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Museum of Methodism History

John Wesley (1703 - 1791)

John Wesley was an Anglican clergyman born in his father’s parish at Epworth. After an education in Charterhouse School and Christchurch College Oxford, he entered a period of self questioning and spiritual searching. This took him to Georgia in America and Herrnhut in Germany. His conversion in Aldersgate Street (London) in 1738 is commonly agreed to mark the formal beginning of his evangelistic ministry.

He travelled around the country on horseback, preaching wherever he had opportunity. His Journal was written to enlighten his fast-growing group of followers. He preached the universality of grace and his message had a particular appeal to those moving from an agrarian lifestyle into the fast burgeoning industrial cities. Bristol, Cornwall, Newcastle upon Tyne and many towns and cities in Lancashire and Yorkshire were places where Methodism soon had a stronghold.

After the independence of America, Wesley pleaded with Bishop Lowth of London to ordain priests for the new Republic. The bishop refused which led to Wesley undertaking ordinations himself in 1784. This was, arguably, the one single factor which made the emergence of a separate Methodist Church inevitable.

John Wesley also took an active interest in politics and social reform. He was particularly interested in medicine; he experimented with electrotherapy, operated a pharmacy out of his first London chapel, the Foundery and also wrote a book of medical remedies called ‘Primitive Physic.’ He was also a keen abolitionist and campaigned vigorously until his death for the abolition of slavery. Wesley died in his home at Wesley’s Chapel, London on 2 March 1791, aged 87.

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Wesley with the Chapel in the background

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