One of my favorite people from the Patron Saints for Postmoderns book is the early 19th-century Cambridge pastor and mentor Charles Simeon. A curmudgeon, perhaps, with evident character flaws (albeit softened by increasing humility as he grew older), Simeon is perhaps most praiseworthy for sticking out a very difficult ministry in a very difficult time to be a “gospel preacher” in the England’s Established Church:
Destined to Wage War
The timing was both auspicious and difficult. If John Newton’s time was the gawky adolescence of the evangelical church in England, then Charles Simeon’s time was the movement’s early manhood—but it was a challenging manhood. During the early 1800s the movement, begun nearly a century before, was sustaining heavy damage from political intrigue within England’s state church, from an apathetic and dwindling Anglican membership, and from a continuation of the same internal struggles that had marred Newton’s day—Arminian vs. Calvinist, Established Church vs. nonconformist. It was beginning to look as though “gospel Christianity” had seen its day in its birthplace, and the calmer, more reasonable and less activist faith of the Deists and their ilk would swallow up the movement in its very cradle.
But not if Charles Simeon could help it.
Striding resolutely from his rooms at Kings to preach at Holy Trinity, only five feet eight inches tall but “accustomed to ‘bearing himself so well he seemed taller,’” Simeon walked with a hint of a swagger. He wore an ensemble on the showy side of formal, including a “short black coat, breeches and gaiters, black gloves, white ruffled shirt and voluminous preaching gown trailing behind.” Under his arm he tucked a fancy umbrella. Continue reading →
In my dissolute youth, Holy Week was a time of particularly acute conviction. Now, it has become a time of joy. But thinking back to those misspent teen years, I’m reminded of the conversion story of Charles Simeon, the 19th-century fellow of Cambridge (King’s College) and rector of Holy Trinity Church. Simeon was also young, just 21, and his conversion came during a similarly acute Holy-Week season of conviction, triggered by a summons to his first communion service at Cambridge. I tell the story in my Patron Saints for Postmoderns:
Satan Was as Fit as I
As for Simeon himself, nothing in his upbringing had instilled any real
faith in him by that tender age of twenty-one. Nonetheless, when he
received the official summons to his first communion service on a cold
winter day, three days after arriving at Cambridge, he entered “a state
of spiritual panic.” Looking within himself, he concluded that “Satan
himself was as fit to attend [the sacrament] as I.” He bought a stern
book titled The Whole Duty of Man, because it was the only religious
book he had heard of, and under its prescriptions he proceeded to
read, fast and pray himself into physical illness. For all that effort, he
still went to his first communion unrelieved from his acute sense of
unworthiness and fear.
Nor did his struggle end there, for he knew he must receive the sacrament
again on Easter Sunday. Continue reading →
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Tagged Cambridge University, Charles Simeon, communion, conversion, conviction, Easter, Eucharist, evangelicalism, Holy Trinity Church, Holy Week, the Lord's Supper
England’s churches were reawakened by 1,100 young ministers, who learned their craft from an awkward, unpopular, and sometimes angry mentor.
(Published in Leadership Journal)
How did an awkward loner—unpopular in his youth for his affected manner—raise a generation of passionate ministers who changed a nation?
“Proud, imperious, fiery-tempered; a solitary individual, eager for friendship, whom others avoided because of his conceits, eccentricities, and barbed words.” This is how Charles Simeon’s biographer describes the great minister and mentor. Yet during his lifetime (1759-1836), he did more than any other to awaken churches in England. Over some 54 years, 1,100 young ministers sat with him on Sunday evenings, absorbing his passion for Christ, taking it to cold pulpits, and igniting parishes across the country.
He was an unlikely candidate to do so. Continue reading →
One of my favorite figures from evangelical history is Cambridge Holy Trinity Church pastor and mentor Charles Simeon. He is the subject of one of the chapters in my Patron Saints for Postmoderns. Here is the brief profile I contributed to the forthcoming Zondervan Dictionary of Christian Spirituality:
Simeon, Charles (1759 – 1836). Evangelical pastor-mentor. He was for over 50 years the evangelical pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge and fellow of Cambridge University. He mentored some 30 percent of the Anglican ministers of his day (over 1,100) through informal preaching seminars and “conversation parties” in his Cambridge rooms. Born of wealth, he also pulled strings to secure pulpits for many of his protégées. He was a man of difficult temperament, often impetuous and even arrogant, who struggled for sanctification through repeated lessons in humility. For decades he was ostracized for his beliefs and foibles by Cambridge townfolk, undergraduates, and even many in his own congregation. But he wrote over 2,500 widely used “sermon skeletons,” covering the entire Bible, sent countless chaplains to India, helped launch the hugely influential Church Missionary Society, inspired the men who later founded the Cambridge Prayer Union, a precursor to today’s InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. And he finished his race respected and beloved, having almost single-handedly renewed a Church of England in danger of losing all the benefit it had gained in the evangelical revival of the mid-1700s.
Google Books has got Charles Simeon’s Memoirs. Sweet.
Thank you Ben, for posting this link over at Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog, as part of the discussion on the Simeon chapter of Patron Saints for Postmoderns.