Independent Methodism

This small denomination, originating from Methodism's age of disunity, exists mainly in the north of England. Its distinctive features are its unpaid ministry and independent system of church government.

An attempt was made in 1803 by William Bramwell to bring together various groups of Methodist Revivalists, but this came to nothing. In 1806 they held a general meeting and formed a union, known as Independent Methodists, though each group retained its local name: Quaker Methodists (Warrington), Band Room Methodists (Manchester), Independent Methodists (Oldham), Christian Revivalists (Macclesfield/Stockport) and in various places Free Gospel Churches. Most had broken away from WM or the MNC. Further growth followed the Peterloo massacre (1819) when churches were formed in Bolton and the North East by groups which included many Radical Reformers.Other groups were added at various times during the nineteenth century: Gospel Pilgrims (Yorkshire and Norfolk), Independent Primitive Methodists (Nottinghamshire), Church Presbyterians (Glasgow),Christian Brethren (Yorkshire), Christian Lay Churches (North East) and, briefly, Wesle Bach (Minor Wesleyans) in North Wales. The Connexion itself has changed title - Churches of Christ, United Free Gospel Churches and (since 1898) the Independent Methodist Connexion of Churches.

The rejection of a paid ministry was usually a reaction against what was perceived as the abuse of authority by itinerant preachers, but as the years passed non-payment was given a strong ideological basis. Preachers were appointed by local churches and circuits. The concept of a connexional ministry with legal recognition dates only from the present century. Today the Connexion's Resource Centre in Wigan serves as headquarters and a facility for the churches. A Connexional Committee manages the work of the Connexion, but final authority rests with its Annual Meeting, at which each church may be represented. The Connexion is a member body of Churches Together in England, CCBI, the Free Churches' Council and the Evangelical Alliance.


Principles of Independent Methodism, adopted at the Annual Meeting, 1880:

I. Doctrines, those commonly expressed by the term Evangelical. II. Worship and services, those usual among Methodist Societies. III. Every Church self-governed, managing its own financial and other internal affairs. IV. Equality of Christian brotherhood, all members sharing in the government of the Church. V. Ministry open and free, in contradistinction to an exclusive Ministry in which public teaching is confined to a Clerical or Ministerial Order. Every Christian is called by God to actively labour in His cause, and none can discharge his responsibility by proxy. VI. We recognise no Clerical Titles or Designations. VII. Our Ministry is purely voluntary and unpaid. VIII. We have an Evangelistic Agency, brethren being appointed to go from place to place, preaching the Gospel, visiting weak and planting new Churches; and whilst so engaged they may be maintained, Evangelists having 'liberty to live of the Gospel'. IX. Groups of Churches in adjacent neighbourhoods are associated in Districts for ministerial and other mutual advantages.

A History of the Methodist Church in Britain and Ireland, vol.4 (1988), pp.553-4

  • A.Mounfield (ed.), A Short History of Independent Methodism (Wigan, 1905)
  • New History of Methodism (1909) 1 pp.558-60
  • James Vickers, A History of Independent Methodism (Wigan, 1920)
  • James Murray, Independent Methodist History 1905-1955 (Wigan, 1955)
  • Deborah M. Valenze, Prophetic Sons and Daughters: Popular Religion and Social Change in England 1790- 1850 (Princeton,1985)
  • John A. Dolan, 'The Archives of the Independent Methodists', in WHS Proceedings, 49 pp.122-23
  • John Dolan, Peter's People (Wigan, 1996)
  • John A. Dolan, 'An Independent Methodist Bicentenary', in WHS Proceedings, 50 pp.237-40
  • John A. Dolan, 'The Origins and Early Characteristics of the Independent Methodist Movement', in Wesleyan Perspectives: papers presented to the Wesley Fellowship in 1998 (Ilkeston, 1998)
  • John Dolan, The Independent Methodists: a new history (Wigan, 2005)
  • John A. Dolan, 'The Voluntary Ministry of the Independent Methodists', in WHS Proceedings, 55 pp.29-43