Methodism is a movement of Protestant Christianity represented by a number of denominations and organizations, claiming a total of approximately seventy million adherents worldwide. The movement traces its roots to John Wesley's evangelistic revival movement within Anglicanism. His younger brother Charles was instrumental in writing much of the hymnody of the Methodist Church. George Whitefield, another significant leader in the movement, was known for his unorthodox ministry of itinerant open-air preaching. Wesley, along with his brother founded a holy club while they were at Oxford, where John was a professor. The holy club met weekly and they systematically set about living a holy life. They were branded as "Methodist" by students at Oxford who derided the methodical way they ordered their lives. Wesley took the attempted mockery and turned it into a title of honor.
Initially Whitefield and the Wesleys merely sought reform, by way of a return to the gospel, within the Church of England, but the movement spread with revival and soon a significant number of Anglican clergy became known as Methodists in the mid-18th century.
Southern African Methodism
Methodism arrived in South Africa with British soldiers in 1806 but the mission was launched by Barnabas Shaw who reached the Cape in 1816 and William Shaw (unrelated) who accompanied the British settlers of 1820. Barnabas Shaw established a mission among the Khoi at Leliefontein in Namaqualand and colleagues ventured across the Orange River into present-day Namibia and what are now the northern provinces of South Africa. William Shaw established Methodism throughout the British settlement in Albany and rapidly planted a chain of mission stations between the Cape Colony and Natal. In the late nineteenth century mission work was extended into the gold-mining area in Gauteng and north through modern Limpopo into Zimbabwe. Six missionary districts of the Wesleyan Methodist church became an affiliated Conference in 1883. An independent Conference was constituted in 1927 and enlarged in 1931 to include the Transvaal Missionary District of the British Conference and the small Primitive Methodist Mission. The Connexion operates today in six countries – Botswana, Lesotho, Mocambique, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland. Khoi and African helpers worked with the missionaries from early days but an indigenous ordained ministry only came into being in the late 1860's.
The work and witness of indigenous ministers, evangelists and laity established Methodism firmly in many parts of South Africa, but leadership remained firmly in white hands. This was an important factor in a number of schisms which resulted in such bodies as the Ethiopian Church and the South African branch of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The last major schism took place in 1978 when the Methodist Church of Southern Africa was banned in the Transkei homeland and replaced by the United Methodist Church of S A. Most ministers and members returned to the MCSA when the ban was lifted in 1988.