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Protestant Methodists

This was a small secession from WM, originally known as the ‘Non-Cons’, which eventually became part of the UMFC. The grievance that has traditionally been seen as the cause of the secession took place in 1827 when it was proposed to put an organ into the recently opened Brunswick Chapel in Leeds. This was rejected unanimously by the Leaders\' Meeting. The trustees took the matter to the District Meeting, where permission was again refused. The leading trustees, especially W.G. Scarth but also William Smith, who paid for the organ, had the ear of influential men at Conference, especially Jabez Bunting. Despite its resolutions at the 1820 Conference, acceded to the application. The upshot was the loss of 1,000 members in Leeds and the formation of the Protestant Methodist Connexion, which held its first Assembly in 1828. When it amalgamated with the WMA in 1836, nationally it had just under 4,000 members.

Although the provision of an organ was a significant factor in the secession in reality it brought to a head existing underlying tensions within the Leeds Circuit, and was not the prime cause but the rallying point. In 1826, reflecting a growing membership, the Leeds Circuit was divided into East and West, and this set the context lay concerns. There is evidence of a revivalist undercurrent and James Sigston, who emerged as a leader of the secession, had already been expelled and then received back much to Bunting’s annoyance. Leeds formed one society but with four chapels; the dividing of the circuit and thus the town society was one factor as was the similar division of the Local Preachers’ Meeting which was seen as an attempt to reduce the influence of the local preachers. Further tensions emerged over ministerial attempts to take control of the town’s Sunday Schools and its prayer bands.

Ultimately the Protestant Methodist secession was a conflict between lay rights on the one side and on the other ministerial authority with support from wealthy, influential trustees on whose financial support the WM depended. There was also a radical political factor within the seceders in that M. Johnson was active in taking control of the parish vestry and David Yewdall would later serve as a Liberal on the borough council.

Outside Leeds the main Protestant Methodist secessions were in Barnsley, Burnley, Keighley, London (South), Preston, Sheffield and York. These also reflected local disputes over lay rights. It should be noted that in Burley, Leeds, the Protestant Methodists were criticised for meeting in a chapel with an organ and in London had liturgical services; these were defended on the basis that each circuit made its own decisions. As with the Independent Methodists there was an anti-clericalism with no ministers but with annually elected elders. This aspect did not continue into the WMA.

Sources

  • J.S. Simon in London Quarterly Review July 1888 pp.271-91
  • Oliver A. Beckerlegge, The United Methodist Free Churches (1957) pp.16-19
  • John T. Hughes, 'The Story of the Leeds "non-Cons"', in WHS Proceedings, 35 pp.81-87, 122-24; 37 pp.133-39; 39 pp.73-76
  • History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain vol.2 (1978) pp.314-15; vol.3 (1988) pp.396-8

Entry written by: DCD and OAB
Category: Denomination

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