And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. (Acts 17:4)
On 13th October 1746 Theophilus Hastings, ninth Earl of Huntingdon, breathed his last. His widow, the Countess Selina, faced a choice and she turned to the Methodist preacher Howell Harris. He later wrote: “She consulted me about which was it best, to live retired and give up all, or fill her place, and I said the latter I thought was right”. The Countess heeded his advice, and thus a great influence on the evangelical revival of the eighteenth century was begun.
In 1739, the Countess had joined the Wesleys’ Methodist society but her real attachment was to the movement which surrounded the Calvinistic Methodist George Whitefield. As a widow, she would invite both Whitefield and Harris to preach to her genteel friends. As an aristocrat, she had the right to appoint preachers as her chaplains which gave them useful protection against the authorities. Well, actually she didn’t (as a court case in 1779 proved) but that didn’t dissuade her!
She used her wealth to build chapels for her preachers, sometimes selling jewellery to do so, and soon a ‘connexion’ grew (a sort of religious society). Buildings sprang up in Bath, London and Bristol in an attempt to evangelise the upper classes. She also used her wealth to buy the right to appoint clergy to some Church of England parishes, to ensure evangelical preaching.
In 1768, she set up a training college in Talgarth (a dozen or so miles from Crickhowell) and over the years spent over £100,000 on the methodist cause. She was indomitable, even taking on the Archbishop of Canterbury at times. In fact, Whitefield once saw her surrounded by many of her chaplains and commented “She looks like a good archbishop with his chaplains around him”!
She was too much for the Church of England, and eventually she was forced out of the denomination. The Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion still exists, and the many preachers she helped are her legacy. The good Countess was someone who used her wealth and position to the glory of God, and was a great benefactor to the gospel.