The Fellowship of Life
The recent coverage of a 10% reduction in tuition fees for a vegetarian applicant to Wyclyffe College - as bestowed by it's Methodist founder in 1882 - was presented with all but an air of ridicule in the national media.
Doubtless that impression would have been shared by most of today's Methodists.
The historical Vegetarian movement existed in the shadow of Temperence reform agitation, although vegetarians often held prominent positions within the latter lobby.
In the nineteenth century, however, it would have seemed inconceivable that the growth of vegetarianism would outlive Temperence societies and eventually appear to outstrip Non-conformity itself.
Vegetarian propaganda - both historical and modern - has often been prone to exageration or what Bernard Shaw once dismissed as a "more amiable mendacity" than that of Victorian vivisectors!
In the era to which George Sibly and his son, William (who succeeded him as Wycliffe Headmaster) belonged; it was actively maintained that a vegetarian drunkard could never exist, perhaps in all sincerity, before binge-drinking became something of a national pastime among the under thirties.
It may be that vegetarianism has survived because it was able to transcend the concept of temperance and austerity to become an increasingly attractive lifestyle choice.
The religious roots of the Vegetarian Society are often overlooked, along with the favour that the diet found among notable Christians, such as John and Charles Wesley; C.H. Spurgeon, the early Salvation Army and even Pope Pius X.
In recent decades, Christian vegetarians have tended to hide their lamp under a bushell and usually hide the bushell as well!
Whilst vegetarians (and Christian vegetarians, in particular) have borne the brunt of "biblical" objections to their stance for centuries; the core spiritual values of love, mercy, grace, pity and peace remain worthy of fresh interpretation in any age.
Methodist Recorder (26/2/09)
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