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our history

Early Methodism

The Methodist movement began within the Church of England in the 18th century, in response to perceived apathy within the established church. The term "Methodist" was first given to a group of students at Christ Church, Oxford, including the brothers Charles and John Wesley, who adopted a very methodical lifestyle. The Methodists received communion and fasted regularly, abstained from most forms of luxury and became enthusiastic preachers.

For a long time John Wesley was nagged by a feeling that he didn't have absolute and personal faith in God, but following his conversion in 1738 he became a great preacher, travelling all around the country and preaching wherever he could find people to listen. The message of Wesley and the Methodists was that all can be saved, and no-one is beyond the reach of God's love.

 As the number of Methodists grew, John Wesley formed local societies and groups as well as establishing the annual conference of Methodist preachers. However, he still encouraged people to attend their parish church, not wanting Methodism to become a separate movement. Despite Wesley's declared vow to remain a member of the Church of England, the strength of the Methodists made separation inevitable.

Wesley's giving of legal status to the Methodist Conference, as well as ordaining ministers in America, finally brought about the establishment of a separate Methodist Church. Following his death, the Methodist movement splintered due to internal disagreements and several strands formed, including the Wesleyan Methodists, Primitive Methodists and Bible Christians. By 1932, the main strands had come together to form the modern Methodist Church of Great Britain.

Today, the Methodist Church of Great Britain joins all churches and members in the British Isles together within the Connexion. On a more local level, the country is divided into thirty-one regional districts, each of which is further divided into a number of circuits. It is the circuits which are made up of individual churches.

South West Methodism

For many organisations, the South West peninsula down to Penzance presents an administrative problem because of the great distances and relatively small population. Methodism has tried various arrangements for its Districts and after the Methodist Union in 1932 it settled down with Cornwall, Plymouth and Exeter.

With the coming of separated Chairmen larger Districts were needed to support them and in 1957 the Plymouth District was divided between the other two to form the modern Cornwall and Plymouth and Exeter Districts. Since then two circuits in East Cornwall have been transferred to the Cornwall District. Still today, three circuits in the Plymouth and Exeter District have chapels in Cornwall and one circuit in the Cornwall District has a few chapels in Devon!

Looking back further, John Wesley was a frequent visitor to our District but generally on his way to and from Cornwall. Following Wesley's death, for much of the nineteenth century there were five separate national Methodist denominations, including the strong and widespread Wesleyans. Nationally the smallest of the five were the Bible Christians but locally they were second only to the Wesleyans and in North West Devon they had a large area to themselves.

 The Bible Christians were founded in North West Devon and North East Cornwall in 1815 and their heartland was always Cornwall, Devon and West Somerset. The Shebbear and Ringsash circuits still contain only churches in the Bible Christian tradition. Both Shebbear and Edgehill Methodist Schools were founded by the Bible Christians.

The other three Methodist denominations did have chapels in our District but were relatively weak compared to their situation elsewhere. The Primitive Methodists had circuits along the coast, Exmouth, Teignmouth and Dawlish, Dartmouth, and Plymouth.

 The Free Methodists had mostly small circuits in Bridgwater, Exeter, Tavistock, Devonport, Plymouth and Stratton and Bude. The New Connexion had a sole chapel in Torquay. The chapels of the last three denominations have almost all been closed. Our sole Moravian church was in Devonport and closed in 1916.