History of Methodism in Prestbury
'What shall our greeting be, sign of our unity? Jesus is Lord!
May we no more defend barriers he died to end
Give me your hand my friend One Church, One Lord!'
Great words from a hymn that was written by Fred Pratt Green in the last century, a Methodist Minister and great hymn writer of his day. The words invite the Christian communities to remember we are one church, even with different places of worship available to the individuals at that time, as there still are today.
For the people of Prestbury, we celebrate 800 years of Christian presence in 2020, with a timeline of both Anglican and Methodist worshippers gathering, building chapels and churches and finding their place, as Christians, in this most picturesque part of Cheshire. Here is a snippet of our part in the story, which began just a little over 200 years ago….
There is no record of John Wesley visiting Prestbury but we do know he visited Macclesfield and the surrounding area on many occasions and there were many Methodist chapels built in the Macclesfield area. Interestingly the Anglican story here began in Prestbury and later extended to Macclesfield and it was the opposite way for the Methodists.
It is likely that Methodism arrived in Prestbury some time before the first chapel was built in Bollin Grove in 1815. The usual pattern was for a group of Methodists to meet in people's homes, barns or out in the open air until they had become large enough to fund the building of a chapel. Services were timed to meet the needs of the farming community. How welcomed the Methodists were in those days is an interesting question we will consider in later articles, as we learn more about how the Christian presence developed in Prestbury year on year. The early years were probably not as united as we are today.
In his book 'Methodism in Macclesfield', Rev Benjamin Smith describes (rather disparagingly) a carnival type event happening in the village each Easter Sunday and the Methodists dressing up for church: 'At the time the Methodist chapel was built in the village, and for some years afterwards, it was regarded by the mill-hands of the neighbourhood as the height of fashion to appear at Prestbury on Easter Sunday, in a blue coat set off with brass buttons, in white trousers, and a showy waistcoat of gay pattern according to fancy. The women and girls, too, dressed in colours as bright as possible. Prestbury is not yet, alas, distinguished by vital godliness, but there is certainly a marked improvement in externals.“ [Methodism in Macclesfield”, by Benjamin Smith, Hayman Brothers and Lilly, Cross Street, Hatton Garden, 1875, p.296]
Over the last 200+ years Methodism in Prestbury has grown up alongside our brothers and sisters in St Peter's Church. Now based on Macclesfield Road in our new building of nearly 20 years old, we continue to believe 'the world is our parish' (J Wesley) and we are all part of the 'one church with one Lord'. May we celebrate the Christian presence that has underpinned this community for the last 800 years and look forward in anticipation of how we may travel on together to serve Christ as best we can for the next 800 years!