The Wesley Family
The Old Rectory & Developments
Video Footage of the Old Rectory
When the Wesley family arrived at Epworth in 1695, they moved into a house comprising "five baies, built all of timber and plaister, and covered with straw thatche, the whole building being contrived into three stories, and disposed in seven chief rooms – a kitchinge, a hall, a parlour, a butterie, and three large upper rooms, and some others of common use; and also a little garden empailed betwine the stone wall and the south". (G.J. Stevenson, Memorials of the Wesley Family).
There was also a barn, a dovecot and a hemp-kiln, all surrounded by the croft, making the whole site about three acres.
Both John and Charles Wesley struggled to keep the Methodist movement within the Church of England, insisting that their followers should attend their local parish church as well as Methodist meetings. In 1744 they called the first Methodist Conference with six clergymen and four laymen present to govern Methodist affairs, and in 1784 the Wesleyan Connexion was legally established with an annual 'Conference of the people called Methodists' consisting of a hundred people. After John's death the leadership passed not to an individual but to this Conference, with one person being elected as its President to serve for a year - a practice which has continued to this day. Within only six years of John Wesley's death Methodism made a decisive break with the Church of England and became a separate church.
The years that followed saw a series of splits between various factions within Methodism (largely over governmental rather than doctrinal issues) and the founding of groups like the Methodist New Connexion, Independent Methodists, Primitive Methodists, Wesleyan Methodists, Bible Christians and Wesleyan Reformers. Gradually over subsequent years some of those groups came together again but it was not until 1932 that the present Methodist Church was formed, uniting them all except the Independent Methodists and the Wesleyan Reform Union who remain separate churches.
Methodism's missionary enterprise began during Wesley's lifetime with the sending of missionaries to America. This led eventually to the establishing of a powerful United Methodist Church in the USA which in turn sent out its own missionaries to different countries around the world. British Methodism concentrated its missionary energies on countries largely within the then British Empire such as Australia, New Zealand, the Caribbean, Burma, Sri Lanka and several African countries. Today there are autonomous Methodist Churches all over the world linked together through the World Methodist Council.
Many elements of contemporary Methodist church life have their roots in the work of John and Charles Wesley. Local churches are grouped into 'circuits' which in turn are grouped into 'districts'. Lay people take a great deal of responsibility for leadership within the Church with lay preachers (called 'local preachers') playing an important role and leading probably 70% of Methodist services on any given Sunday. Hymn singing (including those by Charles Wesley) plays an important part in Methodist worship, and many Methodists still meet in small groups, the successors to Wesley's 'class meetings'. There are almost 300,000 Methodist members in Great Britain and many others are linked with Methodist Churches.
For further information about Methodism today see the website of the Methodist Church.
In 2008, the Methodist Conference, received a report highlighting the value and untapped potential of the Methodist Church's historic sites and archives. The Conference approved recommendations in that report to convene a strategic Methodist Heritage Committee and employ a Heritage Officer to coordinate and support its heritage resources.
The Methodist Heritage Committee oversees the publication of a handbook of all the Methodist Heritage sites within Britain and publishes a twice yearly newsletter 'Heritage News'.
Methodist Heritage is committed to help the Methodist church to preserve its heritage and use it as a tool for contemporary mission. For more information see the Methodist Heritage Web Site.