A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE WESLEY FELLOWSHIP
The beginnings of the Wesley Fellowship can be traced to conversations between the Revd Dr Herbert McGonigle and the Revd Dr William Parkes in 1983. Dr McGonigle was then a full-time Lecturer in Church History and Wesley Studies at Nazarene Theological College in Manchester, and Dr Parkes was a Superintendent Methodist minister in Biddulph, Staffordshire. For some time they had shared a common interest in Wesleyan theology, history and experience and out of their enthusiasm for these studies, the idea of a Wesleyan fellowship was born. Both were members of the Wesley Historical Society (GB) and the Wesleyan Theological Society (USA). Their vision was for a fellowship of likeminded Christians who would promote a Wesleyan understanding of the historic Christian faith. In particular this meant the Wesleyan distinctives of universal grace, justification by faith, the witness of the Spirit and what John Wesley so often called ‘Scriptural holiness.’ Their plans were for a fellowship that would attract lay people, ministers and theological students. Emphasis would be given to Wesleyan theology, history and biography, and not just in their historical contexts but also what it means to be a Wesleyan Christian in the world of today.
Following preliminary contacts with some friends who had similar interests, a public meeting was convened in Stoke-on-Trent on March 15th, 1984. About thirty-five people attended and there was enthusiastic support for the idea of establishing a Wesley fellowship. Drs Herbert McGonigle and William Parkes were asked to draw up some guidelines for the proposed fellowship and arrange a first gathering of interested supporters. A meeting was planned for Highfield Methodist Church in Sheffield and the Revd Dr Arthur Skevington Wood was asked to bring a paper on John Wesley’s doctrine of entire sanctification. Dr Wood entitled his Paper, 'Love Excluding Sin: Wesley’s Doctrine of Sanctification'. The Paper was prepared with Dr Wood’s usual meticulous care and it proved to be an outstanding exposition of John Wesley’s understanding of Christian holiness.
A membership list was prepared and it was agreed that the official name of the organisation would be the Wesley Fellowship. Meetings were be held twice yearly, in April and in October. At each meeting two Papers would normally be read on subjects relating to Wesleyan doctrine, history, biography and experience. With the publication of Dr Skevington Wood’s Love Excluding Sin in 1985, the Wesley Fellowship began to publish its ‘Occasional Papers.’
An Executive Committee of the Wesley Fellowship was formed by the early 1990s. Dr Skevington Wood was elected President; with Dr Herbert McGonigle (Chairman), Dr William Parkes (Vice-Chairman), Mr Paul Taylor (Secretary/Treasurer), Mr William T Graham (Quarterly Editor) and the Revd Tony Tamburello (Book/Tape Secretary). It was a great loss to the Wesley Fellowship when Dr Skevington Wood died in January 1993. An evangelical scholar and preacher and writer with an international reputation, he was enthusiastic from the beginning in his support for the Wesley Fellowship. Then in July 2001 the Fellowship lost one of its co-founders, Dr William Parkes. The first conversations about forming a fellowship of committed Wesleyans had taken place in his home in Biddulph, Staffordshire, in September 1983. Dr Parkes was a specialist in 19th century Methodism, an anointed and passionate preacher and fully committed to the great doctrines of Wesleyan theology, particularly Christian holiness.
The Wesley Fellowship has continued to hold two meetings each year, generally in April and in October. These regular meetings convene in Zion Church of the Nazarene, Handsworth, in Birmingham. Usually two Papers are read at each meeting and one of these four Papers is selected for publication as the Fellowship’s ‘Occasional Paper’ for that year. This published paper is usually distributed free to members of the Fellowship. The Fellowship has also convened four Residential Conferences. The first was held at Cliff College in Derbyshire in May 1995 and the four Papers were published in 1996 as Wesley Pieces. Two years later another Residential Conference met, in May 1997, also at Cliff College, and the papers presented were published later as Wesleyan Perspectives. Cliff College was again the venue for the third Conference, held in October 2000. The four main papers from this Conference were published in 2002 as the Fellowship’s largest publication to date, with the title Wesley Papers. The Fellowship’s fourth Residential Conference met at the Hayes Conference Centre, Swanwick, Derbyshire, in October 2003. The theme of the Conference was, ‘Guarding the Holy Fire: Wesleyan Spirituality Today.’ Of the four main Papers delivered, Dr John Haley’s was published by the Fellowship in 2003 as John Wesley, 'The Means of Grace and the Holy Life Today'.
The Wesley Fellowship also publishes an occasional newsletter, The Wesley Fellowship Bulletin (formally, The Wesley Fellowship Quarterly), which is sent free to all members to keep everyone up-to-date with general information about various meetings and events as well as regular columns and book reviews.