The Wesley Family
The Old Rectory & Developments
Video Footage of the Old Rectory
There can be no doubt that the Wesley family, and especially John and Charles, had a huge influence not only on the life of the church in the 18th century but also its subsequent development. Their preaching kindled a fire of Christian devotion and revival throughout Britain. Many thousands of ordinary working people, found a living faith which transformed their lives. Although the Wesleys never intended to found a separate church it was only a matter of time before the Church of England of those days was no longer able to contain this new movement. The Methodist movement began to grow as a denomination in its own right after John Wesley's death. Unwittingly perhaps, the Wesleys had founded what has today become a world-wide Christian communion of more than 75 million people in over 130 countries.
The methodical nature of their upbringing in Epworth, which they developed through the Holy Club at Oxford, influenced the way that John and Charles set up the movement. People were organised into small groups in order to discuss matters of faith together in a safe and trusting environment and his followers learnt to use their time to good effect.
As the Industrial Revolution began to exert its influence in 18th century Britain there was a strong move towards political revolution also, and many historians agree that Methodism played an important part in stemming that tide. The social and political climate was moderated as many working class people came to faith and their attitudes and behaviour changed. John Wesley's encouragement of lay people to become preachers and leaders led to their becoming more educated, and there was a movement of upward mobility among many Methodists. Wealthy employers too became more caring towards their workers.
Methodism was at heart a missionary movement, and the Evangelical Revival to which the Wesleys and Methodism made such an important contribution, led to a growing concern for the spread of the gospel not only in Britain but overseas. John Wesley had ordained Thomas Coke to go to America and in 1813 the Wesleyan Conference approved a plan for Coke to travel with other missionaries to India and Ceylon
The Wesleys' insistence on what they called 'social holiness' led to a growing passion for social justice expressed in areas such as the abolition to slavery (the last letter John Wesley wrote, just four days before his death, was to William Wilberforce on this issue), prison reform (Wesley encouraged John Howard in his crusade for reform) and the relief of poverty (Wesley set up dispensaries to treat the sick poor, established workshops to create jobs for the unemployed and encouraged his Methodist societies to distribute food and clothing to the needy). Education was another area in which the Wesleys had influence, and John founded Kingswood School in Bristol, whilst another Methodist, Hannah Ball, set up the first Sunday School, soon popularised and developed by the Anglican Robert Raikes - an important step towards free education for all.