Methodism on the edges of society

From John Wigger’s Taking Heaven by Storm:

As in America, Methodism in England grew fastest on the peripheries of society, gaining the most of any denomination from the expansion of the English population and economy between 1750 and 1850. As David Hempton notes, English Methodism was most successful wherever there was a migratory labor force and in areas where the traditional influence of squire and parson was fading. English Methodism grew rapidly in mining communities, seaports and fishing villages, market towns, factory villages, canal settlements, and the rural “highland” areas of northern and western England. Wesley, as John Walsh observes, “had a sharp strategic eye for the new industrial settlements out of the sound of church bells and away from the old community life of the village.”

As I read this history, I wonder about what if any parallels we can draw to our day.


2 thoughts on “Methodism on the edges of society

  1. Still true today! Much of the magic, it seems to me, of church plants and growing ministries is identifying places (geographic or sociological) where people’s needs are not being met. In Wesley’s day, the coal miners and others were not being reached by the established church of the day. Now, we are the de-facto established church, and churches that are growing are doing what Wesley did!

  2. The Methodist movement ………………….One of their number was a carpenter, Philip Embury, who became a Methodist lay preacher (that is, a person authorized by Wesley to preach, but not ordained to offer any church sacraments). Unhappy with their life in Ireland, eight or ten of these refugee families departed for the English colonies in America in 1760. Among the emigrants were Embury, his cousin Barbara Heck, and her new husband, Paul Heck.

    Settling in New York City, the immigrants found life difficult and fell into quiet inactivity in their religious life. According to tradition, one evening in October, 1766, Barbara Heck found her brother, her cousin Philip, and some others playing cards and gambling. This was a common amusement of the time, but to some, it was a morally questionable activity. The scene kindled Heck’s religious ardor. Collecting the cards from the table into her apron, she disposed of them in the fire and warned the players to repent. She then turned her comments specifically to Philip Embury, urging him to preach “or we shall all go to hell, and God will require our blood at your hands!” At first, he objected that he had neither a place to preach nor a congregation. Soon Heck had gathered a congregation of five persons into Embury’s house. These included Barbara and Paul Heck, a hired man named John Lawrence, and a black slave named Betty. Together, these individuals constituted the first Methodist Society in New York City, and apparently the second in the English colonies in America, since perhaps half a year earlier, a group had been formed in Maryland (with neither Wesley’s knowledge nor his authorization).

    Richard A. Bennett

    Imagine that happening today.
    Heck would be called every name in the book.

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