Sunday Service of the Methodists in North America

Prayer Book revision was commonplace in the eighteenth century. The Sunday Service of the Methodists in North America with other Occasional Services was compiled by John Wesley in 1784 and sent over with Thomas Coke for the use of American Methodists. It was an abridgment of the 1662 BCP, but on the whole was a conservative revision. It omitted Confirmation, the saints' days, some passages in Baptism and a number of the Psalms, and shortened some services, but included a 'Form of Ordaining of a Superintendant', used in the case of Francis Asbury.

There are two versions of the first edition, one containing the manual acts in the Communion and the signation in Infant Baptism. One possibility is that Wesley intended the inclusion of both, but Coke, supervising the printing, omitted them. When Wesley discovered this, he had corrected sheets printed, to be inserted when the copies were bound in America. This was accordingly done, but not in every case. Another edition in 1786 had various alterations, especially in infant baptism, possibly made by Coke. In this and numerous subsequent editions 'North America' in the title is omitted or replaced by other topographical references.

Morning Prayer never gained widespread acceptance in America and in the 1792 Discipline was replaced by a simple rubric enjoining singing, prayer and scripture readings. In England the Sunday Service was not replaced in WM till 1882 and even then, though not widely used, continued in print for a while. Shorter versions, such as Order of Administration of the Sacraments and other Services, contained only some of the services.


From Wesley's Preface to the 'Sunday Service':

I believe there is no Liturgy in the World, either in ancient or modern language, which breathes more of a solid, scriptural, rational Piety, than the COMMON PRAYER of the CHURCH OF ENGLAND. And though the main of it was compiled considerably more than two hundred years ago, yet is the language of it, not only pure, but strong and elegant in the highest degree.

Little alteration is made in the following edition of it, (which I recommend to our SOCIETIES IN AMERICA) except in the following instances: 1. Most of the holy-days (so called) are omitted, as at present answering no valuable end. 2. The service of the Lord's Day, the length of which has been often complained of, is considerably shortened. 3. Some sentences in the offices of Baptism, and for the Burial of the Dead, are omitted. And, 4. Many Psalms left out, and many parts of the others, as being highly improper for the mouths of a Christian Congregation.

Bristol, September 9, 1784 John Wesley

  • Frederick Hunter, 'Sources of Wesley's Revision of the Prayer Book in 1784-8', in WHS Proceedings, 23 pp.123-33
  • W.F. Swift in WHS Proceedings, 27 pp.33-41; 29 pp.12-20; 31 pp.112-18, 133-43
  • J. Hamby Barton, in WHS Proceedings, 32 pp.97-101
  • Nolan B. Harmon in WHS Proceedings, 39 pp.137-44
  • John C. Bowmer, 'Wesley's Revision of the Communion Service', in London Quarterly and Holborn Review, July 1951 pp. 230-37
  • Frank Baker, John Wesley and the Church of England (1970), ch.14
  • A. Raymond George, 'The "Sunday Service"', in WHS Proceedings, 40 pp.102-5
  • J.F. White (ed.), John Wesley's Prayer Book (Akron, Ohio,1995)
  • Karen B. Westerfield Tucker (ed.), The Sunday Service of the Methodists... (Nashville, 1996), esp. pp.17-30
  • Karen B. Westerfield Tucker, 'John Wesley's Prayer Book Revision', in Methodist History, 34:4 (July 1996) pp.230-47
  • J.C. English, 'John Wesley and the Liturgical Ideals of Thomas Cranmer', in Methodist History 35:4, July 1997 pp.222-32
  • Robert Webster, 'The Reforming Bishop: John Wesley and the Sunday Service of 1784', in Quarterly Review: a journal of theological resources for ministry, vol. 21 (2001), pp.67-80
  • Adrian Burdon, Authority and Order: John Wesley and his Preachers (2005) pp.77-105
  • Karen B. Westerfield Tucker, 'The Sunday Service of the Methodists', in Oxford Handbook of Methodist Studies ed. W.J. Abraham and J.E. Kirby (2009) pp.292-305

Entry written by: ARG
Category: Publication
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