John and Charles Wesley were sons of the vicarage. Their parents, Samuel and Susannah were both from Anglican backgrounds. Samuel’s father and grandfather had been ordained before him. Susannah’s father, Dr Annesley, was one of the leading non-conformist ministers in London at the time. Both parents were well-educated and they taught all their children to read and write in English, Greek and Latin. Both parents were creative and wrote poetry and music.
At Oxford University John and Charles began their journey towards the creation of the Methodist church, establishing a Holy Club of people who wanted to meet regularly for fellowship, prayer and study. They were very methodical in their practice. They visited the poor and the sick, took communion regularly and fasted twice a week.
The Wesley brothers went on to be ordained, and were invited to go to Georgia to minister in Savannah and to the ‘natives’. Things did not go well and they returned to London. A few months later, each brother had a spiritual experience, where he felt, for the first time, an assurance that God loved him and that he was saved. After spending some time with the Moravian church, they began their own societies. The Anglican Church did not accept them, so John and Charles, and the new societies preached in the open air and in their own buildings, making thousands of converts through their enthusiasm, their singing and their challenge for changed lives. One hearer, an Anglican rector, wrote to John Wesley, “Your way of thinking is so extraordinary that your presence creates awe, as if you were an inhabitant of another world.” [Whitelamb, rector of Wroote]
The Methodist church grew out of a need to organise and formalise the new societies. Chapels were built. There was a system of membership, with tickets that were renewed every three months (if you were still worthy). The Class Meeting was established for regular meetings of small groups for prayer, study and fellowship. To organise the church, the Wesleys established a Conference to meet regularly, with John Welsey in the chair.