Taken from 'Voice', the magazine of the Connexion, December 1996, originally entitled 'The Countess of Huntingdon'.
SELINA, Countess of Huntingdon, was born in 1707, married in 1728 and became a Christian at around the age of 32. She became a widow seven years later and began to devote her energies wholeheartedly to the Lord's work. Like the Wesleys and George Whitefield, she was a member of the Church of England. She used her influence to arrange the appointment of evangelical clergymen in numerous parishes and appointed George Whitefield and other clergy as her chaplains, which was a way of supporting them in their ministry.
The Countess opened private chapels attached to her residences, which she was allowed to do as a peeress of the realm. These were used for the public preaching of the gospel, but they became a source of contention from the local Anglican clergy, with the result that she reluctantly seceded from the Church of England in 1781
In 1768 she opened a College at Trevecca for young men to train for the ministry, near to the community established by Howell Harris. The students from Trevecca did much evangelising and church planting, mostly in England. However, it became increasingly difficult for them to obtain ordination in the Church of England, so the first Ordination service in the Countess' Connexion was held on 9th March 1783, during which the Connexion's Articles of Faith were first read.
The college moved to Cheshunt in 1792. From 1840 it became increasingly more involved with the Congregational Union and moved to Cambridge in 1906. Cheshunt College Foundation still gives financial support for the training of ministers in Engalnd and Sierra Leone today.
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.
When the Countess died in 1791 there were over 60 causes associating themselves with the Countess of Huntingdon, but most of these were in local trusts. Only a few actually belonged to the Countess and were bequeathed in her will to her devisees. The first Connexional Trust Deed was made in 1807. Since that date, some chapels originally describing themselves as 'Countess of Huntingdon' have come to the Main Trust and some have joined other denominations. Numbers of Mission Stations were established by the larger chapels, which have outlived them. The present scheme was executed in 1899 and revised a few years ago.
The Countess was very interested in missionary work towards the American Indians. (George Whitefield was frequently in America preaching along the east coast, in particular in Georgia, where he established the orphanage 'Bethesda', near Savannah. He left this to the Countess in his will, when he died in 1770.)
When the slaves who fought for the British were given their freedom after the American War of Independence, students who had been at Trevecca went to minister to them in Nova Scotia. Some of these freed slaves returned to Africa in 1792 - to Freetown in Sierra Leone. There they started up churches of their original denominations. This was how the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion in Sierra Leone began. It was not until 1839 that the lines of communication really were established between the two Connexions. A strong bond has existed between them ever since.
Today there are 23 chapels in the English Connexion, maintaining an evangelical witness in towns or villages, mainly in the southern half of England.