The Rev John Wesley was born in 1703 in Epworth, Lincolnshire. to The Rev Samuel Wesley and Susanna Wesley (née Annesley). The Rev Samuel Wesley was the rector of Epworth.
In common with many children of Country Parsons in the 18th Centenary, Wesley's early life would have been quite disciplined by today's standards and his early education all recevied at home. The most recorded part of this childhood took place on 9th February 1709 when the Rectory caught fire. All were led to safety except John (then aged five) he was in a very perilous situation on the second floor until a couple of parishioners managed to resuce him from the window. Wesley later utilized the phrase, "a brand plucked from the burning", quoting Zechariah 3:2, to describe the incident.
This childhood deliverance subsequently became part of the Wesley legend, attesting to his special destiny.
John Wesley became a student at Christ Church College, Oxford in 1720, in due time graduating with a BA, and then MA Degrees. Becoming a Deacon in 1725, enabled him to remain at Oxford first as a tutor and then being electd a Fellow of Lincoln College in 1726.
In August 1727, Wesley returned to Epworth to become Curate to His Father. He was Ordained on 22 September 1728, and served as a parish curate for two years.
He returned to Oxford in November 1729 at the request of the Rector of Lincoln College and to maintain his status as junior Fellow.
During John Wesley's absence from Oxford, his younger brother Charles (1707–88) matriculated at Christ College.
Charles with fellow students, had formed a small club for the purpose of study and the pursuit of a devout Christian life.
On John Wesley's return, he became its leader, which then increased in number and commitment. The group met daily from six until nine for prayer, psalms, and reading of the Greek New Testament. They prayed every waking hour for several minutes and each day for a special virtue. Whereas the church's prescribed attendance was only three times a year, they took communion every Sunday. They fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays until three o'clock as was commonly observed in the ancient church. In 1730, the group began the practice of visiting prisoners in jail. They preached, educated, relieved jailed debtors whenever possible, and cared for the sick.
Given the low ebb of spirituality in Oxford at that time, and indeed in much of England, the reader is recomended to read Barchester Towers to gain a flacvour of the parlous state of the Church in that centenary. It was not surprising that Wesley's group provoked a reaction. They were considered to be religious "enthusiasts" which in the context of the time meant religious fanatics. University wits styled them the " Holy Club," a title of derision. And the group became known as "The Oxford Methodists."
In October 1735, Wesley and his brother Charles sailed on The Simmonds from Gravesend in Kent for Savannah in the Province of Georgia in the American colonies at the request of James Oglethorpe, he wanted Wesley to be the minister of the newly formed Savannah parish.
Travelling in he same ship was a group of Moravian settlers. Wesley was influenced by their deep faith and spirituality rooted in pietism. The deeply personal religion that the Moravian pietists practised heavily influenced Wesley's later theology of Methodism.
Reaching Savannah on 8 February 1736, Wesley saw an opportunity to spread Christianity to the Native Americans in the colony. Wesley's mission, however, was unsuccessful, and he and his brother Charles were constantly beset by troubles in the colonies, although he published A Collection of Psalms and Hymns in Savannah.
He returned to England in 1738
In England continued to seek a distintive piety and both he and his brother were further influenced by the Moravian missionary Peter Boehler.
On 24 May 1738, at a Moravian meeting in Aldersgate Street, he had a conversion experiance later described by him as "I felt my heart strangely warmed".
A few weeks later, Wesley preached a sermon on the doctrine of personal salvation by faith, which was followed by another, on God's grace "free in all, and free for all ."
Whilst he met frequently with the Moravianss and other religious societies in London but did not preach often in 1738, because most of the parish churches were closed to him.
The evangelist George Whitefield, a friend from Oxford, had also returned from America but found he was excluded from preaching in the churches of Bristol.
So going to the neighbouring (and in those days quite separate) village of Kingswood, Whitefield preached in the open air to a company of miners. Wesley hesitated to accept Whitefield's call to copy this bold step. However, in April 1739 he preached for the first time in the open air at Kingswood. And so began what was to become the itinerant Preaching Ministry
For the next fifty years John Wesley preached throughout the whole of the British Isles founding Societies in most Cities, Towns and Villages. At first these societies were just fellowship groups with the members attending local Parish Churches. However, many Churches and their Vicars became antagonistic to this new form of piety and in partiuclar because it was popular with the then underprivalged and generally poorer sections of Society. Gradually other Preachers joined Wesley in his mission, and following the decission of Wesley to ordain Preachers himself, at first in response to a pressing need of the American Societies, a distinct and then seperate denomination was created, which took the name "Methodist".
With the building of Methodist "Preaching Houses", The New Room in Bristol, being the first, the Methodist Church became established.
Much of the success of Methodism can also be attributed to Charles Wesley, who became one of the most prolific Hymn writers the world has ever known. Through the singing of these hymns many both learnt thier doctrine and found a way of expressing thier faith. Although some of the language and sentiment of Charles's hymns no longer perhaps speak to people in the 21st Centuray many still do and are still regualarly sung not only thoroughout Methodism, world wide, but by many other Christians of other denominations.
There is often some confusion about the nature and founding of our School. This arises over the confusion caused by the founding of two schools by John Wesley in Kingswood, Bristol at a similar time and close to each other.
There was a school founded for the sons of miners in the colliers of the area. However, this was very much an elementary school similar to many others founded for the working people of that era and has long since ceased to exist.
Our School was founded in 1748 and would have attracted the friends and aquaintences of John Wesley within Society. Many of whom had become suporters of his mission.
The school was always founded as a Boarding School, and from the records would by today's standards be considered a harsh regime, including rising at 5 am, no School Holidays and a strict curriculum. However, in many respects no differnt from the schools also then in existance for "The Sons of Gentry". Although interstingly records show that the early pupils included girls and other studies show that Wesley was trying by that period's standard some quite initiative and experimental educational techniques.
In 1851 the school which had outgrown its premises in Kingswood was able to move to its current site on Lansdown Hill overlooking the City of Bath.
At about the same time the need for Methodist Ministers sons to receive Boarding Education had become so great (Because appointments were usually for a maximum of three years in any one Circuit.) that the pupils were exclusivitaly drawn from those either in British Circuits or from the now significant Missionary Church throughout the world. The school thus providing a stable and subsidised environment for the children.
In 1922 the School was extended and again commenced admitting the sons of Laymen. Often this was, as in my own case, the result of a suggestion by our Minister to my parents. Right up until the end of 1960's there continued to be a high proportion of Methodist Minsiter's sons in the pupil population. The overwhealming majority of all puplils being Boarders.
A much fuller and well researched history of the school has been produced by Charles Ives, and I would be grateful for the return of my copy!