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Methodism

The Oxford Methodist Circuit is part of the Northampton District which, in turn, is part of the wider Methodist Church of Great Britain, itself part of the wider global Methodist movement which currently has a membership of about 80 million people.

john-wesleyMethodism began in the 18th century with John Wesley, his brother Charles, and other members of the so-called Holy Club in Oxford, a group of friends who met together for bible study and prayer. Out of this grew a deep desire to combine one's inward faith with practical service to those in need. As a result, John, Charles and the others would often visit Oxford Prison or visit the sick or do other charitable work in and around the city. They were called various derogatory names by their fellow students but the one that stuck was "Methodists", arising out of their methodical nature and strict routine with regard to their spiritual life.

Following on from a particularly profound spiritual experience in 1738, when John's heart was "strangely warmed", John, at the encouragement of George Whitfield who had also been a member of the Holy Club, began preaching in the open-air as a way of reaching out to the many people that the established church seemed to have abandoned. John and his fellow preachers believed passionately that God's love was for everyone, that God cared about everyone, and that everyone needed to hear that message. He travelled up and down the country preaching wherever he could and setting up Methodist Societies, groups of people who caught something of that vision and who wanted to both develop their own spiritual life and share the love of God in practical ways with those around them. Meanwhile, Charles set about writing hymn after hymn as singing became a hallmark of Methodist gatherings and one of the main ways those who came, many of whom were illiterate, began to learn more of God and the Bible through the words and images of those hymns.

Initially, the Methodist movement was just that - a revivalist movement within the Anglican Church. John Wesley, an ordained Anglican priest, never intended to set up a separate church and, indeed, John claimed to be an Anglican to the end of his days. However, the strength and impact of the movement, the reaction of senior clergy with the Anglican Church and breaches of church discipline (Wesley ordained ministers to work in America, where there was a great need, even though he was not a bishop) meant a break-up was ultimately inevitable. That split became complete in 1795, four years after Wesley's death, when the Plan of Pacification asserted that Methodist preachers could administer the sacraments without having being ordained by the Church of England.

Now, two hundred years later, our relationships with our Anglican friends are much happier and we do many things together, as well as with the other mainstream Christian denominations. However, we still believe we have something distinctive to offer through our worship life, our commitment to social justice and our passion to bring that message of "love for all" to everyone we can.

 

In Christ is our salvation -
by faith we look to Him and see
how ordinary lives can be transformed:
imprisoned spirits are set free
and hearts are strangely warmed.

In Christ is our salvation -
and still today He walks the earth
to find the lost and lead them back to light:
for every wayward soul has worth
and beauty in his sight.

In Christ is our salvation -
his Church today must stand and call
the sad and sick and lonely to come in:
for inasmuch as we serve all
we find we're serving him.

In Christ is our salvation -
the gospel now is ours to preach
throughout the worldwide parish of His care:
through us His healing grace must reach
His children everywhere.

Clare Matthews (a member at Wesley Memorial Methodist Church, Oxford)
Taken from a hymn written to celebrate the 250th anniversary of John Wesley's "Warmed Heart" experience