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Joseph Rayner Stephens (1805-79)

 

Joseph Rayner Stephens was the son of John Stephens (1772-1841), President of Conference in 1827. He was born in Edinburgh and was educated at Manchester Grammar and Woodhouse Grove near Leeds. Stephens entered the Wesleyan ministry in 1825 and served as the first Methodist missionary in Stockholm from 1826-30. Upon his return to England, he laboured as a circuit minister in Cheltenham, Newcastle and Ashton under Lyne.

Stephens was a radical in politics and religion. He was secretary of a society working for the disestablishment of the Church of England and his refusal to abandon this position led to his suspension by the Wesleyan Conference of 1834, after which he resigned from the ministry.

In the late 1830s, Stephens rose to prominence in the Chartist movement. An eloquent and impassioned orator, he also contributed to periodicals such as the Christian Advocate edited by his brother John. In December 1838 he was arrested at Ashton under Lyne near Manchester and served a prison sentance for sedition.

After his release, Stephens settled at Ashton under Lyne where he preached at an independent chapel and wrote for various periodicals. He later moved to Stalybridge where he continued to preach and while avoiding political party affiliations, involved himself in various local agitations.

Source: Dictionary of National Biography and Encyclopedia of World Methodism (1974)

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