Methodism, Children and the Poor

Methodism was born among the impoverished of eighteenth century England. So significant was John Wesley's ministry with the poor that he affirmed, “And surely never in any age or nation since the Apostles, have those words been so eminently fulfilled, the poor have the gospel preached unto them,‟ as it is at this day.”20

Studies document that the poor were the central focus on the early Methodist movement. 21 Everything Wesley did in leading the Methodist revival was influenced by the impact on the poor – where and to whom he preached, the design of preaching houses, the availability of published material, the education of children, the leadership of the classes and societies.

Wesley considered regular visitation to the poor as a necessary spiritual discipline. He would no more neglect regular visitation of the poor than he would miss partaking of the Eucharist. The poor literally accompanied him to his grave. As directed in his last will and testament, he was carried to his grave by six poor people who were paid one pound each. The black drapings used in the chapel for his memorial service were remade into dresses distributed to poor women.22

Children and their total needs were of particular concern to early Methodists. Wesley was especially concerned that impoverished children not only learn “to read, write and cast accounts, but more especially (by God's assistance) to 'know God and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent.'”23 The curriculum of the Methodist schools included religious instruction, worship and even fasting, as well as strong academics. Methodist preachers were expected to spend time with the children. Whenever a society included ten children, the preachers were ready to establish a band and meet with them twice a week. Some preachers hesitated claiming, “but I have no gift for this.” Wesley's firm response was, “gift or no gift, you are to do it, else you are not called to be a Methodist preacher.”24

Wesley's commitment to children and the impoverished went beyond friendship and proclamation. He sought to provide holistically for their needs. He provided education, opened free health clinics, established a sewing cooperative for women in poverty, provided a lending agency, opposed slavery, visited the imprisoned, and ministered to condemned malefactors. Methodism in the eighteenth century was a movement of the poor, by the poor and for the poor; and Wesley considered affluence the most serious threat to the continued vitality and faithfulness of Methodist movements. 25

 

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