Victory in the Villages

When this book was written, the Primitive Methodist Brinkworth Circuit in Wiltshire had 22 preaching places; in its area, there were 19 Anglican churches, 6 Congregational, 5 Baptist, 4 Wesleyan. Brinkworth was one of the most powerful PM circuits of the 19th century, its church-planting extending to Berkshire, Hampshire, Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire, and this is its story from the initial evangelism till the time it was written by the Superintendent minister. I found it stirring reading. Here are some extracts:

The possession of the Evangelistic Spirit and Labour is vital to the Church of Christ everywhere, and its absence from a Primitive Methodist Church is a freak. The Brinkworth Circuit is and ever has been evangelistic to the core. The burden of its preaching has always been, “Except ye repent ye shall all likewise perish,” and its brotherly cry of “Turn to the Lord and seek salvation has rung out passionately. The journals of its earlier missionaries were, to a considerable extent, the records of conversions; of the joy felt when these were frequent, and sorrow at their absence. Its Prayer Meetings were times for the Renewal of the Evangelistic Spirit. Thus it has come to pass that Revivals have marked the history of the Circuit from the beginning.

Prayer and courageous zeal went together ... the churches prayed without ceasing and God gave them power.

Missioning began in 1824; by 1827 twenty-two societies had been raised, and within about three years, 43 local preachers and exhorters. In 1828 John Ride became Superintendent, “one of the greatest missionaries the Primitive Methodist Church has produced”. The following year, the mission from Brinkworth into Berkshire began: there were no Wesleyans, very few Dissenters, and one Evangelical Anglican. The Prims met “opposition and cruelty, bitter and persistent persecution.” Thomas Russell joined the work, “pre-eminently the Apostle of Berkshire.” By 1830 there were over 300 members; two years later, there were almost 600, and 48 preaching places.

The book also gives an account of a Camp Meeting arranged by the Brinkworth and Shefford Circuits in 1834, recording the prayer, preaching, and conversions.

In addition to the moving narratives, there are many interesting sidelights, some amusing, some sad. It was resolved that one brother should have “a note written to him concerning his sideboards”. Local preachers were requested not to smoke in the street, and one Quarterly Meeting “strongly disapproves of our members playing at the game of Kissing in the Ring.” One was expelled for “selling uncustomed goods” (i.e. working the black market!). Sadder minutes record disputes between members: these too were human.

There are stories, with many photographs, of the toil, sacrifice and effort put into securing land and erecting 22 chapels in the Brinkworth Circuit to serve the congregations, Sunday Schools and evangelism. How wrong in comparison does today’s programme of deliberate closures seem!

For any with ancestors who took part in those times, there are personal references and photographs of great interest for family history.

When I joined the Methodist Church in the mid-1960s, this was the religion I was looking for and expecting to find. It is still the religion of my heart.