Powys Digital History Project

Church and chapel 3
Welsh methodism


The Revival in Wales
From the mid-1730s onward, William Williams, Daniel Rowland, and Howell Harris were involved in an exhausting campaign to bring about this new awareness of the gospel message through preaching. All three were successful in attracting large gatherings of people, who found that the sense of involvement generated at these meetings was more exciting than the formal parish services, or less exclusive than nonconformity. The heady emotional atmosphere of the meetings and their theatricality made them very different to most nonconformist practices.

Although Welsh methodism had close links with Wesley and the English movement it was essentially Calvinist, and had established its own structure through a network of seiadau or regular meetings with their own superintendents. Even so this was a movement aimed at reviving the established church, and members were instructed to take communion at their parish church.

Howell Harris portraitThreat to authority
The senior hierarchy of the Church of England saw the revival as a threat to the natural authority of the gentry. Howell Harris (right) appears to have been refused ordination unless he was willing to give up itinerant preaching and settle in a parish, and he and other prominent Welsh methodist leaders were attacked by angry mobs. The most serious incident at this time was the killing of William Seward at Hay.
Although this early period was important to Welsh religious history, methodism did not become a large scale popular movement until later in the eighteenth century. Some methodist groups left the Church of England, and thus enjoyed the legal protection afforded to licensed nonconformist groups.
Howell Harris himself split the movement in Wales by following a doctrine which claimed that God himself had died on the cross. This led to his disowning by the movement and his concentration on setting up his own religious community at Trefecca.

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