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The Methodist Church of Great Britain or British Methodist Church is the largest Wesleyan / Methodist body in the United Kingdommarker, with congregations across Great Britainmarker (although more limited in Scotlandmarker). It is the United Kingdom's fourth largest Christian denomination, with around 330,000 members and 6,000 churches. Congregations in the Channel Islands, the Isle of Manmarker, Maltamarker and Gibraltarmarker also form part of the British Methodist Church. According to historians such as Elie Halevy, Eric J. Hobsbawm and E. P. Thompson, Methodism has had a major impact in the early decades of the making of the English working class (1760-1820).

History

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 Walesmarker . 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 if 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. 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 chapelsinto 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 the death of John Wesley (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 Methodists came together to form the present Methodist Church. Some off-shoots of Methodism, such as the Salvation Army, remain totally separate organisations.

Organisation

Logo of The Methodist Church


The Methodist Church has been characterised by a strong central organization, the Connexion, which holds an annual Conference. The annual conference is held 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 Hallmarker 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?" , 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 the NCH (formerly National Children's Homes), Methodist Relief & Development Fund and Methodist Homes charities.

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

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 Churchesmarker.

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

Malta

St. Andrew's Scots Church, Malta is a joint congregation (LEP) of the Methodist Church and the Church of Scotland situated in Vallettamarker.

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 Fool's 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! Since 1998 the Recorder has been available on-line. 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 Conference and are represented throughout the year by the Methodist Youth Exec and Youth President. There is also a biannual event called "Breakout" which evolved from the London Weekend.

Methodist associations

Although not part of the official structures of the Methodist Church, 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.

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. An archive of articles is available.

Notes

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


References



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