Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Movements that Change the World

"Christianity is a movement of movements", says Steve Addison in his recent book “Movements that Change the World”. Primitive Methodism is an example of one of these movements.

Throughout the ages various moves of God exhibit common characteristics. He identifies these as

1. White-hot faith

2. Commitment to a cause

3. Contagious relationships

4. Rapid mobilization and

5. Adaptive methods

The Primitive Methodist movement fits these five characteristics surprisingly well.

They were men and women of radical, white-hot faith. They were known for their dynamic prayer meetings, zealous preaching and ambitious faith.

They were committed to a cause. Their preachers endured toil and suffering, violence from gangs, hostility by the legal authorities and the religious establishment.

Relationships were nurtured through the weekly class meetings, and house-to-house visiting. Whole families were often transformed by the gospel. As workers saw their fellow workmen experience radical conversion, and villagers saw the most notorious characters in their community change, the network of relationships grew.

Primitive Methodism mobilized rapidly. Lay leadership was a key factor in the expansion of the movement. By using local lay preachers and travelling preachers, this missionary movement touched the whole England. Just forty years after the founding of the movement in 1810, there were half a million people in attendance in their chapels according to the 1851 religious census.

They used adaptive methods. They used open-air preaching and Camp Meetings to great effect. The recognised the value of female preachers. They used missionary language and missionary methods. They had a significant book and magazine publishing organisation. They succeeded in reaching the working classes, a strata of society largely ignored by the established church.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Every man ready for glory

Many Primitive Methodists were mineworkers who bore witness to their faith in the dark and dangerous circumstances of work down the pit. The Seaham Colliery disaster of 8 September 1880 provides a dramatic example.

"164 men and boys perished, many of whom were trapped down the pit and suffered a slow death. When the rescuers finally broke through the blocked shaft they found a poignant message chalked on a wooden plank. It reads as follows: ‘The Lord is with us. We are all ready for heaven. Bless the Lord. We have had a jolly prayer meeting, every man ready for glory. Praise the Lord. Signed Ric. Cole’."

"Richard Cole was a Primitive Methodist local preacher who would often have ministered to his colleagues from the pulpit. Here at the tragic conclusion of his life, and in unimaginable and deeply moving circumstances, he ministered to them for the last time, as a dying man to dying men."

From 'Primitive Methodism', Geoffrey Milburn, page 57, quoting ‘Wesley Historical Society North East Bulletin, 34, page17’

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Primitive Methodists at Prayer

William Holt Yates Titcomb (1858-1930)

Primitive Methodists at Prayer, an oil on canvas, was on display in 1889 at the Dudley Museum & Art Gallery. This painting won more international medals than any other St. Ives work and is the first of three paintings that Titcomb completed of the Primitive Methodist congregation of the Fore Street Chapel in St. Ives. Although the son of an Anglican bishop, Titcomb was fascinated with the passion with which the St. Ives fishermen practised their faith - a faith which they called the "brightest and best" part of life. The simplicity of the chapel, the sparseness of the congregation and the humbleness of their attire only serve to highlight the intensity of belief.

The painting shows the interior of the Primitive Methodist chapel on Fore Street, St Ives, where Titcomb lived for part of each year. The occasion depicted appears to be a prayer meeting following a summer evening preaching service. The preacher stands in the high pulpit, and below him is a remnant of the original congregation, including in the foreground some chattering boys and two elderly fishermen dressed in their simple workaday garb, and shown in attitudes of prayer on the plain wooden benches. The picture’s simplicity, naturalness and integrity assured its wide appeal, and the Primitive Methodist Church readily acclaimed it as ‘a nation’s picture’.


1. http://www.wickersleyweb.co.uk/hist/titcomb.htm

2. http://scotwise.blogspot.com/2005/05/primitive-methodists-by-w-h-y-titcomb.html

3. Primitive Methodism, Geoffrey Milburn, p79