Inscriptions on two headstones provide some local information about the growing desire of many Methodists, in the early nineteenth century, to form a separate church. Originally the Methodists were members of evangelistic societies within the Established Church and were required by John Wesley, an ordained priest of the Church of England, to attend the local parish church and receive the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion there. Wesley therefore would only commission ‘preachers’ solely for that purpose but after his death the demand grew for the appointment of Methodist clergymen to administer the sacraments. The changes taking place at this period are exemplified by the inscriptions which use the words ‘Wesleyan Preacher’ to describe the status of John Johnston, at his death in 1803, and the title ‘Reverend’ to describe John Bredin at his death seven years later. One part of the Methodist Church separated totally from the Church of Ireland in 1816.
The Standard Edition of John Wesley’s Diary (edited by Nehemiah Curnock and quoted in Gallagher’s book ‘John Bredin’) records that he drove from Belfast at midday on Sunday 10 June 1787 and had dinner at Chrome Hill before fulfilling preaching engagements at Lisburn. Mary (1759-1832), the wife of Richard Wolfenden, was a granddaughter of Louis Roche, one of the original Huguenot settlers. She was a Methodist and had helped to nurse Wesley at her sister’s home at Derryaghy when he was seriously ill on a previous visit to Ireland in 1773. Mary’s brother in law was Edward Gayer, a Huguenot, who was Clerk to the Irish House of Commons.
During his visit John Wesley interwove the branches of two beech saplings at Chrome Hill as a ‘sign of the union between Methodism and the Established Church which should never be broken’. The beech trees still stand close to the main entrance to the house. It seems particularly appropriate that in 2002 the Archbishop of Armagh, Primate of the Church of Ireland, and the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland came to this historic place to sign the new covenant between the two churches first separated almost two centuries earlier.