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Ministry: those who returned

Under John Wesley at least 70 preachers who had left the ministry returned later. This was a high proportion - over 16% of those who had left. Some recovered from their ill health. Some who had been expelled for marrying against the rules were allowed back. Thus Thomas Cooper, who left in 1785 when he married, was allowed back in January 1787. Some were forgiven for offences after time had elapsed. So John Fenwick expelled for drunkenness in 1785 was sent in 1786 as Assistant to Epworth. Some were allowed back by John Wesley in cases where his brother Charles (and later fellow preachers like John Pawson) were much more stern. Examples of this include William Darney, Robert Gillespie, Thomas Westell and John Maddern. It was relatively easy to move in and out of the itinerant ministry under Wesley. Some like Michael Fenwick did so several times.

After Wesley’s death in 1791, the Conference was far more reluctant to allow preachers to return. Of those who left, fewer than 3% returned. The exceptions were rare. Philip Hardcastle, who had retired to look after his father in 1786, was allowed to return in 1796. Richard Elliott (e.m. 1790) had left to become a druggist in 1803., but in 1811 was readmitted. Richard Watson, who joined the MNC in 1800, returned in 1812 and rose to be Missionary Secretary (1821). This situation continued until the second half of the 20th century. Often men left because of ill-health like John Dugdale (e.m. 1878, left 1883, returned 1884). Arthur F. Parkinson Turnbull (e.m. 1900) supported a charge against a fellow missionary in Haiti. When it failed he withdrew in protest (1916) and formed an Independent Methodist Church in Haiti. Eventually in 1929 he returned to the main Methodist fold. After 1970 Conference’s views on ministers being allowed to return changed, partly because many had left for such jobs as teaching, but after fifteen years or so were prepared to come back and give a few years to the active ministry before retirement. At the same time Conference was allowing more ministers to join ‘the sectors’ anyway. At the same time there was a shortage of younger candidates. As a result the number of those returning as a proportion of those who left and the total ministry increased and was in the late 20th century around 14%, almost the level under Wesley. Examples include Walter Gill, and Reginald J. (‘Rex’) Barker (e.m. 1914) who left in 1942 to do community work in Tonypandy, was reinstated as a Supernumerary in 1972 and died in 1981. The largest proportion left to teach and returned when this became accepted by the church as a ‘sector ministry’. E.g. George W. Kime (e.m. 1948), who left in 1965, returned in 1980 and died in 2006.

Others who returned;

Geoffrey J. Ainger, Frank Ballard, Martin Birks/Burks, George Thompson Brake, William Harris Burns, Robert Dall, William Davies (Davies Affrica), Thoms Birch Freeman, William Griffith Jr, Cyril G Hambly, A. Wesley Hill, Edward W. Hirst, William Leary, David R. Mace, Howard Marratt, Irvonwy Morgan, Charles Shaw, William Tatchell], [[Entry:2828 Thomas Vasey (1st)


  • John Lenton, John Wesley’s Preachers (2009), esp. pp. 331-348.
  • Newport and Campbell (eds.), Charles Wesley, Life, Literature and Legacy (2007), pp. 88-108,486-514.
  • Leslie J. Griffiths, The History of Methodism in Haiti (1991)
  • John Lenton, 'Men Who Left the Wesleyan Ministry, 1791-1932', in David J. Hart and David J. Jeremy (eds.), Brands Plucked from the Burning: Essays on Methodist Memorialisation and Remembering (2013) pp.168-96

Entry written by: JHL
Category: Person

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