Methodist Church of Great Britain

Methodist Church of Great Britain
Methodist Church of Great Britain
The Methodist Church logo.svg
Classification Protestant
Orientation Methodist
Polity Connexionalism
Associations World Council of Churches,
World Methodist Council,
Conference of European Churches,
Community of Protestant Churches in Europe,
Churches Together in Britain and Ireland,
Churches Together in England
Geographical areas Great Britain,
Channel Islands,
Isle of Man,
Origin 1795
Separated from Church of England
Congregations 5,900[1]
Members 293,661[1]
Ministers 3,600[1]
Official website
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The Methodist Church of Great Britain (or British Methodist Church) is the largest Wesleyan Methodist body in the United Kingdom, with congregations across Great Britain (although more limited in Scotland). It is the United Kingdom's fourth largest Christian denomination, with around 300,000 members and 6,000 churches. Congregations in the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, Malta and Gibraltar also form part of the British Methodist Church. According to historians such as Elie Halevy, Eric J. Hobsbawm and E. P. Thompson, Methodism had a major impact in the early decades of the making of the English working class (1760–1820).



John Wesley, a founder of the Methodist movement.

Methodism arose as a revival movement in the 18th century, largely within the Church of England.

The main Methodist movement outside the Church of England was associated with Howell Harris in Wales.[2][3] This was to become The Calvinistic Methodist Church. Another branch of the Methodist revival was under the ministry of Rev. George Whitfield, resulting in the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion. A later development of Whitfield's ministry was the Free Church of England, a result of Whitfield's influence upon the Church of England.

The largest branch of Methodism in England was organised by a Church of England clergyman, John Wesley. It is a tribute to his charisma and powers of oratory that "Methodism" is commonly assumed to be Wesleyan Methodism unless otherwise stated. The main subject of this article is the current form of Wesleyan Methodism. As Wesley and his colleagues preached around the country they formed local societies, that were given national organisation through Wesley's leadership and conferences of preachers. Wesley insisted that Methodists regularly attend their local parish church as well as Methodist meetings.[4] In 1784 Wesley made provision for the governance of Methodism after his death through the 'Yearly Conference of the People called Methodists'. He nominated 100 people and declared them to be its members and laid down the method by which their successors were to be appointed. The Annual Conference has remained the governing body of Methodism ever since, with various modifications implemented to increase the number of preachers present, to include lay members (1878) and later women (1911).

Although Wesley declared, "I live and die a member of the Church of England", the impact of the movement, especially after Wesley's clandestine ordinations in 1784, made separation from the Church of England virtually inevitable. The estrangement between the Church of England and the Wesleyan Methodists was entrenched by the decision of the Annual Conference of 1795 to permit the administration of the Lord's Supper in any chapel where both a majority of the trustees and a majority of the stewards and leaders allowed it. This permission was extended to the administration of baptism, burial and timing of chapel services, bringing Methodist chapels into competition with the local parish church. Consequently, known Methodists were often excluded from the full life of the Church of England accelerating the trend for Methodism to become entirely separate from the Established Church.

For half a century after John Wesley's death in 1791, the Methodist movement was characterised by a series of divisions, normally on matters of church government (e.g. Methodist New Connexion) and separate revivals (e.g. Primitive Methodism in Staffordshire, 1811, and the Bible Christian Movement in south-west England, 1815). The second half of the nineteenth century saw many of the small schisms reunited to become the United Methodist Free Churches and a further union in 1907 with the Methodist New Connexion and Bible Christian Church brought the United Methodist Church into being. Finally the Methodist Union of 1932 the three main Methodist groups in Britain, the Wesleyans, Primitive Methodists and United Methodist Church came together to form the present Methodist Church. Some off-shoots of Methodism, such as the Salvation Army, remain totally separate organisations.


Methodists believe Jesus' Crucifixion was an atonement for the sin of mankind.

Some core beliefs affirmed by the Methodist Church are as follows:

  • The belief that God is all-knowing, possesses infinite love and goodness, is all-powerful, and the creator of all things.
  • God has always existed and will always continue to exist.
  • God is three persons in one, the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit.
  • God is the master of all creation and humans are meant to live in a holy covenant with him. Humans have broken this covenant by their sins, and can only be forgiven if they truly have faith in the love and saving grace of Jesus Christ.
  • Jesus was God on Earth (conceived of a virgin), in the form of a man who was crucified for the sins of all people, and who was physically resurrected to bring them the hope of eternal life.
  • The grace of God is seen by people through the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives and in their world. (Personal holiness)
  • Close adherence to the teachings of Scripture is essential to the faith because Scripture is the Word of God.
  • Christians are part of a universal church and must work with all Christians to spread the love of God.
  • Baptism is a sacrament or ceremony, involving the submersion or, more commonly, anointing of water which cleanses the stain of original sin. It also symbolises being brought into the community of faith.
  • Communion is a sacrament in which participants eat bread and drink juice to show that they continue to take part in Christ's redeeming resurrection by symbolically taking part in His body (the bread) and blood (the unfermented grape juice).
  • Baptism and Communion (often known as the Lord's Supper in Methodist services) are not only sacraments, but also sacrifices to God.
  • People can only be saved through faith in Jesus Christ, not by any other acts of redemption such as good deeds.

Additionally, the British Methodist Church teaches the Wesleyan Arminian concepts of Free Will, Conditional Election, Universal Atonement, Christian perfection, and Sanctifying Grace.

Life issues

The Methodist Church takes a moderate pro-life stance on abortion: "Abortion is a challenging and controversial subject, and the Methodist position is one way of approaching the ethical and moral dilemmas from a Christian point of view./ Support, counselling and openness are the most important things that the Church can offer to people who find themselves considering an abortion./ (...) In conception and birth, parents are pro-creators with God of new human life./ We live in an imperfect world, where both individuals and society will often fail. In certain circumstances abortion may be seen as a necessary way of mitigating the results of these failures./ It does not remove the urgent need to seek remedies for the causes of these failures./ (...)There are circumstances, for example when a pregnancy may pose a direct threat to the life or health of the mother, when abortion is understandable./ The probability of the birth of a severely disabled child (where this may be predicted or diagnosed with an appreciable degree of accuracy) also provides a situation in which in some circumstances in which many would – if reluctantly – choose an abortion./ (...) There are social conditions in our country which are offensive to the Christian conscience, particularly those connected with bad housing and family poverty. These conditions must be improved; meanwhile it is clear that abortion is sometimes sought as a response to the prospect of bearing a child in these and similarly intolerable situations." In conclusion, " Abortion must not be regarded as an alternative to contraception, nor is it to be justified merely as a method of birth control./ The termination of any form of human life cannot be regarded superficially and abortion should not be available on demand, but should remain subject to a legal framework, to responsible counselling and to medical judgement."[5] They support contraception and family planning as ways to prevent unwanted pregnancies.[6]

The Methodist Church also opposes euthanasia: "The final stage of an illness is not one which need represent the ultimate defeat for the doctor or nurse, but a supreme opportunity to help the patient at many levels, including those relating to emotional and spiritual well-being./ Dedicated workers in this field of care, including specialised hospices, demonstrate that it is possible to deal with all the symptoms which cause problems to the patient./ (...) There is a need to alter the attitude of society towards death – a subject we often avoid. This is an event which must be talked about and prepared for, physically, mentally and spiritually. Families of dying people need to be supported. Pre-death loneliness must be relieved. Those who are in the latter days of life must feel they are still (perhaps, especially) part of the family of God./ Euthanasia, assisted dying – both are artificial precipitation of death. Many Christians believe this idea is wrong. An approach to death as outlined above makes euthanasia inappropriate and irrelevant."[7]

The Methodist Church supported the campaign to abolish the death penalty in Great-Britain and since then has totally opposed its reintroduction.[8]


Wesley Memorial Church, a Methodist church in Oxford, where the Wesley brothers studied.

The Methodist Church has been characterised by a strong central organization and lack of a powerful 'hierarchy'. The Conference is held annually in three sessions (for ministers, the diaconate and a representative session including lay representatives). It is presided over by a President (a minister, elected by Conference for a year) and a Vice-President (a lay person or deacon).

The connexion is divided into over 600 circuits governed by the (usually) twice yearly Circuit Meeting and led and administrated principally by a "superintendent minister". Ministers are appointed to these rather than to individual churches (though some large inner-city churches, known as Central Halls, are designated as circuits in themselves - Westminster Central Hall in central London being the best known). Most circuits have many fewer ministers than churches, and the majority of services are led by lay local preachers, or by supernumerary ministers (retired ministers who are not officially counted in the number of ministers for the circuit in which they are listed). The superintendent and other ministers are assisted in the leadership and administration of the Circuit by lay Circuit Stewards, who collectively with the ministers form what is normally known as the Circuit Leadership Team.

The circuits are grouped in thirty-two districts covering Great Britain, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands each supervised by a District Synod and a District Chair, except the new London District, created in September 2006, which has three chairs with a "Lead" chair. Northern Ireland is part of the Methodist Church in Ireland.

Unlike many other Methodist churches, the British church does not have bishops. A report, "What Sort of Bishops?"[1], to the Conference of 2005, was accepted for study and report. This report considered if this should now be changed, and if so, what forms of episcopacy might be acceptable. Consultation at grassroots level during 2006 and 2007 revealed overwhelming opposition from those who responded. As a consequence, the 2007 Conference decided not to move towards having bishops at present. Many Methodists believe that the function of 'bishop' is already part of the church's structures - though called by different names.

The Church is closely associated with Action for Children ( formerly NCH and before that the National Children's Homes), Methodist Relief & Development Fund (MRDF) and Methodist Homes charities.

The Methodist Church also helps to run a number of schools, including two leading Public Schools in East Anglia, Culford School and The Leys. It helps to promote an all round education with a strong Christian ethos.

Presidency and Secretary

The current president of the Methodist Church in Great Britain is The Revd Lionel Osborne and Vice President is Mrs Ruth Pickles[9]. The current Youth President is Christy-Anna Errington. The General Secretary is The Revd Dr Martyn Atkins. He is also the secretary of the Methodist Conference.

Ecumenical relations

In the 1960s, the Methodist Church made ecumenical overtures to the Church of England, aimed at church unity. Formally, these failed when they were rejected by the Church of England's General Synod in 1972, however conversations and co-operation continued leading in 2003 to the signing of a covenant between the two churches. From the 1970s onward, the Methodist Church was involved in several "Local Ecumenical Projects" (LEPs) with neighbouring denominations usually with the Church of England, the Baptists or with the United Reformed Church, which involved sharing churches, schools and in some cases ministers. The Methodist Church is closest to the United Reformed Church in belief, practice and churchmanship and Methodist/ URC union is the most common form of United Church involving Methodist partners.

The Methodist Church is a member of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, the Conference of European Churches and the World Council of Churches.

The Methodist Church was part of the "Scottish Churches Initiative for Union" (SCIFU) which stalled following the withdrawal of the Church of Scotland in 2003. The Methodist Church also participates in the Livingston Ecumenical Parish in Scotland.

Congregations outside of Britain

St. Andrew's Scots Church, Malta is a joint congregation (LEP) of the Methodist Church of Great Britain and the Church of Scotland situated in Valletta. There are also Methodist Churches in the Crown Dependencies of the Isle of Mann and the Channel Islands (with each island forming a circuit).

Methodist Churches in Northern Ireland are part of the Irish Methodist Church Connexion.

Other countries have their own Methodist denominations, such as the United Methodist Church in the United States and the Union de l'Eglise Evangélique Méthodiste in France. All Methodist denominations meet together in the annual World Methodist Council, with its headquarters in North Carolina.

Methodist Recorder

The Methodist Recorder is an independent weekly newspaper that examines events and current affairs within the Methodist community in Great Britain and the Wider World. It has been published continuously since 1861, absorbing its major rivials the Watchman in 1883, the United Methodist in 1932 and the Methodist Times in 1937. On 13 February 1992 the Recorder published its 7,000th edition and the following year published its first April Fools' Day joke, claiming that there would be a "complete standardisation of Methodist worship" which would require local preachers to wear a "uniform" and be trained in clowning and juggling![10] Although not available online, the Recorder maintains a basic website offering subscription details and a brief outline of the newspaper's contents.[11] The Methodist Recorder is available on tape free of charge for blind and visually impaired people from Galloway's Society for the Blind.

Work with young people

The Methodist Church has approximately 30,000 members under 25 years old, and some Methodist churches work with young people in their communities. Work with young people is overseen by the Children and Youth Team, (originally called MAYC). Once a year, young people have a chance to meet and discuss church issues at Methodist Youth Assembly and are represented throughout the year by the Methodist Youth President a paid young person. Formerly there was also a biannual event called "Breakout" which evolved from the London Weekend this saw its last festival in July 2010.

Methodist associations

Although not part of the official structures of the Methodist Church of Great Britain, there are a number of fellowships and societies for Methodist interests. One of these is the Wesley Historical Society whose branches hold regular meetings and publish journals recording the history of Methodism. These are useful sources of information.

The Voice of Methodism Association (Charity registration 233722) was formed at Westminster Central Hall on Saturday the 25th January 1964, to oppose the proposal to join together the Anglican Church with the Methodist Church. Opposition at the time was described as ‘formidable’.

After more than a decade of inter-Church talks, in February 1963, a report, 'Conversations between the Church of England and the Methodist Church' was published. This gave an outline of a scheme to unite the two Churches. The scheme was not without opposition, for four Methodist representatives; Kingsley-Barrett, Meadley, Snaith and Jessop, issued a dissentient report. Through much of the 1960s, controversy spread in the two Churches. Central in the debate was the need for Methodist Ministers to be ordained under the Anglican Historic Episcopate. Critics claimed that this would be re-ordination and proponents of the scheme struggled to find a form of words to disguise this fact.

From around 1967 onwards, the Anglican-Methodist unity scheme began to run into problems. There was strong opposition from Anglo-Catholics, and the Voice of Methodism campaigned against it. Following initial alarm that the Scheme would begin in 1965, voting was delayed until 1969. There were many arguments over the ‘Service of Reconciliation’. In asserting the Historic Episcopate, the doctrine of the Priesthood of All Believers, stated in the 1932 Methodist Deed of Union, was being denied. The debate became acrimonious, reaching a low point with the publication of the book 'Anglican-Methodist Unity: Some Considerations Historical and Liturgical' by Margaret Deanesly and Geoffrey Willis. The Voice of Methodism brought a Chancery Court case against the Methodist Connexion. It was claimed that the degree of opposition expressed in the Methodist District Synods and Circuit Meetings did not represent the true depth of feeling against the Scheme in the pews. Around a tenth of the Church left. At the votes taken in July 1969, the Methodist Conference accepted the Scheme, but insufficient support was given in the Anglican Convocations, and despite several attempts to revive it, the proposals lapsed.

The 'Voice of Methodism Association' was taken into administration in by the Charity Commission in 1992. A renewed trust was formed by the Charity Commission in 2002. This renewed trust seeks to support unity between Christians without uniformity. It has continued to campaign against attempts to merge the Methodist Church with the Church of England on grounds that all current schemes for merger compromise Methodist doctrine. The charity also gives small scale grants to support Methodist churches and encourages Church members to preserve the distinctive Methodist identity.

Methodist Evangelicals Together

Methodist Evangelicals Together is the recently (2007) adopted name for Headway, an association of evangelically minded Methodists. Headway was formed about 20 years ago when the Methodist Revival Fellowship and Conservative Evangelicals in Methodism merged. It has over 2000 members, including some 400 ministers, and exercises increasing influence. The journal, METConnexion, has articles covering a wide range of topics. [2] An archive of articles is available.


In the early days of Methodism, chapels were sometimes octagonal to avoid conflict with the established Church. The first was in Norwich (1757). It was followed by Rotherham (1761), Whitby (1762), Heptonstall (1764) and ten others.

The Heptonstall chapel is the oldest in continual use.[12] The building featured in the BBC Four series "Churches: How to read them". Dr Richard Taylor named it as one of his ten favourite churches, saying: "If buildings have an aura, this one radiated friendship." [13]

See also


  1. ^ What sort of bishops?:Models of episcopacy and British Methodism
  2. ^ METConnexion magazine Editorial


  1. ^ a b c "World Council of Churches - Methodist Church of Great Britain". Retrieved 2009-12-18. 
  2. ^ Gwyn Davies, A Light in the Land, Christianity in Wales 200-2000, 2002, Bryntirion Press, ISBN 1 85049 181 X, pp. 70-79.
  3. ^ Richard Bennett, Howell Harris and the Dawn of Revival, 1909, English translation 1962, Banner of Truth, ISBN 1 85049 035 X
  4. ^ Rev. Philip S Watson, Anatomy of a Conversion, 1984, Francis Asbury Press (now Zondervan), ISBN 0-310-74991-3, p. 26.
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Methodist Church - President and Vice President". Retrieved 2011-7-18. 
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ Heptonstall Trail, A Calder Civic Trust publication, 1996
  13. ^ "Richard Taylor, Rider Books". 

Further reading

  • Alan Brooks, West End Methodism: The Story of Hinde Street. London: Northway Publications, 2010.

External links

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