5. Hugh Bourne Prescribes for Declining Camp Meetings

Transcription of article in the series “one Hundred Years Ago” by H. Bickerstaffe Kendall

WE complain of the long, hard winter we have had and of our bleak, wet spring; but the weather conditions of 1816 were worse than those we have experienced. The chronicles and letters of that time contain many allusions to the discomfort and damage caused by the abnormal weather. Sir Walter Scott, who at the beginning of May had published the “Antiquary,” writing to a correspondent later in the same month, says: “We are now in the seventh month of winter, which leads me to suppose that we shall have no summer this season. As for spring, it is past praying for. And now in the middle of May, the snow is lying white on Arthur’s Seat, and on the range of the Pentlands. It is really fearful, and the sheep are perishing by scores.” The long spell of bad weather was not confined to Scotland. Those who lived in England had the same story to tell of incessant rain, of floods, and the loss of stock, and even of human lives, that went on into what the calendar was pleased to call summer. Let us think how our fathers, in going to their appointments on foot, had to brave the rain, the mud and mire, and the swollen streams. It was very real to them.

It was at this time an event happened which Hugh Bourne regarded as a special providence. A good man put a good book into his hand that brought light and guidance. The good man was his old-time friend Peter Phillips, of Warrington. The book was the first edition of “The Narrative of a Mission to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the Somer’s Islands, by Joshua Marsden, Methodist Missionary.” In this volume a picturesque description was given of a camp meeting in which Marsden had taken part. It was held in the neighbourhood of New York, and lasted several days. One outstanding feature of this protracted camp meeting was the time allotted for prayer. The intervals between the preaching services were employed by the vast audience in forming themselves into groups or circles for prayer. This was the feature that for Hugh Bourne had the greatest interest and suggestiveness. We have seen how there had come about a marked decline in the English camp meetings. So much so, that all through the year 1815 continual prayer was made that the decline might be stayed and that camp meetings might regain more than their former effectiveness. Marsden’s book showed how it was to be done. “It pointed out both the evil and the remedy.” With his characteristic promptitude Hugh Bourne sat down to sketch a plan for camp meetings on the new model. In future ample provision must be made for joint earnest prayer. There must be more than one preaching stand, so that all might hear. Long preaching must be abolished, and fine preaching frowned off the field. And, most important thing of all, an hour of prayer must follow an hour of preaching, so that “a variety of talents might be brought into action.”

When he had fully sketched his plan Hugh Bourne wrote copies and distributed them among the leaders of the several societies, hoping that the suggestions made would be adopted and bear fruit. Now it so happened that one of these copies fell into the hands of William Ride, leader of the Mercaston class, who, heartily approving of the suggestions made, resolved to carry them into effect at the approaching Mercaston camp meeting due on June 2nd. As we shall see next month, this was done, with consequences that, in the judgment of Hugh Bourne, were tantamount to a “new founding of the Connexion”

References

Primitive Methodist Magazine 1916/340

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