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Museum of Oxford Digital Exhibitions

Father of Methodism and a critic of Oxford


Photo credit: Lincoln College, University of Oxford/ Art UK, CC BY-NC 4.0

The Oxonian John Wesley is the father of Methodism. Throughout the eighteenth century, there were those who chafed against the religious conformity that the University sought to breed. There were those who left Oxford and still others who were excluded and found opportunities for learning elsewhere, not least in the vibrant Dissenting Academies that sprung up across the country. Education in Scotland and on the continent provided a less narrow environment too. Wesley was a product of orthodox Oxford but found the religious life of the place lukewarm. An Anglican parson and a Fellow of Lincoln College, he preached his final sermon to the University in 1744. His condemnation of Oxford’s spiritual slackness, delivered from the pulpit of the University Church, caused outrage. He left and founded the Methodist Church, returning to Oxford from time to time to preach in private houses and, from 1783, in Oxford’s Methodist chapel. His followers would be expelled from the University and threatened with violence for decades.