Magazine article The Spectator

The Organisation Man

Magazine article The Spectator

The Organisation Man

Article excerpt

A BRAND FROM THE BURNING

by Roy Hattersley Little Brown, 20, pp. 451, ISBN 0316860204

In 1743, 393 livings within the gift of the Archbishop of York were occupied by clergymen who did not live within that diocese and another 335 incumbents held plural livings. One bishop of Winchester distributed 30 incumbencies among his family. The Church of England was corrupt and slumbered.

The facts of John Wesley's life and of his `Great Awakening' which disturbed the slumbers are clear. Born in 1703, he was ordained and died a priest in the Church of England. Influenced both by High Church and non-juror, by Taylor, A Kempis and Law and by Puritan traditions, by the classics of spirituality and the CounterReformation, and by the disciplined spirituality of his home at Epworth Rectory, he formulated both a personal creed and public mission `to spread scriptural holiness throughout the land'. At Oxford, the Holy Club he developed with its daily spiritual diary, self- and other examination, strict fasting and intense piety set the rigorous standards which became part of the mission.

The mission was characterised above all by energy and intensity both spiritual and organisational. It pioneered outside preaching and lay preaching which infringed the Church of England's parochial boundaries and church order. It set up centres, other than parochial churches. It organised subscriptions and hence membership lists of its own. To give Communion to the huge numbers it attracted, it had persons ordained by priests not bishops. Roy Hattersley is particularly good in showing how the exigencies of the organisational side led to doctrinal clashes.

Wesley himself travelled 225,000 miles, mostly on horseback, often loose-reined and reading, preached 40,000 sermons, some of them to more than 20,000 people. He took little rest and no holidays, rose at four in the morning and preached at five, He took up, then distanced himself and quarrelled with, countless beliefs, sects and individuals. And he left a church within a church of 70,000 members with itinerant and local preachers, class leaders, bandleaders, stewards, schoolmasters and helpers. Methodism could also count, by his death, 60,000 adherents in the North American colonies.

What drove the mission? Hattersley spends some time, as have others, speculating about the man on the basis of his selfaborted sexual attachments, his disastrous marriage and his home life. It doesn't explain much. He is better on the way that Wesley clung to power and kept the mission to himself. …

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