a home at Birmingham, and the reformatory school has done splendid service for lads who have committed a first offence. Dr A. E. Gregory, who in 1900 succeeded Dr Stephenson, has seen remarkable progress in all departments of the great institution under his care. " Sisters of the People " and deaconesses, for whom there is a training home at Ilkley, founded by Dr Stephenson in 1902, have also done much to help in these modern developments of Methodism. The Chapel Committee, which has its headquarters in Manchester, has general oversight of 9070 trusts with property valued at about twenty-five millions. The number of Methodist chapels in 1818 was 2000; in 1839, 3500; in 1910, 8606. The sitting increased from a million in 1851 to about 2,375,000 in 1910. The outlay on trust property in that period was more than fifteen millions. Debts amounting to £3,266,013 have been paid off since 1854. More than half a million has been advanced in loans and of this nothing has been lost. In 1907 and 1908 £1,292,282 was spent on trust property, and of this £892,114 was contributed. London Methodism owes more than can be told to the Metropolitan Chapel Building Fund which was founded in 1861. The names of the Rev. William Arthur, Sir Francis Lycett, Sir W. McArthur, will always be associated with this fund which has promoted the erection of some hundred new chapels. The Extension Fund, established in 1874, largely by the help of Sir Francis Lycett and Mr Mewburn, has done similar work for country towns and villages. About two thousand chapels have been assisted with grants and loans. Similar work has been done in Scotland by a fund established in 1878. North and South Wales also have their Chapel Funds. A secretary and committee were appointed in 1910 to carry out various developments of work in London. The work of the Metropolitan Chapel Building Fund and the London Mission is taken over by this new committee. John Wesley felt a lively interest in the Sunday schools which began to spring up all over England in the last years of his life. The first rules for the management of Methodist Sunday schools were issued by the Conference in 1827. In 1837 there were 3339 Methodist Sunday schools with 59,297 teachers and 341,443 scholars. A quarter of the preaching places, however, had no schools. The Education Committee was formed in 1838 to take oversight of the work in day and Sunday schools. The Methodist Sunday School Union, founded in 1873, was formed into a department in 1907 and is doing much to guide and develop the work. The Temperance Committee was formed in 1875; a temperance secretary was set apart in 1890. The department has its monthly organ and has its offices in Westminster. The Wesley Guild Movement, established in 1901, has its headquarters in Leeds and is doing a great work for the young people of Methodism. The centenary of Wesley's death was kept in 1891. Memorable services were held in City Road Chapel, which was restored and rendered more worthy of its historic position. Wesley's statue was placed in the forecourt. In 1898 the rooms in Wesley's house, where he studied and where he died, were set apart as a Methodist Museum. The first Methodist Oecumenical Conference was held in London in 1881, the second in Washington in 1891, the third in London in 1901, the fourth being fixed for Toronto in 1911. The Methodist Assembly which met in Wesley's Chapel, London, in 1909 brought the branches of British Methodism together with good results. A considerable extension of the three years' term has been secured in certain cases by a legal device for escaping the provisions of the eleventh clause of Wesley's Deed Poll, but some more satisfactory method of dealing with the subject is under consideration. The great event of recent Methodist history was the Twentieth Century Fund inaugurated by Sir Robert W. Perks in 1898. To his unwearying zeal and business ability the triumph secured was chiefly due. The Rev. Albert Clayton, the secretary of the fund, lavished his strength on his vast task and the total income exceeded £1,073,782. The grants were: General Chapel Committee, £290,617; Missionary Society, £102,656; Education Committee, £193,705; Home Missions, £96,872; Children's Home, £48,436. The Royal Aquarium at Westminster was purchased and a central hall and church house as the headquarters of Methodism erected. For this object £242,206 was set apart. Histories of Methodism.—Dr George Smith, Dr Abel Stevens, J. Telford, W. J. Townsend, H. B. Workman and G. Eayrs, A New History of Methodism (1909); Poetical Works of J. and C. Wesley; Wesley's Works (1771-1774, 1809-1813; ed. Benson, 1829-1831; ed. Jackson 1856-1862). Standard ed. of :Wesley's Journal (ed. N. Curnock, 1910); Cambridge Modern History, vol. vi.; Luke Tyerman, Life of George Whitefield (1876) ; J. H. Overton, The English Church in the Eighteenth Century; J. H. Overton and F. Relton, The English Church (1711-1800); J. S. Simon, Revival of Religion in England in the Eighteenth Century; W. E. H. Lecky, History of England in the Eighteenth Century; J. H. Rigg, The Living Wesley, The Churchmanship of John Wesley; R. Green, Bibliography of the Works of J. and C. Wesley; Wesley's Veterans; Lives of Early Methodist Preachers (Finsbury Library). (J. T. *)
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