I couldn’t help feeling a little sadness after reading an article about the headlong decline of Methodism in Britain.
Within the last decade, the membership of the Methodist Church of Britain has declined by a third, down to a paltry 200,000 members — an astonishing development, considering that Britain was the cradle of Methodism.
Methodism began as revivalist movement within the Church of England. Indeed, one of the great ironies of Methodism is that the founders of the movement, John and Charles Wesley, remained accredited Anglican priests until their dying days.
After reflecting on this for a while, the thought occurred to me: Is sadness really justified in this case? What is there to be sad about — really? Methodism is arguably is a victim of its own success. It was aimed at the lowliest Britons of 18th century British society: the hundreds of thousands of unwashed, unlettered masses wantonly ignored by the Anglican establishment.
Methodism ultimately transformed Britain: Tens of thousands of impoverished Britons abandoned the crippling addictions of gambling and alcohol to lead sober, productive and charitable lives. The socially-conscious, reform-minded middle-class that grew out of this movement left a permanent and indelible imprint on British society. Some historians have even credited the movement with staving off the bloody revolution that arguably bedevils France to this day.
In time, this movement transformed America, and particularly the American frontier, as profoundly as it did the Mother Country.
If Methodism is increasingly irrelevant to the majority of Britons in the 21st century, it is arguably because it succeeded far beyond the imagination of its founders.