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Whitefield's Gloucester

St Mary de Crypt, Southgate Street, just a short way from the Bell Inn where Whitefield was born, is the medieval church in which he was baptised and later preached his first sermon – the pulpit in which he stood can still be seen.  Throughout his life he returned to Gloucester, where his mother and brother continued to live, running the family business at The Bell.  It was in Gloucester that his baby son died and was buried.  In Gloucester too he preached his final outdoor sermon, where later his followers built a church in his honour.

The adjacent Old Crypt School, a well-preserved example of a Tudor schoolroom, is where Whitefield was educated.

As a boy he adored acting and used to make his friends laugh by imitating the pompous preachers in church.  Later he was to bring the same skills to his preaching.  

Although his mother had intended him to receive a good education and go to university, the family fell on hard times and George had to leave school to work in the inn alongside his siblings. 

Nevertheless, he studied hard and eventually went to Pembroke College, Oxford, as a ‘servitor’, cleaning up after the wealthier boys and even writing their essays for them, in exchange for tuition and lodging.

Whitefield's Gloucester

St Mary de Crypt, Southgate Street, just a short way from the Bell Inn where Whitefield was born, is the medieval church in which he was baptised and later preached his first sermon – the pulpit in which he stood can still be seen.  Throughout his life he returned to Gloucester, where his mother and brother continued to live, running the family business at The Bell.  It was in Gloucester that his baby son died and was buried.  In Gloucester too he preached his final outdoor sermon, where later his followers built a church in his honour.

The adjacent Old Crypt School, a well-preserved example of a Tudor schoolroom, is where Whitefield was educated.

As a boy he adored acting and used to make his friends laugh by imitating the pompous preachers in church.  Later he was to bring the same skills to his preaching.  

Although his mother had intended him to receive a good education and go to university, the family fell on hard times and George had to leave school to work in the inn alongside his siblings. 

Nevertheless, he studied hard and eventually went to Pembroke College, Oxford, as a ‘servitor’, cleaning up after the wealthier boys and even writing their essays for them, in exchange for tuition and lodging.

The Story of Phillis Wheatley

In 1770 a poetic tribute was written to George Whitefield. This was not in itself extraordinary, as by this time he had gained widespread fame.  What was extraordinary was that it was written by a young black woman, who was also a slave.  Phillis Wheatley was born around 1753 in West Africa, probably present-day Gambia or Senegal. She was enslaved as a child and brought on a ship named The Phillis, to Boston, where she was sold to John Wheatley, a wealthy merchant, as a servant for his wife Susanna.

The Wheatleys were unusual in giving Phillis (as she was named) an education. By the age of 12 she was reading Latin and Greek and by 14 she was studying the works of Pope, Milton, Homer, Horace and Virgil, alongisde composing her own poetry.  The Wheatleys were proud of her accomplishments, when she was 20 they took her to London where she attracted the interest of Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon, also the patron of George Whitefield.  Although the two women never met, they corresponded and Hastings arranged the publication of Wheatley’s poems in 1773.

She wrote very little about her own life or about slavery in her poems, not surprising perhaps as she was still a slave during most of the time she was writing.  However, she corresponded with many who were working for abolition, including the Revd Samson Occom and British Philanthropist John Thornton (another admirer of Whitefield).

In the autumn of 1773, shortly after the publication of her book, the Wheatley family officially freed Phillis.  She married John Peters, a grocer, but they struggled financially and suffered the death of two children.  In 1784 John was imprisoned for debt and Phillis had to enter service as a scullery maid to support herself and her sickly infant son.  She became ill and died on 5th December aged only 31.  Her baby son died soon after.

Whitefield and Slavery

Whitefield lived in a time when many landowners in the American colonies, and elsewhere in the British Empire, kept slaves.  He was shocked at how badly the slaves were treated and told the landowners they should educate their slaves and treat them well.  He preached to slaves and told them that they were loved by God and could be saved, just like every other human being.  Many slaves became Christian after hearing Whitefield preach.

However, Whitefield did not speak out against slavery.  In fact, he owned slaves of his own at the orphanage he set up in Georgia.  He campaigned successfully to make slavery legal in Georgia because he believed that it was not possible to run big farms without slave labour.  When he died he left fifty slaves in his will, along with his property, to his patroness, the Countess of Huntingdon.

About ten years after Whitefield’s death, William Wilberforce started a campaign to abolish the slave trade.  It was finally successful in 1807, though slavery itself was not abolished in the British Empire until 1833.  Slavery continued in America until 1865, when the slave-owning Confederates in the South lost the American Civil War.

Slavery still exists in different forms around the world today and we continue to live with its legacy.

Whitefield and Slavery

Whitefield lived in a time when many landowners in the American colonies, and elsewhere in the British Empire, kept slaves.  He was shocked at how badly the slaves were treated and told the landowners they should educate their slaves and treat them well.  He preached to slaves and told them that they were loved by God and could be saved, just like every other human being.  Many slaves became Christian after hearing Whitefield preach.

However, Whitefield did not speak out against slavery.  In fact, he owned slaves of his own at the orphanage he set up in Georgia.  He campaigned successfully to make slavery legal in Georgia because he believed that it was not possible to run big farms without slave labour.  When he died he left fifty slaves in his will, along with his property, to his patroness, the Countess of Huntingdon.

About ten years after Whitefield’s death, William Wilberforce started a campaign to abolish the slave trade.  It was finally successful in 1807, though slavery itself was not abolished in the British Empire until 1833.  Slavery continued in America until 1865, when the slave-owning Confederates in the South lost the American Civil War.

Slavery still exists in different forms around the world today and we continue to live with its legacy.

Early Life

“I was born in Gloucester in the month of December 1714.  My father and mother kept the Bell Inn.”

His First Sermon

The Voice … compelling and determined

Whitefield's first sermon

Gospel for All

“The whole world is now my parish.  Wheresoever my Master calls me, I am ready to go and preach the everlasting Gospel.”

Whitefiled Sermon

Gloucestershire Roots

For all his preaching throughout this country and abroad, George Whitefield never forgot his roots

“Do you think we shall see Mr Whitefield in heaven?” one of John Wesley’s followers asked him.  “No, sir,” replied Wesley, “I fear not.  Mr Whitefield will be so near the Throne and we at such a distance shall hardly get a sight of him.












On Whitefield’s death – and at his request, John Wesley preached his memorial sermon, paying a warm tribute to him as a man and Christian:

“How few have we known of so kind a temper, of such large and flowing affections. Was it not principally by this that the hearts of others were drawn and knit to him? Can anything but love beget love?  This shone in his very countenance and continually breathed in his words whether in public or in private.”

Whitefild, the Wesleys and the Great Awakening

George Whitefield, as one of the founders of Methodism, is among the most significant characters associated with Gloucester, and yet one of the least known. He refused to be a “velvet-mouthed preacher,” as he put it.  He preached dramatically, making his congregations weep and faint.  After he was ordained in Gloucester Cathedral, he preached his very first sermon as a minister in St Mary de Crypt (the pulpit he stood in is still here).  His preaching was so powerful that there were complaints to the Bishop that he had driven fifteen people mad.  The Bishop, a supporter of Whitefield, replied that he hoped their madness would last until the following Sunday.

He swept through England with the energy and power of a “trumpet blast,” becoming the most famous public figures of his day.  During his lifetime he preached over 18,000 times to over 10 million people across two continents.  Thousands flocked to hear him, melted into tears and lived new lives as a result of his words.  Yet had John Wesley not organised and formalised their practices and beliefs, then Methodism would have died with Whitefield.  He himself confessed that his followers were “like a rope of sand.”

Whitefield first met John and Charles Wesley at Oxford when he joined their “Holy Club.”

Whitefield had been a wild young man, but a conversion experience set him on a very different path. The guidance offered by the Wesleys and their kindness laid the foundation of a mutual affection and respect that survived despite the stormy waters through which their relationship later moved.

It was Whitefield who persuaded the Wesleys to engage in the ‘mad notion’ of outdoor preaching.  He firmly believed that field preaching was necessary to bring Jesus to those who would never step inside a church.  In fact he came to believe that it was even preferable:

“The Lord I am persuaded would have his gospel preached in the fields, and building a church would, I fear, imperceptibly lead the people into bigotry and make them place the church again, as they have done for a long time, in the church walls.”

Sometimes lives interact to create something extraordinary.  Such was the case with George Whitefield and John Wesley.  Their stories are woven together and though their doctrinal differences took them in very different directions, one could also say that a stream divided waters more ground.  While the Wesleys established Methodism in Britain, Whitefield found fertile ground for his message up and down the east coast of America, becoming instrumental in a revival of faith known as The Great Awakening.  Without Whitefield lighting the flame with his impassioned preaching and opening the door to America, would the Wesleys have reached and changed the lives of as many as they did? And without Wesley’s inspiration would Whitefield ever have made the journey to America, hazardous and uncertain as it was?

On Friday 19th January 1750 George Whitefield and John Wesley together administered the Sacrament to 1200 people in Wesley’s Chapel in London.  Wesley read the prayers and Whitefield preached; the following Sunday they swapped roles.  It was a happy resolution of many years of misunderstandings and distress.  Though doctrinal differences remained and Wesley could not accept the doctrine of ‘free grace’ that was so fundamental to Whitefield’s faith; there was mutual respect for the way in which each followed the calling sent to him.

Whitefild, the Wesleys and the Great Awakening

“Do you think we shall see Mr Whitefield in heaven?” one of  John Wesley’s followers asked him.“No, sir,” replied Wesley, “I fear not. Mr Whitefield will be so near the Throne and we at such a distance we shall hardly get a sight of him.”

George Whitefield, as one of the founders of Methodism, is among the most significant characters associated with Gloucester, and yet one of the least known. He refused to be a “velvet-mouthed preacher,” as he put it.  He preached dramatically, making his congregations weep and faint.  After he was ordained in Gloucester Cathedral, he preached his very first sermon as a minister in St Mary de Crypt (the pulpit he stood in is still here).  His preaching was so powerful that there were complaints to the Bishop that he had driven fifteen people mad.  The Bishop, a supporter of Whitefield, replied that he hoped their madness would last until the following Sunday.

He swept through England with the energy and power of a “trumpet blast,” becoming the most famous public figures of his day.  During his lifetime he preached over 18,000 times to over 10 million people across two continents.  Thousands flocked to hear him, melted into tears and lived new lives as a result of his words.  Yet had John Wesley not organised and formalised their practices and beliefs, then Methodism would have died with Whitefield.  He himself confessed that his followers were “like a rope of sand.”

Whitefield first met John and Charles Wesley at Oxford when he joined their “Holy Club.”

Whitefield had been a wild young man, but a conversion experience set him on a very different path. The guidance offered by the Wesleys and their kindness laid the foundation of a mutual affection and respect that survived despite the stormy waters through which their relationship later moved.

It was Whitefield who persuaded the Wesleys to engage in the ‘mad notion’ of outdoor preaching.  He firmly believed that field preaching was necessary to bring Jesus to those who would never step inside a church.  In fact he came to believe that it was even preferable:

“The Lord I am persuaded would have his gospel preached in the fields, and building a church would, I fear, imperceptibly lead the people into bigotry and make them place the church again, as they have done for a long time, in the church walls.”

Sometimes lives interact to create something extraordinary.  Such was the case with George Whitefield and John Wesley.  Their stories are woven together and though their doctrinal differences took them in very different directions, one could also say that a stream divided waters more ground.  While the Wesleys established Methodism in Britain, Whitefield found fertile ground for his message up and down the east coast of America, becoming instrumental in a revival of faith known as The Great Awakening.  Without Whitefield lighting the flame with his impassioned preaching and opening the door to America, would the Wesleys have reached and changed the lives of as many as they did? And without Wesley’s inspiration would Whitefield ever have made the journey to America, hazardous and uncertain as it was?

On Friday 19th January 1750 George Whitefield and John Wesley together administered the Sacrament to 1200 people in Wesley’s Chapel in London.  Wesley read the prayers and Whitefield preached; the following Sunday they swapped roles.  It was a happy resolution of many years of misunderstandings and distress.  Though doctrinal differences remained and Wesley could not accept the doctrine of ‘free grace’ that was so fundamental to Whitefield’s faith; there was mutual respect for the way in which each followed the calling sent to him.

On Whitefield’s death – and at his request, John Wesley preached his memorial sermon, paying a warm tribute to him as a man and Christian:

“How few have we known of so kind a temper, of such large and flowing affections. Was it not principally by this that the hearts of others were drawn and knit to him? Can anything but love beget love?  This shone in his very countenance and continually breathed in his words whether in public or in private.”

Whitefield and the Colonies

Whitefield loved America.  He made thirteen Atlantic crossings, journeyed the east coast tirelessly from New York to Charleston, and preached over 18,000 sermons to gatherings of thousands.  He was a remarkable man by any standards.  Together with Jonathan Edwards and later Francis Asbury, he was instrumental in the religious revival of the 18th century known as The Great Awakening.

One of the first true ‘celebrities’ of colonial America, Whitefield used the media of the day to good effect, announcing his sermons in newspapers and sending messengers ahead to spread word of his coming.  He made enemies galore, particularly in the Church, where his ‘enthusiasm’ was condemned.  In an age when most sermons were strong on intellectual argument but left emotions unmoved, Whitefield’s delivery was passionate and irresistible. People flocked in their thousands to hear him; they melted into tears, sobbing, screaming and fainting in response to his words.  He may have been a showman, but he spoke from the heart.

Whitefield’s mission was to bring Jesus to everybody, regardless of colour or social status. By preaching outdoors in the fields and towns, on hilltops and commons, he was able to reach those who might never enter a church. He lived his faith through deeds as well as words, founding the Bethesda Orphanage, the oldest extant charity in North America, and fundraising throughout his life to maintain it.

“In our days, to be a true Christian, is really to become a scandal.”

“From being thoughtless or indifferent about religion, it seem’d as if all the world were growing religious, so that one could not walk thro’ the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung in different families of every street.”

Benjamin Franklin on Whitefield’s impact in America

 

“A prejudiced person, I know, might say that this is all theatrical artifice and display; but not so will anyone think who has seen and known him. He is a very devout and godly man, and his only aim seems to be to reach and influence men the best way. He speaks from the heart all aglow with love, and pours out a torrent of eloquence which is almost irresistible.”

Sarah Edwards, wife of Jonathan Edwards

Whitefield and the Colonies

Whitefield loved America.  He made thirteen Atlantic crossings, journeyed the east coast tirelessly from New York to Charleston, and preached over 18,000 sermons to gatherings of thousands.  He was a remarkable man by any standards.  Together with Jonathan Edwards and later Francis Asbury, he was instrumental in the religious revival of the 18th century known as The Great Awakening.

One of the first true ‘celebrities’ of colonial America, Whitefield used the media of the day to good effect, announcing his sermons in newspapers and sending messengers ahead to spread word of his coming.  He made enemies galore, particularly in the Church, where his ‘enthusiasm’ was condemned.  In an age when most sermons were strong on intellectual argument but left emotions unmoved, Whitefield’s delivery was passionate and irresistible. People flocked in their thousands to hear him; they melted into tears, sobbing, screaming and fainting in response to his words.  He may have been a showman, but he spoke from the heart.

Whitefield’s mission was to bring Jesus to everybody, regardless of colour or social status. By preaching outdoors in the fields and towns, on hilltops and commons, he was able to reach those who might never enter a church. He lived his faith through deeds as well as words, founding the Bethesda Orphanage, the oldest extant charity in North America, and fundraising throughout his life to maintain it.

“In our days, to be a true Christian, is really to become a scandal.”

“From being thoughtless or indifferent about religion, it seem’d as if all the world were growing religious, so that one could not walk thro’ the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung in different families of every street.”


Benjamin Franklin on Whitefield’s impact in America


“A prejudiced person, I know, might say that this is all theatrical artifice and display; but not so will anyone think who has seen and known him. He is a very devout and godly man, and his only aim seems to be to reach and influence men the best way. He speaks from the heart all aglow with love, and pours out a torrent of eloquence which is almost irresistible.”


Sarah Edwards, wife of Jonathan Edwards

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