A brief history of Wesley House
Businessman and philanthropist Michael Gutteridge’s working life was spent as a draper in Italy where he was widely respected for his Christian principles and integrity. After his retirement to Haslemere he attended the WM Conference of 1911. Lacking university education himself, he sought the highest standards for ministers and the 1912 Conference accepted his proposal that ministerial training be started in Cambridge, towards which he initially contributed £50,000.
Michael Gutteridge’s vision was for a theological college in Cambridge that would allow postgraduate Methodist students to attend the University whilst living in a community of prayer and scholarship with others being formed in the Wesleyan tradition. He wanted people to be formed in a secular university where cutting edge scientific and philosophical developments were taking place so that students would understand the world in which they were to minister and develop effective ways of speaking the gospel into that culture. His vision was a missionary one, believing that as educational standards in England were rising and that the educational level of the leadership of the churches needed to keep pace so that, in a context of Wesleyan social holiness, responses to key social and faith issues could be formulated together.
Michael Gutteridge expressed this in the original Trust Deed as follows:
to make possible a ‘postgraduate course in which students would have the full benefit of University Life and tuition side by side with such distinctive teaching of the history, constitution, theology and polity of that church as would enable them to maintain in the Church Universal those doctrines of experimental religion and especially spiritual holiness upon which John Wesley laid emphasis’ (Wesley House Trust Deed, 1919).
The site was purchased from Jesus College. Maurice Everett Webb from the architectural practice Sir Aston Webb and Son was commissioned to design the building. In 1921 the college was opened as Wesley House.
Initially, as with other Methodist Theological Colleges at the time, the students were all male and unmarried. Most were graduates from other universities, but under the terms of a benefaction by William Greenhalgh a few places were always reserved for those who did not possess a university degree. In 1967 provision was made on site for married students, and in 1973 the first women students were admitted.
To support these developments, in 1973 through the generosity of Lord Rank in memory of his wife, the Rank Building was opened by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, providing a large lecture room, apartments for married students and other offices.
Meanwhile in 1972 Wesley House had become a founder member of the Cambridge Theological Federation, now an ecumenical partnership of nine educational institutes with over 300 students and 25 staff. Through the Federation Wesley House has links with Anglia Ruskin University and the University of Durham as well as with the University of Cambridge and so is able to offer a full range of accredited degree courses from BA to PhD. Students can be full time, part time or online.
From the beginning also Wesley House has sought to contribute to the World Church. In the early days many British alumni of Wesley House undertook missionary service, notable examples including one of the first intake, Basil Jackson who served in Sri Lanka, Marcus Ward (1928-30) who played a significant part in the creation of the Church of South India, Paul Jefferies (1940-42) who served in China and Hong Kong and co-founded Chung Chi Divinity School, John Stanfield (1948-50) who served in The Gambia, and John Pritchard (1963-65) who served in the Ivory Coast and in Paris and has recently published the history of the Methodist Church’s missionary societies. Wesley House also has a long tradition of welcoming students from abroad such as Ren Li Ren from China, Robert Gribben from Australia, Barnabas Seki from Japan, Mvume Dandala from South Africa, Margarita Todorova from Bulgaria and Roger Ireson and Larry Yarbrough from the USA.
Work with overseas students is now one of Wesley House’s primary objectives, following the Methodist Church’s decision in 2012 to consolidate its initial training for ministers in Birmingham from 2014. The first overseas students arrived in 2015/16 from The USA and from South Africa and in 2015 an international Doctor of Ministry with Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington, was launched, bringing 35 students from all around the world to study in Cambridge.
During the years 2014/15 and 2015/16 Wesley House’s site was redeveloped. Following the 2012 decision of the Methodist Conference, the Trustees of Wesley House sold the Wesley House site back to Jesus College, retaining 40% of the original site for a major refurbishment and the building of a new academic building and accommodation block to enable the College to meet its new focus as a reflective, cross-cultural community of prayer and study for students and scholars in the Wesleyan tradition.
Practical Theology and Reflective Scholarship
Over time the curriculum offered by Wesley House broadened to include fuller provision for practical theology and engagement with local church life, but it has always emphasised the importance of sound reflective scholarship, and has counted a significant number of internationally recognised scholars among its alumni, including Kingsley Barrett (1940-42) and Howard Marshall (1957-59), both leaders in New Testament studies, the Church historian (and from 1967 to 1974 Principal of Wesley House) Gordon Rupp (1934-37), the theologian and liturgist Raymond George (1935-38), and the biographer of John Wesley Henry Rack (1955-58).
Out of the richness of the academic and ecumenical environment in Cambridge Wesley House now also offers a range of courses for the learning church. Teaching happens on site at Wesley House and at venues around the country at Methodist District Synods, at Circuit events and in local churches. In 2016 Wesley House began providing training in supervision to the British Methodist Church’s Chairs of District as part of a significant connexional initiative to enrich the support for its ministers and strengthen its mechanisms of accountability and effectiveness.