About the United Brethren

“The United Brethren were a group of families and individuals who had previously belonged to the Primitive Methodist movement. These men and women had separated from the Primitive Methodist Connexion in the 1830s. The Primitive Methodist movement began in 1811, when two men broke away from mainstream Wesleyan Methodism, believing that the Wesleyans had strayed from the church established by Wesley. The Wesleyan Methodists were beginning to be more acceptable within the wider British society, moving toward a membership and a clergy that was of a higher, more respectable social class. They also utilized a more formalized form of worship. The Primitive Methodists, on the other hand, were less educated, plain in their speech and dress, and usually came from the more humble classes. In addition, they allowed both men and women to preach and participate in revivalist camp meetings and feast days.

“Thomas Kington, born in 1796, was a Methodist preacher who taught with great zeal and inspiration. He was affiliated with the Primitive Methodists, but he left them sometime in the early 1830s. Although he was no longer a part of the church, he zealously preached in the open air to the poor of Herefordshire, Gloucester, and Worcester. Many good men and women appreciated his words and opened their homes for his preaching. They banded together to form a new church, which they called the United Brethren. He helped them register their homes as licensed places of worship, and by 1836 the group built their own chapel at Gadfield Elm in the Parish of Eldersfield, Worcestershire. Kington became the superintendent over preaching circuits centered in Gadfield Elm and Frome’s Hill and developed a schedule for the different preachers’ routes as they taught various congregations. John Benbow, a respected tenant farmer in Frome’s Hill, was a preacher for the United Brethren, and his house and barn at Hill Farm were licensed as places of worship.

“At the time of Wilford Woodruff’s arrival at John Benbow’s house in early March 1840, there were around five to six hundred people who had been meeting together and preaching the gospel of faith, repentance, baptism, and the remission of sins through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. In Job Smith’s reminiscences about the United Brethren, he speaks of two preachers, Thomas Steed and Susan Brooks, who were conversing together the Sunday before Wilford Woodruff’s arrival. One said to the other, “What are you going to preach today?” The reply was, “I don’t know. I have preached all I know. What are you going to preach?” The other said, “I also have preached all I know. I hope the Lord will send us light.” The United Brethren were both prepared and eager to listen to a missionary from America preach the fullness of the gospel.

“Wilford Woodruff described the United Brethren in a letter to the editor of the Millennial Star, dated July 9, 1840: The United Brethren formerly belonged to the Primitive Methodists, but had separated themselves from the body, and chose the name of the United Brethren. They had from forty to fifty preachers and about the same number of established places of meeting, including two chapels”

Source: This is an extract from Wilford Woodruff: Missionary in Herefordshire, an essay by Cynthia Doxey Green published by Deseret Book in 2010. Online at https://rsc.byu.edu/archived/banner-gospel-wilford-woodruff/4-wilford-woodruff-missionary-herefordshire accessed 7/11/2015.

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