Religious societies

In or about 1678 a group of young men began to meet under the leadership of Dr Anthony Horneck, Prebendary of Westminster, to promote their own spiritual and moral life and to support charitable causes. They were the first of a number of such 'religious societies', both in and around London and further afield. Samuel Wesley senior formed one at Epworth in 1701. Before and after his Georgia ministry, John Wesley was in touch with a several of these societies, including one meeting at the home of the Huttons in London, and another at Oxford. In some respects, e.g. in the Rules they adopted and the appointment of 'Stewards' whose function resembled that of Methodist class leaders, they anticipated the later societies under Wesley's leadership. But they were not evangelistic and the original rule that they should place themselves under a clerical director, was gradually abandoned. The support they received from the SPCK, including the gift of books, ceased soon after the rise of the Methodist movement.

See also Fetter Lane Society; Societies religious)


October 20, 1738: 'Waited with my brother on the Bishop of London [Edmund Gibson] …Next my brother enquired whether his reading in a religious society made it a conventicle. His Lordship warily referred us to the laws.. But upon our urging the question, "Are the religious societies conventicles?"he answered, "No, I think not. However, you can read the acts and laws as well as I. I determine nothing." '

Charles Wesley, MS Journal.

  • Gordon S. Wakefield, 'The Function and History of Religious Societies', in London Quarterly and Holborn Review, April 1963, pp. 104-10
  • David Pike, 'The Religious Societies, 1678-1738', in WHS Proceedings, 35 pp.15-20, 32-38
  • Richard P. Heitzenrater, Mirror and Memory: Reflections on Early Methodism (Nashville, 1989) pp.33-45