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Henry Venn (1724-97)

Henry Venn was born in Surrey, the son of the distinguished Anglican clergyman Richard Venn. He was educated privately and at Jesus College Cambridge. After graduation, Venn was ordained into the Church of England and in 1749, was elected a fellow of Queen's College, Cambridge.

After serving a number of short curacies, he was appointed Curate of Clapham Parish Church near London in 1754. In the years that followed, Venn adopted evangelical opinions and became known to the leaders of the movement.

In 1759 he became Vicar of Huddersfield and commenced a remarkably successful ministry. His powerful extempore preaching attracted large crowds and he estimated that in one three year period, there were nine hundred conversions in his parish. At about this time also, he abandoned his earlier Arminianism and adopted a mild form of Calvinism. This led to a distance between himself and John Wesley, which was exacerbated when Wesley insisted on allowing his itinerants to work in the area, despite the presence of an Anglican evangelical.

In 1763 Venn published his highly influential The Complete Duty of Man. He also established a Yorkshire Clerical Club where like-minded clergymen could meet at regular intervals for study, prayer and mutual encouragement. In addition to his active parochial ministry, Venn travelled as an itinerant preacher for part of each year in support of the Countess of Huntingdon's movement, although he withdrew in 1780 when the Countess registered her chapels as dissenting.

Venn left Huddersfield in 1771 due to a breakdown in health and was appointed to the rural parish of Yelling near Cambridge. He took under his wing a succession of students at the university, of whom Charles Simeon was the best known.

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

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