High Calvinists in Action: Calvinism and the City, Manchester and London, c. 1810-1860

By Ian J. Shaw | Go to book overview

Appendix 1 Charles Simeon and the Private Meeting

Charles Simeon began a 'meeting in a private room' as part of his work at Trinity Church, Cambridge, as early as 1783, to stop those experiencing serious impressions from going to the Dissenters. So great was the response that it required hiring a room in an adjoining parish to contain the numbers. He conducted this meeting under constant fear of criticism for what was considered highly irregular practice. In 1794 the society numbered 120 spiritually enlightened members. 1 This 'loving society' comprised those 'whose faith is lively'. These Simeon exhorted in a 'close and heart searching manner . . . into the more deep and spiritual parts of religion'. 2 In 1794 Simeon divided the whole into 6 societies of 20 each, two meeting each week, so that he could see all the members within one month. One society, of the 'most judicious and experienced', became stewards of the alms for the poor collected by the societies. 3

Charles Smyth describes Simeon as a 'pioneer in the intelligent utilisation of the laity in the pastoral, as distinct from the administrative, working of a parish'. Simeon nominated elders, laymen, and laywomen to visit the sick, and pray and read with them, believing that the 'clergyman has more to do in the closet and study than even in the cottage'. He was anxious that such a lay body should not become a sectarian and injurious influence in the church. 4 He defended the propriety of private meetings as consistent with the obligations of ministers of the Establishment, and questioned how without them a clergyman could do his duties. Without such meetings 'the members of the church are only as a rope of sand', and the 'clergyman beats the bush and the Dissenters catch the game'. Simeon was aware that such societies were considered irregular: they seemed suggestive of Methodism. Few governors of the Church would sanction them, yet Simeon maintained his defence of them: 'indeed it is a curious fact, that the establishing of such societies is generally supposed to indicate an indifference towards the Church, when it actually proceeds from a love to the Church, and a zeal for its

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