In commemoration of John Wesley
A view of the Wesley Church at Egmore remembering the contribution of the great preacher ... Pic. by R. Ragu
THE METHODIST Church in India and the Madras Diocese of the Church of South India have joined the Wesleyan community of 75,000,000 Methodists in some 140 countries to celebrate the tercentenary of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement.
The celebrations began in Chennai in June 2003 and the year-long festivities concluded on September 27.
The world commemorates the contributions of this great preacher, spiritual leader and extraordinarily talented man who has been described as "the single most influential Protestant leader of the English-speaking world since the Reformation."
Charles, the younger brother, was a famous hymn writer, who wrote more than 6,000 songs. John was a student at Christ Church College in Oxford and in 1725, at the age of 22, he preached his first sermon in an Anglican church in South Leigh. Charles, also at Oxford, asked John to lead a small group of students interested in regular prayers and Bible study, and caring for the poor and the prisoners in local jails. The group had to endure such un-flattering epithets as "the Holy Club" and "Methodists". It should be made clear that Wesley was not the founder or member of the Methodist Church. To him, Methodism was a movement intended to reform and bring about a revival within the established Church of England. The Methodist Church evolved later.
After their father's death, John and Charles went as missionaries to Georgia in America, still a British colony in 1735. John returned to England two years later. The American Methodist church was founded in 1771 by Francis Asbury, sent by Wesley as a lay preacher.
It has been estimated that John wrote some 400 publications that included hymns, translations, sermons and grammar books. He kept a journal in which he recorded his thoughts and contemporary events from 1735 to 1790. John Wesley set up dispensaries, built orphanages, began adult education schools, started Strangers' Friends Societies for helping those who were ill or desperately poor and visited and encouraged visits to prisons, and publicly supported the reformer William Wilberforce in his campaign against slavery in Britain.
Methodism came to India twice, in 1817 and in 1856, according to P. Dayanandan who has done extensive research on the subject.
Twenty-two years after Wesley's death, the Methodist Foreign Missionary Society was founded in England. Dr. Thomas Coke and six other missionaries set sail for India on New Year's Day in 1814. Dr. Coke, then 66, died en route. Rev. James Lynch was the one who finally arrived in Madras in 1817 at a place called Black Town, later known as George Town. Lynch conducted the first Methodist missionary service on March 2, 1817, in a stable. The first Methodist church was dedicated in 1819 at Royapettah.
The chapel at Broadway (Black Town) was later built and dedicated on April 25, 1822. This church was rebuilt in 1844 since the earlier structure was collapsing.
At this time there were about 100 Methodist members in all of Madras, and they were either Europeans or Eurasians (European and Indian descent).
A remarkable missionary, Elijah Hoole, arrived in 1820. He was the first Methodist missionary who could preach fluently in Tamil. He preached at St. Thomas Mount and visited Poonamallee in 1823. In 1829, the English Wesley Chapel was dedicated at St. Thomas Mount.
Among those names associated with the founding period of this church is Thomas Cryer, considered "one of the saintliest men" who came as a missionary to Madras.
He returned to Madras in 1852 and died of cholera four days later. He was buried in the St.George's Cathedral cemetery. This year (2004) the Mount Wesley church is celebrating its 175th year of inception, says Dayanandan who is the Diocesan convenor for the Wesley tercentenary celebrations committee in Chennai.
Methodist Episcopal church
At the Baltimore Christmas conference in 1784, 60 preachers formed the Methodist Episcopal Church in America.
In 1857 this Episcopal church started its work in India. William Butler worked from Bareilly.
The Californian evangelist William Taylor arrived in Madras in 1874 and conducted revival meetings, and thus was born the Emmanuel Methodist Church, Vepery, then called the Methodist Episcopal Church. The present church building however came into existence four years later in 1878.
At the turn of the century it was felt necessary to build a church on the grounds of the Methodist Manse on Poonamallee High Road at Egmore.
The foundation was laid in December 1903 and the Egmore Wesley church as we know it today was inaugurated.
A. J. Higginbotham, a devoted member of the Black Town congregation and founder of the publishers and booksellers Messrs Higginbothams (1844), raised funds for the Methodist Mission in Madras, and his daughter sang in the choir of the Egmore Wesley church in its early years.
The great Tamil scholar, Rev. G. U. Pope, served the Mission from 1856 to 1857.
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