Our Centenary – Some Old-Time Missionary Meetings

Transcription of Article in the Primitive Methodist Magazine Our Centenary  by Rev. H.B. Kendall, BA

Shortly after Belper had been made a branch of Tunstall, with T. Jackson (1) and W. Allcock as its preachers, the first Missionary Meetings in the Connexion were arranged for. Hugh Bourne, who was present when the arrangements were made, heartily concurred.

They were both held on the same day, July 8th, 1821 – the one at Turnditch in the afternoon, the other in the evening at Belper. As was customary then and for some time to come, the meetings proceeded by a series of resolutions being stated, explained and enforced by various speakers and then submitted to the audience for its approval. The resolutions were not wanting in practicality. They have only to be read to show that they who framed and carried them meant business. (1) “That while Christians of other denominations are labouring to evangelise the heathen abroad we will turn our attention to the heathen at home. (2) That it is necessary that our missionaries carry the Gospel into the dark and benighted villages in the Peak of Derbyshire. (3) That sincere thanks be given to Almighty God for the great success which has already crowned the labours of our missionaries. (4) That prayer and supplication be made unto God for His special blessing upon all missionaries who are labouring in foreign lands, and upon those who are labouring in our own country.”

The third missionary meeting of which we have any record was the one held in old Mill Street chapel, Hull, on December 11th, 1822. It had been hastily arranged for, and was held after the brethren had been hard at work all day at the Quarterly Meeting, yet as regards numbers, enthusiasm and liberality, it was a complete success. W. Clowes  “sustained the office of chairman,” and there were nine speakers. Thomas Thompson, M.P., of Wilberforce House, High Street, generally known as “Banker” Thompson, was present at the meeting, gave a handsome donation, and said he had never attended a better missionary meeting. This was high praise as coming from the man who had been chairman of the first Wesleyan Missionary Meeting in Leeds and also chairman of the first general meeting of the same Society held in London. For efficient speaking at this first Hull Missionary Meeting the brethren had the best possible preparation in their own arduous and successful labours. There was no risk of falling short of matter when they had their own experience, so rich in incident, to fall back upon. They were real missionaries; fresh from the field of conflict and triumph, now doing what Paul and Barnabas did when, as we read, “they gathered the church together,” and “rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how He had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles.” How could the addresses of such men fail to be inspiring?

At that maiden missionary meeting it would not enter the minds of either speakers or hearers of what it was to be the precursor. Soon this kind of meeting shot up into popularity, and the Missionary anniversary became in some districts what the Sunday School Anniversary afterwards became in others – theanniversary of the year. In Hull, such was the interest that centred round it that, ere long, when one meeting had been held, the people clamoured for another, and it became the established custom to hold two meetings on consecutive nights. Long before the time of service the gates were besieged. After the rush had been made it was often found that not even standing room could be provided for all who sought entrance, and many went away disappointed. Inside the chapel, the very atmosphere seemed in a highly electric condition. The preachers were usually gifted men, and their tact and wit – and, above all, their godly fervour, supplied the spark needful to kindle the enthusiasm of their hearers, so that the meetings usually reached a high pitch of excitement, and ended in a display of liberality by no means discreditable to the congregation, considering the worldly position of those who mainly composed it.

Let us recall two other old-time missionary meetings in which one and the other of our chief founders bore a leading part. One was held in Sepulchre Street Chapel, Scarborough, in the late autumn of 1831, and is described by Clowes himself, who gives a sample of the facts he dealt out at this meeting – facts which occurred in his own experience as a pioneer of the Connexion in Leeds and London. “The next place I visited,” says Clowes in his “Journals,” “to assist in missionary services, was Scarborough, where, on a Monday afternoon, and by adjournment in the evening, we held a public meeting, assisted by two Baptist ministers and one Independent. At the evening meeting one of the Baptist ministers observed that he had been greatly disappointed in not hearing, as on former occasions, a detail of facts which, in his view, always gave peculiar interest to missionary meetings. After he had finished his address, I rose and said it was a factthat on January 28th, 1820, I came to Scarborough and preached in the open-air to a large multitude, that souls were converted to God and a church formed; that I afterwards raised the banner of the cross at Cloughton, Robin Hood’s Bay, Whitby, and other places, and that the powers of darkness were shaken and souls were saved. I further said it was a fact that I proceeded to Leeds and began to sound the Gospel-trumpet in a room in Sampson’s warehouse, occupied by a dancing-master; that here the devil and Sampson gained a temporary advantage over me, the latter having been induced by the former to shout that the warehouse was falling, and thereby to cause many of my hearers, through fear, to rush to the door and dash down the stairs, falling one upon another, and others to attempt to jump through the windows; – and yet, that all were preserved from harm and were restored to composure by my singing, ‘Come, oh, come, thou vilest sinner,’ &c.; that at the next preaching service, the devil and Sampson had forestalled me and my friends, and had hung a padlock on the door to prevent us from entering to worship God; that we stood in confusion until Sally Taylor offered her cellar as a place of worship, which offer was accepted; that in the cellar the glory of God was revealed and souls were saved; and that a society was afterwards formed, a chapel built, and the mission rendered otherwise prosperous. I observed also that it was a factthat I went to London [Aug. 8, 1824,] and, among the Sabbath-breakers buying and selling on the Sabbath, in Clare Market, uplifted the voice of reproof in the name of the Lord, and warned metropolitan sinners to flee from the wrath to come; and that, despite great persecution and danger, God made me instrumental in the salvation of souls. When I had related several other factswhich had occurred in my different missionary tours, I sat down, and a respectable gentleman in the congregation then arose and requested permission to say a few words. Permission having been given, he spoke about the importance of missionary enterprise, and the necessity for all present to encourage it, and he observed that what I had stated respecting Leeds and Sally Taylor’s cellar, he knew to be true. His observations produced a powerful effect upon the meeting, which was afterwards admitted to have been the best Primitive Methodist Missionary Meeting ever held at Scarborough.”

The other Missionary Meeting took place in Old Queen Street Chapel, Darlington, in 1835, and is referred to here not only because it calls up an old-time missionary meeting of a somewhat unusual type but because it brings before us three notable men. We see Henry Hebbron bubbling over with fun and wit which not even the presence of Hugh Bourne could repress. Hugh Bourne we catch in the attitude so eminently characteristic of him all through life – the hand before the face through which he glanced and spoke as through a fleshly screen. The narrator of the incident who noted it down in his private journal while its details were still fresh in his mind, was William Lister, first missionary and circuit superintendent, afterwards President of the Conference of 1868, and General Book Steward.

“At the close of the Sunderland District Meeting of 1835, held at Brompton, H. Bourne, H. Hebbron, W. Towler with myself, came on by a conveyance to Darlington, where we had to hold a missionary meeting in the afternoon, and by adjournment in the evening. The chapel was crowded. As I was a stranger it was arranged for me to speak at both meetings. The plan on which the meetings were conducted was to me a little novel. One of the speakers was voted into the chair, and after he had addressed the meeting, he called on other two speakers. The chairman then put the leading ideas of the addresses into a resolution which the audience was asked to approve of. The chairman then gave out the hymn: ‘Oh, that it now from heaven might fall,’ etc., which was sung with great fervour. A brother was now asked to pray for not more than two or three minutes for an outpouring of the Spirit on the meeting. That done another was put into the chair and other two speakers followed; and thus ended the afternoon meeting. In the evening we had rather an amusing scene. Mr. Hebbron was in the chair while I spoke. When I had done he made some rather humorous remarks on both my addresses.

“My address in the afternoon had chiefly turned on the work going on in my circuit (Berwick) – for we then had a good revival – I referred to our custom of having a collection at every service, and told of a man attending a missionary meeting in my circuit, who gave all the money he had – eighteenpence – to the collection, and who, on going home, met a man who gave him five shillings. To this Mr. Hebbron referred in the evening, among other things remarking, that I ought to have told them if our frequent collections were made up by every man’s giving his ‘bawbee.’ At the same time, he added, he was pleased to hear the good work was going on in that land of ‘crowdy’ from which I came. This pleasantry raised a smile on the faces of many in the congregation; whereupon up sprang H. Bourne to the front of the platform to administer a reproof to the chairman for being so lightsome. At the same time he confessed that he did not know what ‘crowdy’ was, but he understood it was something to eat, and whatever it was he supposed it would be as good as the barley-bread and fish were that the Master had to make a meal off, and what the apostles, the first preachers, had to live on. Whatever ‘crowdy’ might be he – H. Bourne – would take it, be thankful for it, and pray the blessing of God upon it, and believe it would strengthen him to do his work. All this he said with great vehemence, with his left hand under his right arm and his right hand covering his face. On sitting down he turned to the chairman and said, ‘You should always keep to a form of sound words, Brother Hebbron.’ ‘Oh,’ replied Mr. Hebbron, ‘the crowdy is always sound, sir, if the meal is good!’ and at once he relieved us all by giving out the hymn: 96 Small Hymn Book:
“Servants of the great Jehovah,
Now go forth at His command;
He will bless your feeble efforts,
Own the labours of your hand!
Run, ye heralds,
Spread the Gospel through the land.”

This hymn would be one of the twenty-five that the poet, W. Sanders, contracted to write for the sum of twenty-five shillings the lot.


Primitive Methodist Magazine 1907/132

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