3 Primitive Methodist Church

Primitive Methodist Church

   One of several factions in British Methodism, the Primitive Methodists are remembered for their introduction of camp meetings into Great Britain and their use of female preachers. In 1805, the independent and eccentric Methodist preacher Lorenzo Dow traveled through Cheshire and Staffordshire in the English Midlands talking about the American camp meetings he had attended. On hearing this account, Methodist layman Hugh Bourne (1772-1852) organized a camp meeting in 1807. The local Methodists disapproved, and Bourne was eventually disfellowshipped. Nevertheless, he continued his evangelistic work.
   Meanwhile, another layman, William Clowes (1780-1852), had also begun independent evangelism for which he too was disfellowshipped. In 1811, the two men joined their work as the Society of the Primitive Methodists. The name referred to the mention of "primitive methodism" by John Wesley in his last talk in Cheshire in 1790.
   By 1842, the group had some 80,000 members and 500 ministers; much earlier, though, the work became larger than Bourne and Clowes could handle and they called for volunteer lay speakers. A number of women stepped forward. Even though the main body of Wesleyan Methodists (now the Methodist Church) had officially ruled against female ministers, the Primitive Methodists put them to work, first in prayer and witness groups at the camp meetings and then in public preaching. In 1813, Sarah Kirkland (1794-1880) was recruited by Bourne as a salaried missionary to work in northern England. Through the next generation, some 100 women were recruited into the traveling ministry. In 1829, Ruth Watkins would be among the four missionaries sent to America to begin the Primitive Methodist Church in the United States. As the church evolved and became more oriented toward settled congregations and parish ministers, women gradually disappeared from the ranks of the preachers.
   The American branch of the church was formally organized in 1840. Three years later, missionaries were sent to Australia and New Zealand.
   Work subsequently began in West Africa (1870), South Central Africa, and southern Nigeria (1889).
   In 1932, the Primitive Methodist Church in the United Kingdom joined the union of Methodist groups that produced the present Methodist Church. That union was effective for all of the overseas work except the United States, where the Primitive Methodists had formally separated from the British work and now survive as a separate denomination. The present Primitive Methodist Church in Guatemala is a result of missionary activity from the United States.
   Further reading:
   ■ Geoffrey Milburn, Primitive Methodism (London: Epworth Press, 2002)
   ■ Julia Stewart Werner, The Primitive Methodist Connexion: Its Background and Early History (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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