The Independent Methodist Connexion of Churches was not started by one individual on a specific occasion. A number of churches began in separate places, quite spontaneously, but with similar characteristics. Of these, the first was in Warrington, beginning in 1796. This church, along with others at Manchester, Stockport, Macclesfield, and Oldham, had their first known gathering together in 1806 at Manchester. Annual Meetings and exchange of preachers were the only tangible links between the churches for many years.
Of the leading figures in the early years, the most prominent was Peter Phillips of Warrington; he is generally regarded as the denomination’s founding father. By trade he was a chairmaker, but as an unpaid minister and preacher he travelled a wide area of the country and drew many churches into the Connexion during the first half of the nineteenth century.
Though some of the early churches used the title Independent Methodist, there were many other names: for example, Free Gospel Church, Christian Lay Church and Quaker Methodist. It was not until 1898 that the Annual Meeting finally chose the name Independent Methodist Connexion.
As the name suggests, the Independent Methodists owe much to the traditions of Wesleyan Methodism, from which many of the earliest churches broke away. In early days, there were strong links with the Primitive Methodists. Peter Phillips and Hugh Bourne, the founder of Primitive Methodism, were close associates and, at one time, it seemed possible that the two movements would develop into one. Many of the Independent Methodist Churches which were formed in the latter half of the nineteenth century came from Primitive Methodist roots. This is particularly so in the churches of North Staffordshire, County Durham and Bristol.
Quaker influence was also prevalent among some early Independent Methodists, notably in the Warrington area, with many adopting the Quaker plainness of speech and dress. Like the Quakers, Independent Methodists draw no distinction between clergy and laity, though they have designated ministers. (see ‘Ministry’).
For more detailed information on the Origins of Independent Methodism go to the History Section.