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Aberdeen

John Wesley responded to a request from Dr John Memis by sending Christopher Hopper in 1759 to preach and form a society and made the first of 14 visits himself in 1761. An octagon chapel was built in Queen Street in 1764. Aberdeen Circuit was formed by 1765. In 1792, during his superintendency, Alexander Kilham wrote his 'Trueman and Freeman' address, advocating the extension of lay power in governing the Connexion, and in 1797, when the WM Conference rejected the admission of laymen to the District Meeting, members of the Aberdeen society seceded and were instrumental in founding the Congregational Church in Scotland. There were further losses between 1835 and 1850, mainly of those who wanted more independence. Under Valentine Ward the society moved in 1818 to Longacre (formerly St Andrew's Episcopal Church) Chapel, which was replaced by the present church in Crown Terrace, designed by James Souttar and still in use. In the mid-nineteenth century there was a remarkable expansion along the Moray coast from Banff to Portgordon, led by James Turner, a local preacher of Peterhead.

Quotations

John Wesley's Journal:

May 1761: '[At Stonehouse] Mr. Memys met us and on Saturday morning brought us to his house at Aberdeen.

'In the afternoon I sent to the Principal and Regent to desire leave to preach in the [Marischal] College Close. This was readily granted, but as it began to rain I was desired to go into the hall. .. The congregation was large, nothwithstanding the rain, and full as large at five in the morning.

[Sunday] I heard two useful sermons at the kirk, one preached by the Principal of the College, the other by the Divinity Professor. A huge multitude afterwards gathered together in the College Close, and all that could hear seemed to receive the truth in love. I then added about twenty to the little society. Fair blossoms! But how many of these will bring forth fruit?

[Next day] 'We had another large congregation at five. Before noon twenty more came to me desiring to cast in their lot with us, and appearing to be cut to the heart.

'About noon I took a walk to the King's College, in Old Aberdeen… Going up to see the hall, we found a large company of ladies, with several gentlemen. They looked and spoke to one another, after which one of the gentlemen took courage and came to me. He said: "We came last night to the College Close, but could not hear, and should be extremely obliged if you wouild give us a short discourse here." I knew not what God might have to do, and so began without delay on "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself." I believe the word was not lost; it fell as dew on the tender grass…

'In the evening the eagerness of the people made them ready to trample each other underfoot. It was some time before they were still enough to hear, but then they devoured every word.

[Two days later] 'At half-hour after six I stood in the College Close and proclaimed Christ crucified… I have now "cast" my "bread upon the waters"; may I "find it again after many days"!'

[Next day he left 'near ninety members in the society'.]

May 1763: 'I inquired into the state of things here. Surely never was there a more open door. The four ministers of Aberdeen, the minister of the adjoining town, and the three ministers of Old Aberdeen, hitherto seem to have no dislike, but rather to wish us "good luck in the name of the Lord." Most of the townspeople as yet seem to wish us well; so that there is no opposition of any kind. ..

'At seven, the evening being fair and mild, I preached, to a multitude of people, in the College Close, on "Stand in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths." But the next evening, the weather being raw and cold, I preached in the College Hall.'

June 1764: 'I rode to Aberdeen, and preached in the evening in the College Hall, and at seven in the morning on Sunday the 3rd. At four in the afternoon I preached to a crowded audience in the College kirk at Old Aberdeen. At seven I preached in the College close at New Aberdeen. But the congregation was so exceeding large that many were not able to hear. However, many did hear and, I think, feel the application of "Thou art not far from the kingdom of God."

'We want nothing here but a larger house; and the foundation of one is laid already. It is true we have little money, and the society is poor; but we know in whom we have believed.'

[One week later] 'etween six and seven both this evening and the next, I preached in the shell of the new house, and found it a time of much consolation.'

June 1766: 'The congregation in the evening was larger than the usual one at Edinburgh, and the number of those who attended in the morning showed they were not all curious hearers.

[Next day, Sunday]: 'In the afternoon I … preached in the college kirk to a very genteel and yet serious congregation. I then opened and enforced the way of holiness at New Aberdeen, on a numerous congregation.'

April 1768: 'Here I found a society truly alive, knit together in peace and love. The congregations were large both morning and evening, and, as usual, deeply attentive; but a company of strolling players, who have at length found place here also, stole away the gay part of the hearers.

May 1, Sunday: 'I preached at seven in the new room; in the afternoon at the college kirk in Old Aberdeen. At six, knowing our house could not contain the congregation, I preached in the Castle-gate, on the paved stones. A large number of people were all attention; but there were many rude,, stupid creatures round about them, who knew as little of reason as of religion; I never saw such brutes in Scotland before.'

May 1770: 'I preached in the College Kirk, at Old Aberdeen, to a very serious (though mostly genteel) congregation. In the evening I preached in our own room, and early in the morning took my leave of this loving people.'

May 1772, Sunday: 'I went in the morning to the English Church. Here likewise I could not but admire the exemplary decency of the congregation…

'About three I preached at the College kirk in the Old Town, to a large congregation, rich and poor; at six in our own house on the Narrow Way. I spoke exceeding plain, both this evening and the next; yet none were offended.'

May 1774: 'At seven the congregation was large. In the evening the people were ready to tread upon each other. I scarce ever saw people so squeezed together. And they seemed to be all ear while I exhorted them, with strong and pointed words, not to receive "the grace of God in vain."

June 1779: 'I preached at Aberdeen to a people that can feel as well as hear.'

[Ten days later] 'I spoke as closely as I could, both morning and evening, and made a pointed application to the hearts of all that were present. I am convinced that this is the only way whereby we can do any good in Scotland.'

June 1782: 'The congregations were large, both morning and evening, and many of them much alive to God….

[Sunday] 'We had a lovely congregation in the morning, many of whom were athirst for full salvation. In the evening God sent forth His voice, yea, and that a mighty voice. I think few of the congregation were unmoved; and we never had a more solemn parting.'

May 1784: 'I found the morning preaching had been long discontinued, yet the bands and the select society were kept up. But many were faint and weak for want of morning preaching and prayer-meetings, of which I found scarce any traces in Scotland.

'In the morning I talked largely with the preachers, and showed trhem the hurt it did both to them and the people for any one preacher to stay six or eighrt weeks together in one place. Neither can he find matter for preaching every morning and evening, nor will the people come to hear him… They immediately drew up such a plan for this circuit, which they determine to pursue.

[Next day] 'We had the largest congregation at five which I have seen since I came into the kingdom.'

May 1786: 'We had an exceeding solemn parting, as I reminded them that we could hardly expect to see each other's face any more till we met in Abraham's bosom.'

Sources

  • C. Diack, Sketch of Methodism in Aberdeen (Aberdeen, 1901)
  • A. Gammie, The Churches of Aberdeen (Aberdeen, 1909)
  • WHS Proceedings, 4 pp.159-62; 16 pp.119-22
  • Wesley F. Swift, Methodism in Scotland: the first hundred years (1947)
  • Ernest Wilkinson, The Story of Early Methodism in Aberdeen (Aberdeen, 1972)
  • Andrew F. Walls, Some Personalities of Aberdeen Methodism (1973)

Entry written by: MB
Category: Place

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