Who are The Methodists?
John Wesley and his legacy
The Methodist Church grew out of the work of John Wesley, who was born 300 years ago in 1703 and who died in 1791 at the ripe old age of 88. A Church of England clergyman who, after becoming an Oxford Fellow and missionary in Georgia USA, felt a clear call to preach to the ordinary people of the country. In many areas, most particularly in the new industrial towns, many of the ordinary people felt powerless to influence the life of the country and excluded from the church of the day. Among other things, this resulted from the influence of upper class family and parliamentary patronage on the selection and promotion of the clergy.
John Wesley, supported by his brother Charles (a prolific hymn writer), spent the last 53 years of his life continuously travelling around the country on horseback, preaching an estimated 43,000 times, mostly in the open air and frequently to large crowds. It is generally agreed that Wesley’s work with and for the ordinary people, helped to ensure a relatively smooth transition to an equal society, allowing Britain to avoid a French style revolution. He also visited the USA where a strong Methodist fellowship was also developing.
One result of his work was the spontaneous formation of local working class Christian fellowships that met initially in private homes and later in small chapels, funded and built by the group themselves. In some areas there was friction between church and chapel, with the result that after the death of Wesley, “The Methodists” (a nick name given to Wesley’s study group at Oxford, reflecting their methodical approach to life and worship) formed their own church organisation and methods. The Methodists and the Church of England, although never formally separated, gradually grew apart.
The Methodist Church Today and Tomorrow
The Methodist Church has always tried to be democratic. Each church is run by its local fellowship with the guidance and support of a minister. Several churches in an area are formed into a “circuit” (or group) with resident ministers at the larger churches supporting that church and other smaller ones. The resident ministers are appointed “by invitation” and remain for a period of 7 years (or by further invitation, up to a maximum of 11 years) before they move on. In this way, the churches regularly benefit from fresh blood and new ideas and the ministers benefit from new challenges, building a wide and varied experience. Towcester church is part of the Buckingham, Bicester and Brackley circuit, which consists of 10 churches and three resident ministers and is guided by Rev Colin Jackson based at Brackley Church.
Following Wesley’s tradition, the ministers are supported by a strong body of well trained and dedicated ”local” (or lay) preachers. The resident ministers and preachers rotate around all the churches in the circuit each Sunday, to ensure variety and new interest. Women have always played a major role in the Methodist Church and have been particularly active as local preachers. Today, they have complete equality within the church at all levels and in all roles.
Over the years, Methodism has become truly international, with 70 international church societies, covering 108 countries
As close cousins with a common root, who have both evolved over the last 200 years, the Methodist and Church of England churches have several times discussed the possibility of closer cooperation and getting back together again. Following detailed discussions completed in 2003, the two churches have agreed to commence a journey aimed at unity.