WILLIAMS, JOHN ÆTHURULD, Methodist clergyman; b. 19 Dec. 1817 at Carmarthen (Dyfed), Wales, son of John David Williams and Elizabeth Rhodes; m. first in December 1839 Catharine Robinson (d. 1856) of Prescott, Upper Canada, and they had five children; m. secondly in August 1857 Rebecca Clarke of Ernestown, Canada West, and they had six children, three of whom survived infancy; d. 16 Dec. 1889 at Toronto, Ont.
John Æthuruld Williams, orphaned at 12, was raised by relatives in London, England, where he attended Hoxton Academy and was employed in a newspaper office. In 1834 he immigrated to Prescott, and there went into business. On 21 Feb. 1836, at a Wesleyan Methodist prayer meeting, he was converted, joined the church, and commenced reading voraciously the great writings of Methodism. Feeling a call to the ministry, he became a local preacher in 1846, was ordained in 1850, and over the next four decades served in 18 communities throughout Ontario. From 1859 to 1861 he was chairman of his church’s Owen Sound District, and after 1870 he was invariably chairman of the district in which his charge was located.
After the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Canada and the Methodist New Connexion Church in Canada united in 1874 to form the Methodist Church of Canada, Williams was a delegate to each quadrennial general conference of the new church. While serving in Simcoe, Ont., in 1874 he was elected president of the London conference, a post he held for two years. In 1878 he was awarded an honorary dd from Victoria College at Cobourg, “a spontaneous tribute to his character and attainments.” In 1882 he was elected vice-president of the general conference, his church’s second highest, but largely honorary, position.
In September 1883 the four principal Canadian Methodist churches met in Belleville at the general conference of united Methodist bodies to work out an amalgamation. Williams, then a minister in St Catharines, represented the Methodist Church of Canada at this conference, and on a resolution by Albert Carman*, president of the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Canada, he was unanimously elected president of the united general conference. Williams won widespread praise for his capable and impartial administration of the proceedings which resulted in the four churches uniting in 1884 to form the Methodist Church. That year he was elected president of the new church’s London conference and went as a Canadian delegate to the centennial conference of American Methodism at Baltimore, Md.
Following the death, in 1884, of the Reverend Samuel Dwight Rice, one of the two Methodist general superintendents, the General Conference of the Methodist Church selected Williams as a temporary replacement. The following year he and Albert Carman were made general superintendents for terms of four and eight years respectively. The most senior of the church’s permanent officials, the general superintendents were responsible for the national affairs of the church during the four-year interval between general conferences, and they served as visible symbols of Methodist unity. Williams’ death in 1889, after a year of serious illness, prevented him from serving his full term.
Although not a decisive influence in the development of Canadian Methodism, Williams was closely identified with the major concerns of his church. He was “a temperance preacher by example as well as voice.” He was also strong in his denunciation of Roman Catholicism: in an 1888 address printed in Vital questions he described “Romish Dogma” as “a source of religious, social and national peril” which interfered with Christ’s authority and the free exercise of the mind, and was a threat to Protestant religious liberty. Williams was reported to be an effective preacher when aroused, though he sometimes spoke over the heads of his audience, and he contributed to Methodist hymnology by publishing verses of, and articles on, early Methodist poets.
Williams’ rise to high office is best attributed to his administrative capacity and personal character, and perhaps as well to his identification with Methodist evangelical traditions. Intelligent and well read, despite a limited formal education, he forcefully defended those traditions against German religious materialism and other influences. Though an 1874 description presented him as a vigorous debater and a combative, outspoken, and highly independent person, the responsibilities of high office mellowed his abrasive qualities and in any case his honesty and sensitivity had never permitted lasting hostility. With his death, his church lost a valued link with the piety and service which were identified with Canadian Methodism in its heroic phase, a half century earlier.
The published minutes of the annual conferences of the Methodist Church of Canada for 1874–83, and of the Methodist Church (Canada, Newfoundland, Bermuda), General Conference, Journal of proc., 1883, and of its Niagara Conference, Minutes, for 1890, are available at UCA.
J. A. Williams was the author of Certainties in religion . . . (Toronto, 1882), 1–27, in Lectures and sermons delivered before the Theological Union of the University of Victoria College (2v., Toronto, 1888), I; “Chairman’s address,” Vital questions: the discussions of the General Christian Conference held in Montreal, Que., Canada, October 22nd to 25th, 1888, under the auspices and direction of the Montreal branch of the Evangelical Alliance (Montreal, 1889), 188–89; “The less known poets of Methodism,” Canadian Methodist Magazine, 26 (July–December 1887): 545–48; “The minor poets of Methodism,” Canadian Methodist Magazine, 25 (January–June 1887): 146–56, 242–51, 431–40.
Carroll, Case and his cotemporaries, IV: 483. “Memorials of the Rev. John A. Williams, D.D.,” Methodist Magazine, 31 (January–June 1890): 289–96. Christian Guardian, 11 June 1873; 24 Dec. 1884; 8, 22 Sept. 1886; 18, 25 Dec. 1889; 24 Feb. 1904. Globe, 17, 20 Dec. 1889. Canadian biog. dict., I: 73–75. Cornish, Cyclopædia of Methodism, I: 151, 657; II: 302. Cyclopædia of Canadian biog. (Rose, 1888), 294–95. J. W. Caldwell, “The unification of Methodism in Canada, 1865–1884,” United Church of Canada, Committee on Arch., Bull. (Toronto), 19 (1967).