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Wesleyan Reform

This was a constituent part of the UMFC which arose out of the expulsion of three WM ministers, James Everett, Samuel Dunn and William Griffith, for their refusal to incriminate themselves on charges of having written the Fly Sheets. For some years there had been growing resentment at the power of Jabez Bunting and what was regarded as a small clique of ministers in London. In 1846 WM ministers received an anonymous pamphlet, Fly Sheets from the Private Correspondent; a second was issued later in the year, a third in 1847, a fourth in 1848, and a fifth after the expulsions. Instead of enquiring how far the charges were true, Bunting's friends sought to identify the anonymous author(s). George Osborn was authorized to distribute a declaration for signature by the ministers, stating that they abhorred the attacks and had nothing to do with their production. But by the Conference of 1849 36 signatures were still lacking. In the Conference of that year Osborn tried to examine them one by one. Everett was sent for from York, but asked why he should be singled out. Told that he was the main suspect, he replied that in that case they must have evidence and demanded that it be produced. When he refused to answer in the absence of evidence, he was expelled, as were the two others.

The 1851 Religious Census showed the Reformers mainly concentrated in the North Midlands, north Norfolk, north-east Somerset and south-west Gloucestershire, all areas of Wesleyan strength. But the expulsions met with condemnation throughout the Connexion and, eventually, the loss of 100,000 members. In 1857 about half of them joined with the Wesleyan Methodist Association to form the UMFC. The rest continued as the Wesleyan Reform Union.

Sources

  • B. Gregory, Sidelights on the Conflicts of Methodism (1898) pp.433-577
  • E.C. Urwin, The Significance of 1849, Methodism's Great Upheaval (1949)
  • Rowland C. Swift, 'The Wesleyan Reform Movement in Nottingham', in WHS Proceedings, 28 pp.74-79
  • Oliver A. Beckerlegge, The United Methodist Free Churches (1957) pp.30-39
  • Robert Currie, Methodism Divided: a study in the Sociology of Ecumenicalism (1968)
  • David A. Barton, 'The Wesleyan Reform Movement in Derbyshire', in WHS Proceedings, 52 pp.25-33
  • Norma Virgoe, 'The Wesleyan Reformers in Norfolk', in WHS Proceedings, 52 pp.87-101

Entry written by: OAB
Category: Subject

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