An isolated holy community : Methodism in the upper Eden valley, Westmorland
Before the coming of the Methodists to the upper Eden valley in 1758, Celts, Romans, Anglians, Vikings, Normans and Scots had all left their mark on the area. Geographically, however, this part of Cumbria is somewhat mountainous and remote and their influences were not as significant as in other parts of England. A measure of consequent isolation was thus to affect the intensity of local religion, particularly that of later Methodism. Apart from a small number of Catholics and the Church of England, the immediate forerunners of the Methodists were the Quakers (from the seventeenth century) and the Inghamites (between 1755 and 1760). Methodism took root slowly but, by the middle of the nineteenth century, it was established in many of the hamlets and villages. By the time of a union of its various branches in 1932, preaching, fellowship, teaching, singing, missionary interest and abstinence from alcohol were already its distinctive emphases. Its impact on local society and the wider Church was most marked in its strong opposition to the use of alcohol and in continuing missionary interest. Such Methodism (which we have occasionally compared with the isolated Waldensian and Jewish religions) has declined in numbers but still seeks to retain its emphases. In an attempt to interpret the history and understand the nature and meaning of upper Eden Methodism, we apply twelve categories of the sacred. Thus sacred story, symbols of the sacred, sacred action, sacred time, sacred space, initiation, sacred persons, the deity, the sacred community, sacred word and writing, sacred silence and sacred world-view are all related to this particular community which experiences the predicament and potential of isolated religion. Such communities stagnate and decay unless they are activated by that love for the whole world which is supremely expressed in the life and death of the incarnate Deity.