John Wesley and members of the 'Holy Club', influenced by the writings of the non-juror, Robert Nelson, followed the practice of the early church in fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays. Wesley continued the practice in Georgia. From 1744 he encouraged the itinerants, as a spiritual discipline, to fast on Fridays. The Minutes of the 1746 Conference advocated fasting and prayer, mentioning a few specific occasions. In 1767 the Conference for the first time set a particular date, Friday 18 September, for a 'general Fast in all our Societies', resolving also 'Let there be such a fast once a quarter'. This largely meant abstention from meat.
From then on days of fasting and prayer were enjoined on the societies, for example, at times of perceived connexional failure or national crises. By 1790 Wesley lamented that fasting was 'almost universally neglected by the Methodists'. After his death the WM Conference ordered quarterly fast days, sometimes for specific causes and through much of the nineteenth century fast days were noted on circuit plans. Henry Lunn (born 1859) recalled: 'In my earliest days the quarterly fast, which was then a real institution in Methodism but has now  been forgotten, was regularly observed in our little town. My mother took me at six in the morning, again at mid-day and in the evening, to the special services of the day.' And when he was a student at Headingley College, Fridays were observed as special days of abstinence or fasting. (Chapters from my Life, pp. 17-18, 32)
The Conference of 1982 called for a Day of Prayer and Fasting to be held in the first week of Lent, 1983. A series of six study and devotional leaflets was prepared because 'the practice... was so unfamiliar to Methodists generally'. There is no record of how far this call was taken up locally.
Entry written by: MB
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