Welsh Calvinistic Methodists
Welsh Calvinistic Methodists a considerable body of Methodists, chiefly in Wales, which dates its origin from 1735, sprang from the labors of Mr. Howel Harris, of Trevecca, in Brecknockshire. This young man had gone to Oxford to prepare for the ministry of the Church of England; but, becoming disgusted with the immorality and gross carelessness of that place, he returned home and began to visit from house to house, warning people to flee from the wrath to come. He soon began to preach in public. Crowds flocked to hear him, and many were converted under his preaching. He appointed meetings for religious conversation in several places; hence arose those private societies which form a prominent part of the arrangements of this body. His labors were crowned with extraordinary success, notwithstanding the opposition of the regular clergy and the magistrates; and in 1739, after only four years of effort, he had established as many as three hundred societies in the south of Wales. Mr. Harris was greatly aided in his labors by the Rev. Daniel Rowland, of Llangeitho, Cardiganshire, who attracted large crowds by his eloquence. Several pious ministers of the Establishment seceded and joined the Methodists; a considerable band of itinerant missionaries was formed; a most precious revival spread among the different denominations; and the new sect grew so popular that in seven years from its commencement no fewer than ten ministers of the Church of England had joined it. The first chapel built by the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists was erected at Builth, Brecknockshire, in 1747. In the following year two others were built in Carmarthenshire. The Church made rapid progress in the south of Wales, but was greatly hindered in the north. It was about this time that the Rev. Thomas Charles began his labors. He lived at Bala, Merionethshire, and it is to his exertions and influence that these societies are chiefly indebted for their prosperity. He was converted under the preaching of Mr. Rowland, and, after the usual preparation, entered the ministry of the Church of England. But in 1784 he decided to leave the Established Church and join the Methodists, where he could enjoy greater freedom in evangelical labors. He found the principality in a deplorable condition on account of the ignorance and degradation of the people. A Bible could scarcely be found in any of the cottages of the peasantry, and in some parishes very few were able to read it. He therefore decided to educate the people in the rudiments of learning and religion. He established for this purpose what he called circulating schools, that is, schools which might be removed from one place to another at the end of a definite period, say nine or twelve months. He induced "a few friends to set a subscription on foot to pay the wages of a teacher, who was to be moved circuitously from one place to another, to instruct the poor in reading, and in the first principles of Christianity by catechising them." This work was begun in 1785 with only one teacher. Others were added as the funds increased, until they numbered twenty.
At first he instructed the teachers himself, and these in turn instructed others. In this manner many thousands were instructed, and the good seed thus sown produced abundant fruit, religious awakenings occurring in many places where the teachers had labored. In 1799 a religious periodical was started by Mr. Charles, entitled The Spiritual Treasury, the design of which was to supply the people thus instructed with religious reading. Hitherto, Bibles in the vernacular had been very scarce, and the want was met by the formation of the British and Foreign Bible Society in 1804. By this organization, Welsh Bibles and Testaments were scattered throughout the principality, and eagerly received. In the organization of the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Society Mr. Charles took an active and prominent part. At an association held at Bala in 1790, he drew up a set of Rules for Conducting the Quarterly Meetings of the North Wales Association, consisting of the preachers and leaders. and these Rules form the basis of the present system of Church government of the whole society. In 1801 Rules of Discipline were first published, laying down the order and form of Church government and discipline. To these were added, in 1811, several regulations designed to render the organization, in its membership and ministry, permanently independent of the Established Church.
In 1823 they adopted and published a Confession of Faith, which was unanimously agreed upon at the associations of Aberys with and Bala. The doctrines thus avowed are decidedly Calvinistic, and accord with the Thirty-nine Articles and the Westminster Confession in all essential points of doctrine and practice. Their Church government is neither Episcopal, on the one hand, nor Congregational, on the other, but approaches more nearly the Presbyterian form. The private societies are subordinate to the monthly meetings, and these again to the quarterly associations, at which the general business of the body is transacted. Their preachers itinerate from place to place, and, being men of limited education, they are generally dependent on some secular employment for their support. Of late years they have turned their attention towards the importance of an educated ministry. Accordingly, in 1837, a college for the purpose of training theological students was established at Bala, and in 1842 another at Trevecca.
The ministers of the Connection are selected by the private societies, and reported to the monthly meetings, which examine them as to their qualifications, and permit them to begin on trial. After they have preached for five years or more on trial, and are found properly qualified, they are ordained to administer the sacraments, and the ordination takes place at the quarterly associations. The preachers are expected each to itinerate in a particular county; but generally once in a year they undertake a missionary tour to different parts of Wales, when they preach twice every day, each time in a different chapel. Their remuneration is derived from the monthly pence contributed by the members of each congregation; out of which a small sum is given to them after every sermon; but some have a stated stipend.
The Welsh Calvinistic Methodists have about 1000 chapels and about 80,000 communicants, 60,000 of whom are in Wales and 4000 in America, the rest principally in England.
In 1840 they formed an association for sending missionaries to the heathen, and towards the end of the same year a mission was commenced among one of the hill tribes in the northeast part of Bengal. They have also a mission-station in Brittany, France, the language of that country being a sister dialect of the Welsh; and they have, besides, a mission to the Jews. The operations of the home mission of this denomination are carried on among the English population inhabiting the borders between England and Wales. There are several societies in England belonging to the Connection- for example, in London, Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol, Chester, Shrewsbury, etc. — whose worship, public and private, is performed in the Welsh language. There is also a small congregation among the Welsh miners of Lanarkshire, Scotland, who have preaching in their own language. In some parts of Wales, and on the borders of England where the English language is most prevalent, worship is conducted in that tongue.