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'Reverend'

Wesley drew a clear distinction (e.g. in his 'Korah' sermon of 1789) between his lay itinerants ('prophets') and the ordained clergy ('priests'). He allowed the itinerants he ordained for Scotland in 1785 to use the title 'Reverend', but not when they returned to England. After his death some advocates of separation from the CofE, such as Samuel Bradburn, began using the title, but the 1792 Conference ruled against its use in the interests of 'simplicity and plainness'. This was modified the following year to a ban on its being used 'by us towards each other', along with the distinction between those ordained and the rest of the preachers. Unofficially its use continued to grow and it was reinstated in 1818 (in place of 'Preacher of the Gospel'). Dissidents included Dr Adam Clarke who in 1821 disclaimed any right to its use because he was not episcopally ordained.

Anglican disapproval of the extension of the title to Nonconformist ministers was highlighted in 1874 when the WM Conference went to law over a refusal by the incumbent at Owston Ferry, Lincs (with the backing of Bishop Wordsworth, but not that of Archbishop Tait) to allow it on the tombstone of the daughter of a WM minister. His refusal was upheld by the Court of Arches, but overruled on appeal to the Privy Council.

Outside WM, the title was generally adopted, though James Thorne was long opposed to its use by the Bible Christians, condemning it as 'unscriptural and a badge of popery'. The WMA abandoned it between 1836 and 1845 and as late as 1876 there was an attempt by William Griffith to persuade the UMFC Conference to discontinue its use.

Sources

  • WHS Proceedings 33 pp.134-6
  • Robert Perks, Notes for an Autobiography (privately published, 1936) pp.124-26
  • Methodist Recorder, 6 Nov. 1975
  • J. Munsey Turner, Conflict and Reconciliation: Studies in Methodism and Ecumenism in England, 1740-1982 (1985) p.133

Entry written by: JMT
Category: Subject

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