The Connexion was founded by Lady Selina Shirley, Countess of Huntingdon, during a season of revival that saw a dramatic expansion of Gospel influence that transformed society on both sides of the Atlantic. The Countess welcomed all who would make the proclamation of the Gospel their priority and we are proud to remain in that tradition. Over the years The Connexion has welcomed into membership churches of all shapes and sizes but who are united by their emphasis on mission.
The Countess faced innumerable challenges to making known the Gospel during her life, both from the prevailing culture of the day and also sometimes sadly from the church to which she belonged. She committed herself to meeting with and supporting all those who shared her vision. In a similar way the modern Connexion gives a high priority to networking our missional churches, through our annual conference, bi-annual ministers’ retreats and regular contact with a named trustee.
To her dying day the Countess retained a personal interest in every one of her Chapels and made the final decision on ministers' appointments. Being a small denomination allows us to give similar support and attention to each minister and church within the Connexion. The historic legacy of the Countess’s college in Wales is now invested in the Cheshunt Foundation which makes grants available to enable ministers to train and then continue their theological education, and also attend appropriate conferences.
The Countess of Huntingdon
Lady Selina Shirley, who was to become the Countess of Huntingdon, was born on 24th August 1707. Born into the English aristocracy her life took a predictable path until her conversion in 1738 at the age of 30. One of her biographers described her experience in the following words:
“Now the day began to dawn, Jesus the Sun of Righteousness arose, and burst in meridian splendour on her benighted soul. The scales fell from her eyes, and opened a passage for the light of life which sprang in, and death and darkness fled before it.”
So profound and enthusiastic was her conversion that for the next 54 years she devoted her life, her wealth and her energy to proclaiming the Good News of Jesus to everyone who would listen and quite a few who wouldn’t! Despite suffering much ill health and the sadness that came with being widowed at the age of 39 and being outlived by only one of her children, she was a force of nature who blazed a trail for the Gospel through the century in which she lived. She became close friends with George Whitefield and John and Charles Wesley (whom she outlived), trained preachers for the ministry, established her own Bible college and opened no less than 200 mission stations and chapels. By any estimation she was an outstanding woman whose contribution to the Evangelical Revival can hardly be exaggerated.
While much has changed since her death her legacy lives on and is reflected in three things about which she was most passionate, and which are the continuing heartbeat of the modern Connexion that bears her name:
Proclaim the Gospel
It’s fair to say that following her conversion the Countess became the embodiment of what the Apostle Paul described as a ‘living sacrifice’, giving her all to the service and proclamation of the Gospel. The trustees of the Connexion in the 21st Century are similarly committed that the Chapels, for which they have responsibility, should give the highest priority to making Jesus known.
The Countess had her theological disagreements with others over the years, most notably John Wesley, with whom her relationship was strained to breaking point. But she set a high priority on unity and maintaining the bonds of friendship between Christians for the sake of the Gospel. In a similar way the modern Connexion holds together a range of theological views, but is united around the proclamation of Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation.
Love for all people
Given her status in high society the Countess had access to the King of England, but caused offence among her peers for the way that she opened her home to the poorest and most vulnerable in society. Likewise, we are proud as a Connexion to serve all those within our sphere of influence and are delighted to support churches and schools in Sierra Leone through the work of the Sierra Leone Mission.
The fifteen articles of faith
The Connexion's Articles of Faith are drawn partly from those of the Church of England, partly from the Westminster Confession and some are particular to the Connexion. They are of the Calvinistic persuasion and allow for infant baptism.