Why Fletcher of Madeley turned down promotion

Posted in Blog, Christianity

John William Fletcher (1729-85) was not English. His real name was Jean Guillaume de la Flechѐre, but as his English friends could never spell this correctly he consented to be known as John William Fletcher. Born in Switzerland, he was educated in Geneva for the ministry of the Swiss Church. But finding the doctrine of election as taught by Swiss Calvinists offensive, he moved to England as a private tutor. He taught for a while in the home of Thomas Hill of Tern Hill, Shropshire.

‘I shall wonder if our tutor doesn’t turn Methodist by and by,’ Mrs Hill joked.

‘Methodist, madam,’ asked Fletcher, ‘pray what is that?’

‘Why,’ replied Mrs Hill, ‘the Methodists are a people that do nothing but pray.’

‘Then,’ said Fletcher, ‘by the help of God I will find them out.’

At a Methodist preaching house in London, Fletcher found a type of Christianity very different from stern Genevan Calvinism: it seemed joyous, generous and exuberant with the love for God and humanity.

In March 1757, however, Fletcher was ordained deacon in the Church of England by the Bishop of Hereford, and made a priest the following Sunday. In 1760 he obtained the living of Madeley, a large Shropshire village in the Severn valley.

Fletcher’s parishioners were a mixed bunch: a few well-to-do farmers mainly interested in their cattle, hunting and ale; agricultural labourers; colliers from two coal pits; and the forgemen of Coalbrookdale, the cradle of England’s industrial revolution, where the famous Darby family had begun to smelt iron with coal. So three thousand mainly rough, rowdy, often drunken parishioners came under the care of a scholar with delicate health, a sensitive handsome face with foreign ways and accent. But Fletcher worked in Madeley for twenty-five years from 1760 to 1785. George III inquired through the Lord Chancellor what promotion would be acceptable to Mr Fletcher.

‘Tell his Majesty,’ Fletcher replied, ‘that I want nothing more but grace.’

John Wesley tried to persuade Fletcher to give up his parish and become a travelling preacher. But, although he occasionally joined Wesley on short preaching tours, he was determined to stay in his parish.