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Church and Chapel in Industrializing Society

Anglican Ministry and Methodism in Shropshire, 1760–1785


D. R. Wilson

Church and Chapel in Industrializing Society: Anglican Ministry and Methodism in Shropshire, 1760–1785 envelopes a new and provocative revisionist history of Methodism and the Church of England in the eighteenth century, challenging the Church’s perception as a varied body with myriad obstacles which it dutifully and substantially confronted (if not always successfully) through the maintenance of an ecclesiastically and theologically rooted pastoral ideal. This model was lived out ‘on the ground’ by the parish clergy, many of whom were demonstrably innovative and conscientious in fulfilling their pastoral vocation vis-à-vis the new demands presented by the social, ecclesiastical, political, and economic forces of the day, not least of which was the rise of industrialisation. Contrary to the effete arguments of older cadre church historians, heavily reliant on the nineteenth-century denominational histories and primarily the various forms of Methodism, this book provides a thoroughly researched study of the ministry of John William Fletcher, incumbent of the parish of Madeley at the heart of the industrial revolution, whose own work along with that of his Evangelically minded Anglican-Methodist colleagues found the Church of England sufficiently strong and remarkably flexible enough to rigorously and creatively do the work of the Church alongside their non-Anglican Evangelical counterparts. Despite the manifest challenges of industrializing society, residual dissent, and competition from the Church’s rivals, the Establishment was not incapable of competing in the religious marketplace.
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Chapter Seven: Conflict, Confrontation and Conciliation


chapter seven

Conflict, Confrontation and Conciliation

Fletcher’s relationship with nonconformists in his parish and his confrontation of dissent at large, demonstrates a considerable effort to oppose error and promote primitive Christianity in both church and chapel. The foregoing chapters examined Fletcher’s pastoral strategies for winning the hearts and minds of his parishioners to Christian faith, fulfilling his duty—by means of church services, religious society meetings, pastoral care, and educational tactics—‘to teach and to premonish, to feed and to provide for the Lord’s family’.1 Yet another aspect of pastoral obligation instructed ordinands to: ‘be ready, with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God’s Word; and to use both publick and private monitions and exhortations … as need shall require, and occasion shall be given’.2 Both need and occasion presented in Madeley as early antagonism arose from Baptists and Quakers. In addition to tensions with Protestant dissenters, Catholic hostility also erupted at times. When challenges to the church arose, Fletcher mounted vigorous campaigns to secure the church and its gospel.

Study of conflict and confrontation in the parish informs us about the kind of religion people wanted (or did not want). As Hempton has suggested in another context: ‘Vigorous opposition shows that something important is at stake and sensibilities are being offended.’3 Offence did not always arise out of complaints against clerical sloth. Sometimes, and in Fletcher’s case it appears often, that when←196 | 197→ opposition...

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