We were on holiday last week visiting my home city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and also taking the opportunity to enjoy some of the beauties of the Northumberland countryside. We stayed at a hotel which was only two minutes’ walk from the historic Quayside. The weather was unseasonably pleasant for the time of year, so much so that some of the evenings were mild enough just to wonder around in jumpers. The Quayside has changed a great deal since I grew up in Newcastle, although its age-long Sunday market still takes place, and the fine buildings, both old and modern, somehow complement each other.
One interesting feature is the obelisk situated on the front near the Law Courts which commemorates the spot, known as Wesley Square, where John Wesley preached his first sermon in the city in May 1742. It was lovely sitting one evening on the pedestrian Millennium Bridge, known to locals affectionately as the “Blinking Eye Bridge,” with the river flowing beneath and looking down the Tyne towards the other bridges, the Swing Bridge, the High Level Bridge and the Tyne Bridge all situated within 200 yards of where we were sat. I have to admit I have something of a fascination with bridges, which perhaps speaks to us all at a higher level.
Going back to John Wesley, I like to think of him as being something of a bridge builder. Not in a conventional sense, but in the way he understood the gospel in relation to others. At a time when field preaching was a very unusual novelty, Wesley went out into the highways and byways, firstly preaching the gospel to the rough miners of Kingswood, just outside Bristol, proclaiming that God loved them just as much as the respectable people. In so doing he built a bridge for others to cross. Wesley’s principle was “to go to those who needed him most,” but also to recognise that the message of salvation had no barriers of race, class or gender.
I hope, as Christians, living in today’s world, we can be bridge builders of one sort of another. Sadly, I don’t think I can recall a time when there have been so many stark divisions in society, and that is a real challenge. Wherever we see barriers which divide one person from another, be they personal or communal, let us seek to be the link that brings people together, not in an overbearing way, but in a way which can gently restore and reconnect people on both sides of the divide. Perhaps we can become a stronger voice for the poor and the marginalised, and try to act as a visual reminder of God’s call to treat all people as His precious daughters and sons. But let us do what we can to help build a bridge.