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What is Methodism?
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The Methodist Church

Methodism began as a renewal movement within the Church of England. Its beginnings are associated with the work of John and Charles Wesley, sons of an Anglican clergyman. Both men studied at Oxford University and were very diligent in their religious life, so much so that those who derided them gave them the nickname “Methodists”, a reference to the methodical and systematic way they sliced up the day and gave themselves to its various activities.

Seal of the Methodist Conference with red seal impression

The two men served in the newly founded American colony of Georgia before returning to England where they were soundly converted in May 1738. Soon, they were organising their own fellowship circles centred in their first London Chapel, the Foundery in Moorfields, just on the edge of the City of London. Both the Wesleys were persuaded by George Whitfield to speak in the open air and soon began an extraordinary itinerant ministry centred in Bristol, London and Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

The simple and readily accessible way in which the Wesleys and their followers preached and exemplified devotional life attracted thousands of followers. Their ministry was fiercely inclusive, aimed at outcasts and the marginalised including prisoners. The doctrine which was preached from pulpits and sung lustily by those early congregations centred upon the universality of God’s grace and the need for all believers to grow in love towards that perfection which is God’s goal for all his people.

In the 1770’s when the lease on the Foundery ran out and it was falling into disrepair, John Wesley built what he called the New Chapel just 200 yards away. This is what we now call Wesley’s Chapel. At his death in 1791, the Methodist Fellowship in Britain numbered 7,000. In the United States of America, through Francis Asbury, Thomas Coke and many others, the total had already moved beyond 10,000. Within a century, both Churches had grown exponentially and were making an active contribution to national and international life. The world did indeed become the Methodist parish and countless people have had occasion to thank God for its work and witness.

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