Committees of Review

Committees of Review were WM committees comprising both ministers and laymen, the first being the Committee of Privileges, set up on 1803. The defeat of the Sidmouth Bill in 1811 showed its value and the establishment of other commitees followed; e.g. the Missionary Committee (1815), Chapel Fund Committee (1818), Theological Institution Committee (1835), Education Committee (1837), Chapel Affairs Committee (1840), Finance Committee (1844) and Home Missions Committee (1856). These committees, composed of equal numbers of ministers and knowledgeable laymen, proved invaluable in overcoming potentially damaging situations.

Between 1827 and 1878 only about a hundred laymen were in and out of committees, since as a useful man completed his term on one committee he would be elected to supply a vacancy on another. This fostered an 'insider' mentality and eventually it seemed to newly-elected men that an inner ring of ministers and 'old hands' laymen had already made decisions before any opportunity for adequate discussion. This led to disenchantment and a conviction that they were wasting their time. Benjamin Gregory went so far as to describe the committees as 'a strong sea wall against popular encroachment on pastoral prerogative'. In 1875 there was a special committee on Lay Representation and in 1878 laymen of all backgrounds were elected to Conference itself for the first time. Eventually the Committees of Review themselves were in favour of their own abolition.

  • Minutes of WM Conference, 1797, 1803, 1818, 1845, 1875
  • Margaret Batty, Stages in the Development and Control of Wesleyan Lay Leadership (1988)