Missionary Societies

The Methodist Missionary Society was formed in 1932 to administer the overseas missions of the three uniting Churches. The WM Missionary Society had been formally constituted at connexional level by the Conference of 1818, but District Societies, the result of local (and strongly lay) initiatives, had existed since 1813, the first of them in Leeds, so that the WMMS celebrated its jubilee in 1863 and its centenary in 1913. The Bible Christians set up their Missionary Society in 1821, in the first decade of their existence. The PM and UM Churches did not formally constitute missionary societies, though PM reports used the term from 1844; their overseas work was under the direct authority of the respective Conferences. A Calvinistic Methodist Missionary Society was formed in 1840 with India as its mission field.

The WM Missionary Society had overseas Districts in the Caribbean, much of W. Africa, the Rhodesias (now Zambia and Zimbabwe),India, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Burma (now Myanmar) and China, as well as in France, Italy, Spain and Portugal. UM activity was in China (MNC, BC and UMFC) and in Jamaica, Kenya and Sierra Leone (UMFC). The PMs had work in Fernando Po (now Bioko, Equatorial Guinea), Nigeria and Northern Rhodesia. Earlier work initiated by the various branches of British Methodism in the USA and the dominions was all by 1932 autonomous.

A Special Committee was appointed at the Conference of 1911 to review the management of the WMMS; this reported the following year and made a number of recommendations on its re-organization. A further revision of the MMS constitution in 1942 stated explicitly that 'every member of the Methodist Church as such is a member of the Methodist Missionary Society', and from 1973 to 1996 the MMS was coterminous with the Overseas Division. Unlike the other Divisions, it officially served both the British and Irish Conferences.

Bicentenary celebrations were held in 1986, 200 years after the first missionaries were appointed by the Conference to overseas stations. By then, sending and supporting missionaries and the provision of grants and scholarships were part of a strategy of partnership in mission with autonomous Churches. Old relationships in the Pacific had been revitalized and new ones in Latin America were being forged. By 1996, when the Divisions were merged in the connexional Team, the number of mission partners (as they were now called) serving abroad was much reduced, while ministers from overseas were regularly stationed in Britain under the World Church in Britain/Ireland Partnerships. The formal winding up of the MMS, reflecting this new relationship took place at the Conference of 2013.

See also Missionary Controversy

  • WM Conference Agenda, 1912
  • Methodist Recorder, 27 April 1939
  • E.W. Thompson, The Methodist Missionary Society: its origin and name (1955)
  • N. Allen Birtwhistle, 'Founded in 1786: the Origins of the Methodist Missionary Society', in WHS Proceedings, 30 pp.25-29
  • Roger H. Martin, 'Missionary Competition between Evangelical Dissenters and Wesleyan Methodists in the Early Nineteenth Century', in WHS Proceedings, 42 pp.81-86
  • Norman W. Taggart, The Irish in World Methodism 1760-1900 (1986), chs. 2, 12
  • A History of the Methodist Church in Britain and Ireland, vol.4, 'Documents and Source Material' (1988), pp.343-6, 355-7
  • Cyril J. Davey, Changing Places (1988)
  • Edward Royle, 'Leeds in 1813 and the origins of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society', in WHS Proceedings, 59 Part 6, October 2014, pp.214-26
  • Norman W. Taggart, 'An Irish Perspective on the Decision to Form a Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society in Leeds in 1813', in Bulletin of the Methodist Historical Society of Ireland, vol. 19 (2014), pp.95-8