THE first Methodists in Ryedale lived at Hawnby and in the surrounding hills. Four of them had been to hear John Wesley preach on Tyneside. They set up a Society in Hawnby but were turned out of their homes by their landlord. Wesley's journal mentions that this proved to be a 'singular kindness' as forty or fifty of them built new houses which can still be seen today by Hawnby beck. Wesley preached in the Ryedale area throughout the next forty years, and Methodism took a strong hold in the dales and villages.
The first Methodist ministers to serve overseas came from Gillamoor and Fadmoor, responding in 1769 to a request from brethren in New York. The Methodist Conference minutes of that year records the question: 'Who is willing to go?' Richard Boardman and Joseph Pilmoor both responded and the others immediately gave £70 to support them. They and their successors helped to build up the Methodist Church in North America and elsewhere.
Several other remarkable characters helped church life to grow in Ryedale during the 1700s. One was Richard Conyers, born in Helmsley in 1725 and a student in the old school house opposite the church in Coxwold. From there he went on to read mathematics at Cambridge and returned to Ryedale to become Vicar of Helmsley. When his ministry began the parish was 'dissolute to a proverb'. In order to get people off the streets Conyers used to invite them to his house where he taught them mathematics. He went on to lead an evangelical revival in the area and his congregation in Helmsley grew to 1800 communicants. His ministry extended as far as Kirkby Misperton and at the peak of his career he would preach around 24 sermons each week.
Conyers also held a regular open prayer meeting in a room near the vicarage. He was a friend of both John and Samuel Wesley, and the latter broke his ankle whilst fishing on the Rye during a visit to Conyers.
Page prepared by Ryedale Christian Council Autumn 2000. Updated December 2016
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