As early as the 1750s John Wesley was close to ordaining some of his preachers in response to pressures from Charles Perronet and others, but was persuaded by his brother Charles to draw back from the brink.

However, on 1 September 1784, long persuaded by his reading of Bishop <span class="font-italic">Stillingfleet</span> and Lord Peter King that 'Bishops and presbyters are essentially of one order', and without making it widely known,he responded to the post-War situation in America. Assisted by Thomas Coke and James Creighton, both Anglican priests, he ordained two of his preachers as deacons and the next day as elders. He also ordained Coke as 'Superintendent'. With them he sent to America The Sunday Service of the Methodists which included services for the ordination of deacons, elders and superintendents. At the 'Christmas Conference' Coke ordained Francis Asbury successively as deacon, elder and 'Superintendent' (soon changed for 'Bishop') and the Methodist Episcopal Church began its separate existence. In 1785 John Wesley ordained preachers as elders for Scotland. He continued to ordain men going overseas and in 1788 ordained Alexander Mather for England, probably as Superintendent. In 1789 the word 'presbyter' replaced 'elder' on the ordination certificates.

After Wesley's death there were a few ordinations at District Meetings, including three in Newcastle by Charles Atmore and Joseph Cownley in May 1792; but the 1792 Conference put a stop to these and in 1793 abandoned the distinction between ordained and unordained. The Plan of Pacification (1795) permitted any itinerant 'authorised by the Conference' to administer the Lord's Supper in certain circumstances and this soon became a universal practice. Coke, however, continued to ordain with the imposition of hands men going overseas, regardless of whether they were actually in full connexion, and this custom continued in the WM Church.

The idea gradually arose that the preachers in full connexion were 'virtually' or 'in essence' ordained. A proposal at the 1822 Conference to re-introduce ordination came to nothing; but in 1836 Conference resolved to introduce the imposition of hands as a general practice. In 1846 the three forms of ordination in the Sunday Service were replaced by a single service, based loosely on that for elders, but including elements from those for deacons and superintendents. The present custom is for the President or an ex-President to preside at each ordination service, with other ministers taking part in the imposition of hands.

PM ordinations often took place at the District Meeting. There is also some evidence of the ordination of PM local preachers The first ordinations in the MNC were for the work in Canada (1839) and Ireland (1841), but did not become accepted practice in England until 1855. In both the PM and the BC connexions women were ordained, though in diminishing numbers, but the first ordinations of women in the post-1932 Methodist Church did not take place until 1974 after protracted debates and delays. Members of the Deaconess Order were first ordained in 1937, and the Diaconate was seen as an ordained order of ministry from its inception in 1988.

The issue of (re-)ordination was an important one in the Anglican-Methodist Conversations and the resulting Scheme of 1968.

See also episcopé.; women

  • Frederic Platt, 'Wesley's Ordinations - a retrospect', in London Quarterly and Holborn Review, January 1935 pp.63-73
  • A. Raymond George, 'Ordination in Methodism', in London Quarterly and Holborn Review, April 1951 pp.156-69
  • M. Wesley Earl, 'Ordination in the Methodist Church', in London Quarterly and Holborn Review, January 1963 pp.56-60
  • H. Edward Lacy, 'John Wesley's Ordinations', in WHS Proceedings, 33 pp.118-21
  • John C. Bowmer, 'Ordinations in Methodism, 1791-1836', in WHS Proceedings, 36 pp.36-40, 111-14
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  • Frank Baker, John Wesley and the Church of England (1970) pp.256-82
  • A.R. George in History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, vol. 2 (1978) pp.143-60
  • History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, vol.4 (1988) pp.430-1
  • WHS Proceedings, 7 pp.8-11; 9 pp.145-54; 10 pp.65-66; 16 pp.148-53; 24 pp.76-80; 39 pp.121-27, 153-57
  • Rupert E. Davies, 'The Ordination of Women in Methodism', in WHS Proceedings, 48 pp.105-12
  • Adrian Burdon, 'Ordination in British Methodism', in studia Liturgica, vol. 25 (1995) pp.151-73
  • Adrian Burdon, Authority and Order: John Wesley and his Preachers (Aldershot, 2005) pp.36-70
  • David M. Chapman, Born in Song: Methodist Worship in Britain (Buxton, 2006), pp.242-64
  • Henry D. Rack (ed.), The Methodist Societies: the Minutes of Conference, in 'The Works of John Wesley', vol. 10 (Nashville, 2011) pp.549-50