Writing to Wesley
Can you help transcribe the earliest Methodist letters?
“I was almost lost with wonder at my new eyes”
Welcome to this exciting project, putting people of today in touch with the first ever people called Methodists.
Mariah Price was one of the very first Methodists, but you probably won’t have ever heard of her. She wrote the words quoted above in a letter to Charles Wesley in 1740. Hers is one of over 150 such letters that are kept in the Methodist archive collection at the John Rylands Library in the University of Manchester. These are letters not from the famous, but from the ordinary, unknown people who joined the Methodist movement in the early years of the eighteenth century. The letters were written in response to a request from Charles Wesley to receive testimonies from members of the new Methodist societies that could be used to encourage and exhort others to faith.
They are deeply personal, surprisingly intimate, and often strange to the modern reader. They are full of the language and imagery of the mid-eighteenth century, clearly influenced by the Bible, sermons and other devotional writing. They are full of dreams and visions, yearnings and anguish, struggle and doubt, mixed with rapturous descriptions of faith and conviction. There are accounts of what one writer calls his “besetting temptation” that he tries to overcome by running up and down stairs. There is an account of a woman, pregnant for the fifth time, who talks frankly about considering some means of abortion. The wife of a preacher stationed in Manchester complains about the poor roads and how people there are less sociable than in Bristol.
“O my dear friend, the subject of predestination does my soul abhor”
The letters give us a first-hand glimpse of what the people called Methodists were like; not only their faith journey, but what they thought about themselves, the lives they led, how they communicated with each other. These were not the big names or the well-known leaders, but the grassroots women and men (most of the letters are by women) who found a voice through their experience of God, which empowered them to change their lives, take action, organise, inspire others; indeed, to change the world. What is so exciting is the recognisability of the voices; these are people who, although they lived nearly three centuries ago, can reach out to us through the humanity of their accounts, and by reading their own words, we can catch a spark of their inspiration today. It brings a whole new dimension to the idea of the Methodist Connexion.
“I had uncommon sufferings in child-bearing, which kept me in continual fear”
“The people here are not so sociable as in Bristol…”
This will bring you to a page that looks like this:
These transcripts were prepared by Rev Tom Albin, Dean of the Upper Room Chapel and Ecumenical Relations, Nashville, Tennessee. We are including re-transcription of these within the project.
When viewing the PDFs, the screen looks like this:
1. To select a testimony:
2. Provide the transcript in Word, print size A4, typeface Arial 12.
3. Use standard paragraph spacing.
4. At the top of each page of your transcript, include the reference number, your name, the date and the relevant page number, eg
5. Write only what you see – do not change spelling or punctuation, even if it doesn’t look right.
6. If you can’t make a word or words out, leave a space marked either side with square brackets and three dots […]
7. Don’t include references, even if you recognise quotations from (or allusions to) the Bible, hymns, etc, or individual people or places. Note these on a separate piece of paper, if you wish, but do not include them in the transcript.
8. Return your completed transcript to me by email (address below).
9. Finally, please advise me if you would be happy for your contact details to be shared with other transcribers – we may wish to develop a “virtual community” in the future.
If you have any questions, please contact me.
Thank you, and enjoy transcribing!
Owen Roberts - Methodist Heritage Officer - firstname.lastname@example.org