John Wesley (1703-1791) is a towering figure in the history of the English church.
He forms part of a huge dynasty of clergymen and poets, the son of the writer Samuel Wesley (1662-1735) and older brother of the hymn-writer Charles Wesley (1707-1788), who wrote ‘Love Divine, all loves excelling’ and the basis for ‘Hark, the herald angels sing’ among much else.
Though he is recognised as one of the founders of the Methodist church, he was in fact an ordained Anglican priest until his death. He regarded his ministry as additional to, rather than a replacement for, the Established Church.
Dr Samuel Johnson found his energy irritating: “John Wesley’s conversation is good, but he is never at leisure. He is always obliged to go at a certain hour. This is very disagreeable to a man who loves to fold his legs and have out his talk, as I do.”
This isn’t surprising. During his long life, his workload as a preacher was prodigious. One biographer says that he “rode 250,000 miles, gave away 30,000 pounds,…and preached more than 40,000 sermons”.
More often than not, he preached out of doors. When his followers built their own chapels, he favoured an octagonal plan, of which the best survivor is the Octagon Chapel, Heptonstall, West Yorkshire (1764). Originally built as a pure octagon, it was extended in 1802 by lengthening two sides to accommodate regular congregations of over a thousand.
It’s still in use, and visitors are welcome. It’s a delightful place to be quiet in. It must be a particularly satisfying space to preach in. For contact details see http://www.methodistheritage.org.uk/heptonstalloctagonalchapel.htm.
The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2012 Yorkshire Mills & Mill Towns tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £10.00 including postage and packing. To view sample pages click here. Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.