Curriculum Kernewek

Cornwall Agreed Syllabus 2011

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+ Guide to Methodism

John Wesley, the son of Reverend Samuel and Susannah Wesley, was born in Epworth, Lincolnshire in 1703. He attended Oxford University and was ordained in his early 20's. Whilst at Oxford he and his brother Charles joined a group called the 'Holy Club'. Members of the Club held meetings to study scripture, attended to the poor and adopted a strict personal regime. The group were ridiculed for their methodical and rigid approach and became known as the 'Methodists'.

The Wesleys encountered Moravians (German Protestants) and, inspired by the faith they exhibited, experienced 'conversion' and a renewal of their faith. Wishing to share their knowledge of the Gospel and convinced that their message was for everyone the Wesleys began to travel around Britain. They were met by a great deal of resistance from the established Church and were refused permission to preach in parish churches. As a result the brothers took to preaching in people's homes, in barns and the open air.

In 1743 Charles visited Cornwall, where the local clergy incited people against him and he was attacked at St Ives, Pool and Towednack. Later that year John made his first trip to Cornwall, the first of over 30 visits during his lifetime. In spite of continued resistance the brothers travelled tirelessly to towns and villages, particularly mining and fishing communities with reputations for drunkenness, rough behaviour and poverty. Many people were deeply moved by their message and repented their sins, undergoing conversion, joining classes and undertaking a life of discipline and devotion. By the time of John Wesley's death, the Methodist Church had over 4,000 members and many more followers.

After the death of John Wesley, Wesleyan Methodism formally separated from the Church of England and Methodists became known as non-conformists. The term non-conformist came into use after the Act of Union 1662, to refer to Christians who did not belong to the Church of England, such as Baptists, Quakers, Presbyterians and Congregationalists. Later non-conformist groups included the Salvation Army, Plymouth Brethren and Unitarians.

The independent-minded nature of Methodist members soon led to splits within Methodism and the creation of new groups like the Bible Christian, Primitive Methodist and Wesleyan Reform. Through the efforts of these organisations and many individuals, non-conformism spread like wildfire between 1790 and 1840. Visiting preachers attracted large audiences, for instance, an estimated 60,000 saw John Benson during his time in Cornwall. A series of revivals swept across Cornwall, swelling the numbers and by 1851, 32% of the population (113,520) identified themselves as Methodists.

The Methodist ethic of discipline, hard work, honesty and self-improvement had an overwhelming effect on Cornish communities. Takings declined in public houses, especially during revivals due to increased temperance and thrift. With the decline of mining, miners migrated abroad taking their faith with them and establishing non-conformism in communities around the World.

Methodist Chapels remain the hub of many communities, although in recent times some chapels have been closed or converted to other uses. There has been a significant decline in the number of people self-identifying as Christian in the past century but despite this Methodist church attendance has consistently remained three times higher in Cornwall than in England.

The approach of the Wesleys contrasted sharply with that of the established Church of England in the eighteenth century in that:

+ Churches were the only place worship could occur but the Methodist preachers spontaneously held services and meetings anywhere that could hold a gathering (during revivals some congregations stayed up all night).

+ Churches often only opened on Sundays for services but Methodist Societies held classes and meetings several times a week and at different times of the day, some at 5am.

+ Church services consisted of set litany with sermons generally amounting to an annually repeated discourse on an aspect of morality but the Methodist gatherings used the Bible as a starting point to explore their relationship with God and encouraged participation, expression of emotion and the singing of hymns, many of which were written by Charles Wesley.

+ Church officials were in charge of the building, services and activities but Methodism encouraged its members to lead others to God, undergo self-improvement alongside others and build their own places of worship.

+ The ordained clergy and congregations might attend Church but Methodism upheld that Christianity required more than attendance, insisting on an initial heartfelt experience (conversion), continual spiritual renewal and commitment to self-improvement.