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The Bible Christian Church was a Methodist denomination founded by William O’Bryan, a Wesleyan Methodist local preacher, on 18 October 1815 in North Cornwall, with the first society, just 22 members, meeting at Lake Farm in Shebbear, Devon.
Primarily concentrated in Cornwall and Devon, the church sent missionaries all over England. By 1820, missions had been established in the Channel Islands and in Kent. They were also strong in the Isle of Wight amongst farm labourers, largely due to the inspirational teachings of Mary Toms of Tintagel, Cornwall. The vicar of Brighstone, Samuel Wilberforce, urged that their influence be countered by having their adherents sacked from their jobs and turned out from their cottages, resulting in their sometimes meeting in a chalk pit. There are several chapels in rural areas of the Island which have the title "Bible Christian Chapel" over the doorway (e.g. Apse Heath, Arreton).
By 1831, ministers were being sent to Prince Edward Island and Ontario, and a mission was established in Canada in 1845. Many of the emigrants from Devon and Cornwall to Canada and the United States in the 1830s were 'Bible Christians', further encouraging the spread of the church in those countries.
While being only a small denomination the Bible Christians grew faster than the British population throughout their existence.
The Bible Christians recognised the ministry of women, calling then 'Female Special Agents'. A number of women appear on the stations – the places ministers were appointed to by the Bible Christian Conference. There were less than five of these women ministers in 1907 when the separate existence of the Bible Christians came to an end.
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. In Canada, the Bible Christian Church had already been amalgamated, in 1884, into the Methodist Church of Canada, which later became part of the United Church of Canada. In Australia, it merged into the Methodist Church of Australasia on 1 January 1902.
See also Lloyd (2010) Women and the shaping of British Methodism
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Bible Christians.|