The death of his father brings William Cooper a change of address and an opportunity to rethink his future.
'I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.'
The text fixed itself in William's mind. What the Wesleys had left behind was the solid framework of a sect which was already organised into seventy-five circuits throughout England and Wales with a membership of some seventy thousand souls. What they had meant to do was to inspire a revival which would drive converts back to the Church of England. To their last breath, they were dedicated Anglicans whose very ardour had been construed as heresy. Their followers were harangued by the mob for promoting peace and persecuted by the Establishment for appealing to the mob. Seditious pamphlets like Mr Paine's Rights of Man had now been devoured by miners, cotters, weavers and rag-pickers. While revolutionaries learned from their French counterparts how to incite unrest, rioters were being called upon to defend their country against the French. Some were press-ganged into the Navy; many took the King's shilling to escape debt, hunger and responsibility for their families.
"We must be as diligent as Wesley in keeping the ship on an even keel," William announced with an air of resolve, closing his broadsheet one morning. "Down the ages, Christians have been accused of causing wars: we must show that what's done in the name of faith seldom has aught to do with what's done in the name of religion. The common people have had a raw deal, but they must not run away with the notion they've been given leave to overturn the order of things."
"Twas they who put Christ to death," reflected Hannah.
"Twas lack of commitment put Christ to death! Hosannas on Palm Sunday: Crucifixion on Good Friday!"
In his efforts to see the gospel proclaimed in the neighbourhood, William needed all the crusading zeal he could muster. At every corner he met with antagonism and often downright hostility. Next door, in what was known as The Olde House, there lived a young surgeon, Matthew Dalley. He had lately arrived from Somerby to fill the gap left by Mr Harcourt. This gentleman proved to be a trusted ally of the Methodist cause. He was built like an ox and was noted for his valour in the face of danger. Frequently he would act as a guard to visiting preachers and prevent disturbance among the crowd. On one particularly ugly occasion when a drunken framesmith from Sileby ran wild with a meat cleaver, it was Matthew who restrained him while the converted called upon the Lord to becalm the man's spirit and open his heart. Their intercession worked better than a charm, for he and his family were to become buttresses of the faith.
Despite this, there was a small but expanding group of regular worshippers, about two dozen in all, who needed a sanctuary. Though William could offer hospitality to itinerant preachers and open his drawing-room for prayer and Bible study, he could not administer the Sacrament. This rite, along with weddings, baptisms and burials, must be performed by ordained clergy. Two villagers had latterly applied for Dissenters' Licences so that their homes might be used for public worship and had been refused. The situation vexed him day and night. Years ago, when he had first experienced that intoxicating fellowship among Methodists, the lack of a church building had not mattered. Now it seemed an end devoutly to be wished. "Dear Lord," he prayed on his knees, "you know that your children need a house in which to honour you. Grant this good thing they ask in your name. Make the crooked path straight and the rough places plain."
"Ah Will," sighed his mother, "I remember the time you'd a mind to raise a shrine to the glory of God all on your own."
"I was young and idealistic then. I needed to be brought down a peg."
"The aim was good but the motive wasn't the best. Not when you'd pledged yourself to Abigail, God rest her."
William looked discomfitted and Hannah saw that the old wound was still tender. "She has been overmuch in my thoughts of late. I...I wish our last meeting had been different."
"Rest assured, she knows your plight. She will be interceding for you."
"We need the prayers of the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant," he agreed hopefully. "We no longer have to live hand to mouth but that heroic dream is as far off as ever. For one thing, building costs are ever rising."
"When more people join us, we could raise a subscription."
"What we really need is the goodwill of one or two wealthy folk."
SS Peter and Paul, Syston, Leicestershire, UK where William Cooper was buried close to his parents.
(image courtesy of Ned Trifle)
Causes Rosy Cole Supports
World Vision, International Prison Outreach, Salvation Army, Emmaus Project, Poor Clares, DogsTrust, BUAV (against animal testing) WWT (Wildfowl &...