Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Primitive Methodist Centenary plate

This is a photo of a plate produced for the 1907 centenary celebrations of the Primitive Methodist movement, courtesy of Margaret Lawton.

The movement began in May 1807 with an open-air camp meeting on Mow Cop in North Staffordshire, England. It grew rapidly to 200,000 members and 6,000 churches by 1888. At the centenary celebrations in 1907, it is estimated that 100,000 people gathered for the camp meeting at Mow Cop.

The founders were Hugh Bourne(1772–1852) and William Clowes (1780–1851), both pictured.

A movement inspired by the Holy Spirit

The Primitive Methodist movement was inspired by the Holy Spirit. It grew from nearly 8,000 members in 1820 and expanded to over 100,000 members 30 years later. It doubled in size to nearly 200,000 by 1888. The movement is testimony to God at work in the lives of tens of thousands of working-class men and women whose lives were radically transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Indeed whole villages and communities experienced transformation as men and women who were often violent, foul-mouthed, and known for drunkenness, became believers and followers of Christ. The movement was inspired by the Spirit as their leaders made new converts, raised “societies” and established churches.

There were two founding fathers of the movement: Hugh Bourne (1772- 1852) and William Clowes (1780-1851). Hugh Bourne was effectively the general superintendent and William Clowes the missionary apostle. Both of these men had profound experiences of the Holy Spirit which shaped their lifelong ministry. They made converts and established churches across the length and breadth of England. The movement later extended to America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Hugh Bourne describes a life changing experience of the Holy Spirit at Harriseahead chapel, in 1804. “The brethren could have exercised faith in silence, but they laboured with all their heart, and mind and voice, and the noise was heard afar off, and all were in a uniting faith before the Lord; and in my opinion there was the greatest outpouring of the Holy Ghost I have ever known… It was the greatest time of power I had ever known”. Hugh Bourne experienced the “unction” of the Spirit as he preached, visited families and encouraged and exhorted local groups of believers and those earnestly seeking God for forgiveness of sin.

William Clowes recalls an infilling of the Holy Spirit, in a profound experience in 1812. He relates the agony of soul as he meditated on “account of the millions of souls on the earth who were posting on in the way of death, whose steps take hold on hell”. He continues “I arrived on a forest, and then I gave way to my feelings, and poured out my soul, and cried like a woman in the pangs of childbirth. I thought the agony into which I was thrown would terminate my life. This was a glorious baptism into the ministry; the glory of God was revealed to me in a wonderful manner; it left an unction on my soul which continues to this day; and the sweetness which was imparted to my spirit, it is impossible for me to describe”.

Bourne recalls a service of the Lord’s supper (which the Primitive Methodists called a love-feast) at Tunstall on Sunday September 24th, 1820. It was “at first rather heavy, and the labouring was severe; but when it had proceeded about an hour and a-half, there was an outpouring of the Spirit of the Lord on the whole congregation; and this was the first effectual appearance of a general increase or revival of the work of the Lord.” The next evening he preached and many were converted to Christ.

Let us pray that God will raise up like-minded men and women today who, inspired by the Holy Spirit, will lead a movement to transform lives in our day and generation.

“Memoirs of the Life and Labours of Hugh Bourne", Volume I,p111, Volume II, p106 republished by Tentmaker Publications 121 Hartshill Rd, Stoke-on-Trent (http://www.tentmaker.org.uk/)

“The Journals of William Clowes”, p107 originally published in 1844 and republished 2002 by Tentmaker Publications 121 Hartshill Rd, Stoke-on-Trent (http://www.tentmaker.org.uk/)

The story of Jenny Hall

The Primitive Methodist movement has many stories of people who were radically transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. This movement amongst the working classes of England in the early 1800s resulted in a moral change in many individuals, families and communities. Many men and women were transformed from lives of violence, profligacy, blasphemy and drunkenness into radical followers of Christ.

One story of radical change was that of old Jenny Hall of Harriseahead. William Clowes records that “such was the condition of this poor woman, that occasionally she would curse and swear, and throw herself into the most violent paroxysms. On many occasions it was very dangerous to be in the house with her; at one time such was her violence that her husband narrowly escaped with his life.” Four of them “entered into this matter by fasting and secret prayer”. When they went to pray for her “the woman … became agitated in a remarkable manner; her body appeared singularly convulsed, as if some internal power was rending her in pieces; her face was absolutely black, her throat rattled, and she foamed at the mouth, and appeared as if she would choke”. As they continued “faith now began to rise … Then one began to adjure the devil in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, to come out of the woman; immediately there was a sudden alteration, - her deliverance came, and she shouted for glory”.

This was a lasting change. Clowes records that “about eighteen years subsequent to this event taking place … I visited Jenny Hall, and found her living in the same place, happy in the Lord, and shouting glory. She told me she had never lost her faith, but lived constantly in the light of God’s countenance.”

Note: this story is taken from the journals of William Clowes (1780-1851), one of the founding fathers of the Primitive Methodist Movement. Known as apostolic Clowes, he was the missionary apostle of the movement, similar to the apostle Paul, establishing churches and chapels in many towns of England. The movement grew rapidly from 1807 to nearly 200,000 members and 6000 chapels by 1888.

“The Journals of William Clowes”, p77-79 originally published in 1844 and republished 2002 by Tentmaker Publications 121 Hartshill Rd, Stoke-on-Trent (www.tentmaker.org.uk)

How a Primitive Methodist chapel was established in Shelford

(or how planting churches may not be easy)

By 1819 the Primitive Methodist Movement was expanding rapidly in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. Wherever their travelling preachers went, new converts were made, and groups of believers were gathered to form a “society”. Over time a society would establish a chapel in a local town or village. This is the story of how a church was established in the village of Shelford by the Primitive Methodists (or Ranters as they were also known).

Shelford is a beautiful village near to Nottingham, in the UK. The river Trent flows downstream from Nottingham to Shelford. The problem at that time was that all the land around the village was owned by the Earl of Chesterfield, with only one acre not belonging to the estate. Furthermore, the Earl and the steward of his estate were hostile to the Primitive Methodist believers.

The Primitive Methodists began meeting in a basic thatched-roof house of Joseph Vickerstaff on the village estate. It was known as a “stud and mud” house, because of the simple construction. They began to use the house as a venue for a new church, and soon the Primitives became subject to severe persecution by the national church party in the village. In spite of various threats, the infant church continued to meet in this humble home. The persecution came to a head when workmen were sent to pull the house down and throw the Vickerstaff family and their furniture onto the street. The nominal justification was that the house degraded the amenity of the village.

The response was immediate: the Primitive Methodists began meeting in a similar mud and stud, thatched-roof home of Henry Fukes, also on the estate. The church continued to grow and develop with new converts being made. The persecution continued however and rage against the Primitives increased. Henry Fukes was threatened with the same fate as Vickerstaff, if he did not “turn those noisy people out”. Henry did not waiver in the face of threats to his “stud and mud” house, but finally the moment of crisis came. He returned home one evening to find that his house had been pulled down, and his wife and furniture having been ejected onto the road. They were provided with shelter and a home in the family of friends.

No sooner was this house levelled to the ground than the Primitive Methodists began to meet in the house of Matthew Woodward. This house was of much more robust construction, and there was no argument that demolishing the house would improve village amenity. However, Woodward was threatened and taken to court. He defended his case admirably in court and the magistrates found in his favour. It was then said “it is of no use tormenting ourselves with these incorrigible Ranters – we may pull half the village down and not get them out at last.” Then the church had respite from persecution, took root and grew.

However, the church struggled to find a plot of land upon which to build a chapel. So finally they purchased the watermen’s floating chapel at Nottingham and took it down the river Trent and located it at the edge of Matthew Woodward’s garden. They fitted out this boat and used it as an amphibious place of worship!

In the course of time, favour was shown by the steward of the Earl of Chesterfield, and they were given a site on which to build a neat brick chapel. And that is how a chapel came to be established in the very heart of the Earl of Chesterfield’s estate. Planting churches is easy, really!

Abridged from “Biographical Sketches of some Preachers of the Primitive Methodist Connexion”, p347-350 originally published in 1855 and republished 2002 by Tentmaker Publications 121 Hartshill Rd, Stoke-on-Trent (www.tentmaker.org.uk)

The fire engine and the preacher

This story is about the events that happened in Newark-on-Trent in the English Midlands around 1816. A Primitive Methodist preacher, William Lockwood, began to preach in the centre of the local market-place, using a gig (a two-wheeled cart pulled by a horse) as his pulpit. However, the opposition were ready for him.

A local clergyman had arranged for a barber, (who interestingly also manufactured fireworks), to take out the town fire-engine. The barber was told to pour water on the preacher, William Lockwood. As he began to preach, Lockwood was drenched, and the bottom of the gig was filled with water. He continued to preach, and finally said to his enemy “You cannot quench the fire within!”

Hearing these words, a number of bystanders, boatmen by trade, took out their knives and cut the fire hose to pieces. William Lockwood finished his sermon, and many returned home having been deeply moved in their spirit.

However, the case was taken to court and the boatmen were taken before the magistrate to answer for the damage to the hosepipe. When it was discovered that it was the clergyman who had authorised the removal of the town fire-engine, he was compelled to pay damages.

A few weeks after this, the barber was making fireworks, when they ignited, and a violent explosion sent him through the shop window, and he was killed. After this, violent opposition to open-air services in Newark ceased, and the Primitive Methodists formed a large society.

Abridged from “Biographical Sketches of some Preachers of the Primitive Methodist Connexion”, p295-296 originally published in 1855 and republished 2002 by Tentmaker Publications 121 Hartshill Rd, Stoke-on-Trent (www.tentmaker.org.uk)

Opposing the work of God is a risky business

This story happened around 1816 at Belper in Derbyshire in the English Midlands. It concerns John Benton, a Primitive Methodist open-air preacher and missionary. At this time, the movement was beginning to expand rapidly, using open-air preaching throughout the counties of Cheshire, Staffordshire and Derbyshire.

This style of preaching was not without its challenges. One of the hazards of open-air preaching was opposition and persecution from rabble-rousers and gangs. Primitive Methodist preachers often faced name-calling, violence and disruption in their public meetings. However not all opposition went in the way desired by their opponents. This is just one of many stories of how the plans of those who opposed the Primitive Methodist preachers came undone.

One evening Benton and a group of young converts entered the town of Belper, singing as they approached the market-place. They intended to preach the gospel and “mission” the town. Hundreds of people gathered to hear the missionary preacher and his associates. As well as those who came to hear them, a rabble also gathered to cause trouble.

The rabble was organised by a ringleader, intent on disrupting the preaching. His plan was a simple one. He had taken a bucket, and mixed in it blood and excrement from an animal that had been killed. His intention was to scale a ladder at the back of the building and pour the bucket of filth on the preacher’s head from the front of the building.

The ringleader climbed the ladder and tried to place the bucket on the ridge of the building. As he did so, his foot slipped, and the whole of the contents came down on his own head, and he could only get down the ladder with great difficulty.

This was a great source of laughter and mirth for his fellow rabble rousers, and he was so humiliated by the whole process, that the next time Benton came to preach he gave him a sober hearing. So the moral of this story is: when opposing God, be prepared for the unexpected.

Abridged from “Biographical Sketches of some Preachers of the Primitive Methodist Connexion”, p282-283 originally published in 1855 and republished 2002 by Tentmaker Publications 121 Hartshill Rd, Stoke-on-Trent (http://www.tentmaker.org.uk/)

Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. (Psalm 100:1)

One of the more interesting practices of the Primitive Methodist movement is the practice of shouting. They would have a “shout” as part of their gathered times for prayer and this became one of the practices that became a consistent feature of the movement. William Clowes says “Shouting and praising God I did from a principle of duty; God had done great things for me, and I was constrained to give him glory”. He describes preaching at Englesea Brook in 1826 “the glory was great, and the shouts of praise and thanksgiving were loud and general among the people”.

Such was the vehemence of their noisy cottage prayer meetings and loud singing and shouting they were asked if God was deaf! The psalms are full of exhortations to shout to God – here are just a few examples.

We will shout for joy when you are victorious
and will lift up our banners in the name of our God. (Psalm 20:5)

Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully, and shout for joy. (Psalm 33:3)

Clap your hands, all you nations;
shout to God with cries of joy. (Psalm 47:1)

Shout with joy to God, all the earth! (Psalm 66:1)

Sing for joy to God our strength;
shout aloud to the God of Jacob! (Psalm 81:1)

Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD?
let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. (Psalm 95:1)

Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth,
burst into jubilant song with music; (Psalm 98:4)

Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. (Psalm 100:1)

It is interesting in the Hebrew context of the Psalms, that the community of God’s people are exhorted to sing for joy and shout aloud. Shouting was often an alternate way to declares God’s praises. How about us?

In our culture we tend not to shout as a group – except at sporting events. We are, perhaps, a little fearful of causing offence. I venture to suggest that we could try a “shout” as part of our combined worship services, or gathered prayer meetings. We are used to loud music, so why not lift our voices in praise to our creator and redeemer God who is worthy of adoration, glory and worship?

When was the last time you practiced a “shout” to the Lord?

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Ranters are coming!

On Friday 15 January 1819, William Clowes, a missionary preacher of the Primitive Methodist movement, arrived in the northern English city of Hull. Known as Ranters, the reputation of the movement he represented was spreading far and wide. The cry soon went out that “a Ranter preacher” had arrived, and a lively crowd of the curious, the intrigued, rabble rousers and many others soon gathered around this preacher as he spoke.

Called Ranters because of their loud singing in the streets, William Clowes and his helpers brought a powerful message to the working class men and women of Hull. Within four years there were over eight thousand members of this young and dynamic movement of God in the Hull district. Clowes records in his journal “On the very day of my entering into Hull I preached in an old factory in North-street. Vast numbers of people attended, many influenced by curiosity, others with an intention to create disturbance, having heard of the arrival of the “Ranter preacher ”; however, God was present in my first effort to make known the riches of his mercy, and the wicked were restrained, so the meeting terminated in peace and quiet.”

The very name Ranter was enough to secure a crowd. Often when it was announced that a Ranter preacher was to speak, people gathered from the local neighbourhood and from the countryside to hear what he (or she) had to say. The Ranters walked up and down the streets singing loudly as they approached a market place, the village green or other outdoor venue to speak. Ranter was often used as a term of derision, scorn and abuse. Just as it is said “All publicity is good publicity” so it was with the nickname Ranter. Once the label had been given, it stuck.

The nickname was first used in 1816 when a young preacher by the name of John Benton and a number of young converts entered the town of Belper in Derbyshire. They sang in the streets as they approached the market-place where Benton began to preach. Hundreds gathered to hear him speak, including a group of rabble rousers who intended to disrupt the event. As the mission party returned home they sang as they went along the streets. A young woman heard the noise and asked someone listening to the singing “what religion are these people?”. He replied “I believe they are the people I have been reading about – they are Ranters.” The young woman worked in a cotton factory and the next morning she said to those around her, “Joseph Turner says that these folks that preached last night in the market-place are called Ranters” – and from that time the Primitive Methodists had the nickname of Ranters.

It is said that God works in mysterious ways. It is certainly the case that this term of derision and scorn was used to gather crowds and enable the gospel to be preached to thousands of working class men and women during the early decades of the nineteenth century.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Primitive Methodism

Primitive Methodism was an amazing movement that swept through England in the early 19th century. In 70 years they established nearly 6000 churches (or chapels), gathered 200,000 members and half a million Sunday School children. The movement grew out of the Wesleyan Methodists, (founded by John Wesley in 1738), which by 1800 was becoming respectable. The Primitives (so called because they reverted back to early Wesleyan Methodism) began with an open air camp meeting at Mow Cop in North Staffordshire on May 31, 1807, and became a movement with formal members in 1810.

There were two founding fathers of the movement: Hugh Bourne (1772- 1852) and William Clowes (1780-1851). Hugh Bourne was effectively the general superintendent and William Clowes the missionary apostle, much like the Apostle Paul, preaching the gospel and making converts in the villages, town and cities of England. Their preachers faced opposition and persecution courageously, and there are numerous remarkable stories of God at work.

The movement resulted in lives and communities being transformed, particularly amongst the working classes and the poor during the early parts of the industrial revolution. From 1820 the movement grew rapidly through open-air preaching, camp meetings and the establishment of classes and societies in rural communities, towns and cities.

In this blog we will retell some of the stories and history of this movement, so that we may be inspired to make a difference in our 21st century world.