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John Fletcher (1729-1785)

John Fletcher was born in Nyon, Switzerland, the youngest of eight children. He studied classics at Geneva and after a short-lived attempt at a career in the military, arrived in England in 1750. He worked as a tutor to the two sons of Sir Thomas Hill of Shropshire and became involved with Methodism, coming to the attention of the Wesleys at a very early stage. Fletcher was converted in the winter of 1753-4 and took Anglican Orders three years later.

Fletcher became the Vicar of Madeley in Shropshire in 1760, much to the disappointment of John Wesley who had hoped that he would join the Methodist itinerancy. In addition to conducting a model parish ministry, Fletcher maintained his links with the evangelical movement. He was appointed one of the chaplains of the Countess of Huntingdon and acted for a time as President of her ministerial training college at Trefecca.

The Wesleys held Fletcher in very high regard. As early as 1761 it was proposed that he become their designated successor as leader of the Methodist movement and this remained John Wesley's hope, periodically expressed, until Fletcher's early death. Physically fragile and of a retiring nature, Fletcher was very reluctant to commit himself to a prominent role, although in his later years he did show more inclination to travel in support of the Methodists.

As a parish priest and pastor, Fletcher was regarded as a role model. The purity of his character and devotion to his parishioners overcame early suspicion of his high Christian standards. He introduced informal worship on Methodist lines but centred around complete devotion to the Church of England. He helped to found day schools and Sunday schools and was tireless in visiting the sick and needy. From 1781 his ministry was shared with his wife the famous woman preacher Mary Bosanquet and she continued the work after his death.

Fletcher's most enduring legacy has been in his interpretation of theology. He took the views of John and Charles Wesley and presented them in a systematic form which has had a lasting effect on Methodist doctrine. His arguments regarding Christian perfection and the baptism of the Spirit have been very influential in the development of holiness theology particularly in the American Pentecostal movement.

Source: Encyclopedia of World Methodism (1974) and Dictionary of Evangelical Biography, edited by Donald Lewis (1995)

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