A HISTORY OF METHODISM
The most prominent ‘founder’ of Methodism is John Wesley who along with his brother Charles, began preaching about the assurance of the free grace of God during the 1700s.
John and Charles Wesley were born in Epworth, Lincolnshire to Samuel and Susanna Wesley, it was a large family, it is believed that Susanna had 19 children, 10 of whom survived. Samuel was a man of faith and was Rector of the parish Church at Epworth. Susanna home schooled all of her children, and found time to set up a Sunday afternoon house group in the rectory kitchen, which around 200 people eventually attended.
When John was 6, there was a fire at the family home, he became trapped upstairs but was rescued from an upstairs window. His family believed that John had been spared from the fire for a special purpose, he later referred to himself as ‘a brand plucked from the burning’.
John later attended Christ Church at Oxford, along with his brother Charles, who began to become more serious about his faith. Charles then started a small group called ‘the Holy Club’, which met for bible study and prayer. John also joined this club, and became a leading light where he stressed the need for combining a deep inward faith with practical service to those in need. Members of the Holy club used to go into the nearby town and prison to do charitable work and visit the sick. This led to other students coming up with various mocking nicknames for the group such as ‘Bible Moths, however, the one that stuck was ‘Methodists’. It was at the Holy Club that the brothers met George Whitefield, who became part of the Methodist movement.
After leaving Oxford, in 1725, John was ordained as an Anglican Deacon, and then as a Priest in 1728 at Christ Church Cathedral, he also became a tutor and Fellow of Lincoln College. He had an unsuccessful period of missionary work in America with Charles in 1735, after which they returned to England, conscious of their lack of Christian faith. It was at a Moravian service at Aldersgate in 1738 that John experienced what is known as his evangelical conversion.
In 1739, George Whitefield, who had become a Methodist preacher, invited John to start open air preaching in Bristol, where John went on to build the first Methodist building, which he called ‘our new room’. It was a purpose-built building for preaching, teaching and lodgings for his expanding group of preachers. Charles had also become an Anglican priest, but later became an influential Methodist preacher, and a prolific hymn writer.
It is estimated that John Wesley travelled over 250,000 miles and preached 40,000 times during his lifetime to preach the gospel, and as so many working-class people often felt excluded from the churches, field preaching became a key feature of the Methodist Revival. More and more preachers were trained and travelled around to become ‘visiting preachers’, or they remained ‘local preachers’.
Social justice has always been a big part of Methodism, and caring for those in need mattered a great deal to the Wesley’s. John Wesley was known to have called for the abolition of slavery in his last known letter, the Wesley’s influenced prison reform and earned a reputation as pioneers in education.
Methodists were always encouraged to do as much as they could to help others, John Wesley urged them to
Do all the good you can, in all the ways you can, to all the souls you can, in every place you can, at all the times you can, with all the zeal you can, as long as ever you can.
Today, millions belong to Methodist churches all around the world and the Methodist Church continues to be a discipleship movement of Christians, intent on mission: nurturing faith and engaged in action for social justice at home and abroad.