Methodism Truly Rural

The Bible Christians were an offshoot of the Methodist Church which was the predominant form of Christianity in Cornwall during the 1700s and 1800s. This group were also known as Bryanites after their founder, William Bryan. They were strongest in the UK in the NE Cornwall and North Devon area. They established a chapel at Congdon’s Shop, seen here in the 1883 Ordnance Survey map.

Congdon's Shop Bible Christian Chapel

The chapel and William Bryan are shown in the banner of this page, along with the famous Billy Bray. At the time of the engraving shown above William had changed his name from Bryan to O’Bryan to give the semblance of Irish heritage.

The Launceston Then website has an extensive article on Bible Christians in this area.

In 1907, the Bible Christian Church in England was amalgamated with the United Methodist Free Churches and the Methodist New Connexion, to form the United Methodist Church.

A West Country sort of Methodism - The Bible Christians: 1815–1907

Colin Short, Methodist minister and Bible Christian enthusiast, wrote this introduction to the Bible Christians for Heritage News (Spring 2012), the bi-annual newsletter of Methodist Heritage. The following are some extracts from the article.

“They’re a West Country sort of Methodism. For all its vagueness, that is the answer. They were most certainly Methodist in their principles and practice, and their early name was Arminian Bible Christians. They had pastors instead of superintendents, and elders’ meetings instead of leaders’ meetings.

“The Bible Christians … began as a revivalist movement under the charismatic evangelism of William O’Bryan – rejected Wesleyan ministerial candidate, twice an expelled Wesleyan, and self-expelled a third time in 1815 from the Stratton Mission in north Devon. Better at keeping his own rules than observing others’, and incapable of coping with the inevitable as the Bible Christian movement evolved from a missionary community into an institutional Church, O’Bryan was a flawed human being. When crises came to a boil in 1829, he separated and formed his own breakaway Bible Christians. Yet he could not sustain them; in 1831 he emigrated to America and his breakaway group rejoined the Bible Christians in 1835.

“From the start, the Bible Christians used lady ministers, including William O’Bryan’s wife Catherine, and his daughter Mary, who married Samuel Thorne. Mary’s tombstone at Shebbear records her status as “a minister 60 years”. The Bible Christians were well aware of the appeal of female ministers and William O’Bryan used them as pioneer evangelists.

“The best known Bible Christian is Billy Bray (1794–1868), whose fame is based on his biography by F W Bourne, called The King’s Son – his own title for himself. From central Cornwall, Billy was by no means a typical Bible Christian, although his eccentric preaching and childlike trust in God were perhaps an extreme example of an ethos within the Church.”

The images at the top of the page show (l-r):William O’Bryan, Congdon’s Shop Chapel and Billy Bray.