The Return of the Ranters

2007 is a year of many Methodist celebrations but the tercentenary of the birth of Charles Wesley, demands of course, a celebration in song. Over 6000 hymns written by this man, described by his brother as having “..[a] talent for poetry”, make him not only England’s greatest hymn writer but also a gifted evangelist.

However for many Methodists another event of great significance was an open-air meeting that was held at Mow Cop on Sunday 31st May 1807. Mow Cop is a landmark which towers over the Cheshire Plain. The ‘camp meeting’ held there 200 years ago would have a major impact, socially and spiritually, on thelives of hundreds of thousands of ordinary people in the century that followed.

Several thousand people gathered at Mow that day for open air worship, rich in participation, with singing, prayer and testimony, and which lasted up to fourteen hours! The movement which became known as Primitive Methodism spread out to give spiritual sustenance to working class aspirations for a better life. The movement was grounded in prayer and joyful experience of salvation as miners and labourers, often in desperate poverty and engaged in life threatening occupations, responded to the call. The spread of Primitive Methodism was due in no small part to the organising genius of Hugh Bourne and the colourful preaching of William Clowes and other early ‘Prims’ and to the involvement of lay preachers (including many women) known as ‘Ranters’. This was the public and visible expression of a spiritual dynamic that could not be provided for by the parish church or contained within Wesleyan Methodism. The parish churches were in the wrong place, and local Wesleyan Methodism had grown too respectable!

Many will visit Mow Cop again during 2007. Four hundred yards from the National Trust site where the celebrations will take place visitors will be able to visit the Methodist Chapel on Primitive Street. Recent restoration has taken place with a total transformation of the building compared to only a few years ago. Historic banners to celebrate the bi-centenary are now hanging from the chapel beams.

Many of this year's other celebrations have Englesea Brook as their focus. The Englesea Brook Chapel and Museum in Cheshire is unique in the Connexion, as it seeks to express and interpret the 19th century Primitive Methodist revival to a wide audience of people within and beyond the Church. Visitors can examine artefacts belonging to Hugh Bourne, an enthusiastic founder of many Sunday Schools, as well as learn about the chapel. The library is open during museum hours and students of all levels make good use of this facility. The museum is a popular venue for school visits, offering an insight into early 19th century Sunday Schools which provided basic education in reading and writing for working-class children, unable to attend school during the week because they were at work. Today’s children have a chance to experience a Victorian Sunday School class. Children can dress in period costumes and take part in lessons where they practise reciting tables, writing on slates and learning about Victorian money. There are replica outdoor and indoor toys to play with and a Victorian magic lantern show to enjoy. The Museum is holding a study day on 'The Mission of the Church'. with Baroness Kathleen Richardson, Rev Dr Michael Sheard and Dr Kevin Watson on Saturday 13 October from 11.00am. Places will be limited, and booking will be required, at £18 including lunch and refreshments. Before then, on Saturday 7 July, there will be a Methodist Conference meeting at Blackpool on 'Primitive Methodism as Primitive Christianity'

The story of Primitive Methodism is made up of many stories - stories about ordinary men and women who were ‘burning and shining lights’. Can Methodists catch the vision again?

Rev Dr Stephen Hatcher, has been stationed at Englesea Brook since 1996. and is the chapel and museum’s development officer. For more information please ring: 01270 820836

Additional information in this article came from methodism.org.uk/downloads/me_homemissionprojects0204.doc and the chapel and museum’s own website

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