Primitive Methodist Connection
Primitive Methodist Connection is the name of a Wesleyan body of believers principally in England and the British colonies.
During the first decade of the present century stirring reports floated across the Atlantic of the power of God marvelously displayed in the camp meetings of America. The practice of holding religious services in the open air had much declined among British Methodists, as in all the large towns and many of the villages they now had commodious chapels, and the tidings of Pentecostal gatherings in Western forests renewed the memory of the days of Wesley and Whitefield. This renewed interest was increased by the visits of Lorenzo Dow to England and Ireland. On the threshold of this period, a young man of studious habits, named Hugh Bourne, was suffering intensely through an agonizing conviction of sin. From his sixth to his twenty-sixth year, he seldom went to bed without a dread of being in hell before morning; and morning brought him no relief, for he thought he would be in hell before night. He pursued his studies, year after year, with intense zeal, but nowhere in his learning did he find saving knowledge. In 1799, when twenty-seven years of age, there fell in his way a volume containing the Life of Fletcher, some of Wesley's Sermons, Alleine's Alarm, and Baxter's Call to the Unconverted. In one of Wesley's sermons he found "more real light than in anything else he had ever read." It taught him that "opinion is not religion; . . . even right opinion is as distant from religion as east is from west." The time of his redemption drew nigh. As he read Fletcher's letters on the manifestation of the Son of God, light flooded his soul. He rapturously tells us, "I was born in an instant; yea, passed from death unto life.... I was filled with joy, love, and glory, which made full amends for the twenty years' suffering." Soon after his conversion he joined the Wesleyans, and zealously sought the salvation of the rough lumbermen who were in his employment. On May 31, 1807, Mr. Bourne, assisted by Messrs. William Clowes, Thomas Cotton, and others afterwards prominent in the Primitive Methodist Connection, held a camp meeting at Mow Cap, a mountain on the borderline between Staffordshire and Cheshire. Though the Connection did not really exist till three years later, this is looked upon as the initial point in its history, and its annalists delight to quote the lines,
"The little cloud increases still Which first began upon Mow Hill."
The immediate spiritual results of this meeting more than equaled the hopes of its founders, and during the following summer several meetings of a like character were held in the same neighborhood. The novelty of these proceedings roused much opposition among the Wesleyan Methodists, who feared the rise of a fanaticism that might throw ridicule on true religion; and the preachers of the surrounding circuits issued handbills disclaiming all connection with the movement. At the next session of the Wesleyan Methodist Conference the following resolution was passed: "It is our judgment that, even supposing such meetings to be allowed in America, they are highly improper in England, and likely to be productive of considerable mischief; and we disclaim all connection with them." This declared judgment of the conference had naturally much weight with the societies in general, and most of the leading Methodists held aloof from the camp-meeting movement. Bourne and a few others, however, held on firmly, having their meetings recognized by civil authority and taking precautions for preserving order.
Matters now came to a crisis. The Church authorities felt they could no longer bear with such contumacy, and Bourne and Clowes were expelled from the Connection. The untrammelling of these men from Church bonds, so far from silencing them, had rather the effect of increasing their active zeal. At this time there lived in Cheshire an old man, named James Crawfoot, "noted as a man of extraordinary piety and faith." He believed himself called to the ministry, and had prayed and watched for the leading of Providence. In 1809 Hugh Bourne and his brother James hired him to preach in neglected places, for three months, at a salary of ten shillings a week. "This is generally looked upon as the commencement of the Primitive Methodist ministry." In the spring of 1810 several persons were converted in meetings held by Hugh Bourne, and formed into a class. '"This class was offered to the Burslem Circuit (Wesleyan); but as they declined to accept them unless they pledged to sever their connection with Hugh Bourne, and as they respectfully declined acceding to this demand, their application was refused." Bourne then took it under his charge as a distinct society, and the formation of this class may be considered the birth of the Connection. The camp-meeting agency was now more extensively employed, and numerous societies were formed. In September, 1810, there were 10 preachers, 13 preaching places, and 136 members. Next year the first general meeting was held, composed probably of preachers and leaders. This conference resolved that money should in future be regularly collected in the societies, in order to meet the necessary expenses; "and if this should prove insufficient, recourse should again be had to the benevolence of private individuals. The two traveling preachers, Messrs. Crawfoot and Clowes, were to receive their salaries from the societies, and Mr. James Steele was appointed the circuit steward, the first officer of that kind in the Connection." In 1812 the Connection, then employing 23 preachers, formally took the title of Primitive Methodist, and two years later a comprehensive body of rules was for the first time adopted. From that time till the present the increase of the denomination has been very rapid, being from 1851 to 1872, in the 108 towns of Great Britain, over 108 per cent.
The three following extracts, from John Angell James, Dr. Beaumont, and Dr. Campbell, respectively, explain the peculiar genius of this denomination:
"In cottages, in barns, and in theatres, and in public houses, in market-places, in streets, in lanes, and in fields, they (Primitive Methodist preachers) held meetings for prayer and exhortation. They were assailed by personal violence, and put in peril of their lives; but they persevered, in meekness and in gentleness, and have conquered by their passive power." "The Primitive Methodists are a laborious, and not an idle community; they are a plain, and not an artificial community; they are a useful community." "Every day serves but to confirm us that it is less talents, less culture, less intelligence that is required than a thorough knowledge of the Gospel-a perfect acquaintance with the Word of God- simplicity, affection, fervor, activity, tact, and flexibility, facility in adapting actions to circumstances, and such other things as these imply." The latest statistics of the Connection are, 17,000 ministers and local preachers, 10,000 class-leaders, 59,000 Sunday - school teachers, and 180.000 Church members. They publish several periodicals.
The doctrine of the Connection may be said to be identical with that of other Methodist churches. The form of Church government is substantially Presbyterian, but with a larger mixture of the lay element than is found in Presbyterian or in other Methodist denominations. The official business is transacted by the leaders' meeting, composed of the class-leaders, the society steward, and the traveling preachers of the circuit. No such meeting "can be legally held without the presence of the minister or traveling preacher, extraordinary cases excepted." As in other Methodist bodies, there are traveling and local preachers. The latter usually follow some worldly occupation for a maintenance, "and preach on the Sabbath as opportunities permit, but receive no pecuniary remuneration for their services. They are chosen to their office by the representatives of the united societies to which they minister; and should their labors prove unacceptable to the people generally, their services are discontinued." "In the transaction of the business of the circuit's quarterly meeting, traveling and local preachers are equal." Between the quarterly meetings, the ordinary business of the circuit is transacted by the "circuit committee," composed of such local preachers, class-leaders, or stewards as are appointed by the preceding quarterly meeting to represent the respective societies. The traveling preachers are ex-oficio members of this court. Circuits are sometimes divided into branches, each having its own officials and its regular meetings for business, but subordinate to the quarterly meeting. "Places visited through missionary labors, and united in one station, are called a 'mission,'" most of which are under the control of the general missionary committee. A "district" consists of a number of circuits, branches, and missions. Its court, called a "district meeting," has an annual session. It is composed of one delegate from each circuit, the circuits sending a traveling preacher one year and a layman the two following years, so as to secure, as nearly as possible, two laymen to one traveling preacher. This meeting receives statistical reports of all the circuits, inquires into the state of each, and stations the traveling preachers within the district, "subject, however, to appeals from the stations or preachers, and to alterations at conference." "The 'conference' is a yearly meeting of delegates from all the districts in the Connection, of twelve permanent members, and of four persons appointed at the preceding conference in the proportion of two laymen to one traveling preacher. This is the highest court in the Connection, from whose decisions there is no appeal." A "general committee," composed of ministers and laymen, holding its sessions in London, is appointed to transact the business of the Connection in the intervals of the sessions of conference. A district committee, subordinate to the general committee, is appointed for each district, and adjudicates on certain cases submitted to its examination by the stations within the district.
The Connection is represented in the United States by two Conferences, Eastern and Western, having, for the last six years, only fraternal relations with the parent Conference in Great Britain. There are also separate conferences in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, strictly associated with England. The statistics for the American Conferences for 1876 are as follows:
The foreign work is chiefly in British colonies and among English-speaking people. The missionary income for the year was £45,234. The most striking peculiarities of the Connection are lst, the vast amount of unpaid labor performed by laymen; 2nd, the influence of the laity in Church government; 3rd, the devoted and zealous attention paid to the lower classes. In the United States also, the Primitive Methodist Connection has established itself, and has, especially near the borders of Canada and in the Eastern States, gained a strong footing, so that the American Church is about of equal strength with the Canadian. They support a paper called the Primitive Methodist and the Christian Patriot, a semi-monthly journal. See Petty, History of the Primitive Methodist Connection; Church, History of the Primitive Methodists (3rd ed., revised and enlarged); Herod, Sketches of Primitive Methodist Preachers: Memorial of the Centenary of Hugh Bourne; Barran, Gallery of Deceased Ministers; Articles by Rev. W. H. Yarrow, in Primitive Methodist Record for 1877.