For Methodists, June 17th is the day of commemoration when we recall the birth of our founder, John Wesley. He was born in the year 1703 in the village of Epworth in Lincolnshire in1703. The science of genetics was not known in those days, but one cannot help but think that something of John’s strength of character was inherited from his parents, Samuel and Susanna. Both of them sprang from genuine puritan stock. Susanna was of particular influence, being a woman of strong principle who imparted a great sense of love, obedience and good manners in her children.
Following his miraculous escape as a young child from a devastating fire at the rectory he would, in later years, describe himself “as a brand plucked from the burning.” The phrase aptly illustrated the Gospel urgency that was seen in the preaching of England’s most effective evangelist ever.
I guess for many of us that sense of Methodist history can be easily lost. 18th century England was a very different place to what it is today. The world has moved on in ways that Wesley would never have imagined possible. Never mind the science of genetics, the rapid changes that have taken place in communication, medical research, healthcare, space travel, robotics, education and the world of work have all added to a world that is unrecognisable to that bygone age of Wesley. Does that mean we simply forget everything that is part of our Methodist story, and see our history as something of an irrelevance which has nothing more to teach us today? I think it would be a mistake to do so.
John Wesley, in many ways, possessed what can only be described as a revolutionary spirit in his day, and that is something which Methodists can be rightly proud of. Churches may have closed their doors to him, but he did something quite astonishing in taking the gospel to the streets. He started an orphan house in the heart of my city of Newcastle, he had a passionate concern for the issues of his day, including slavery. He started a school for the children of the poor with two teachers and sixty children. He built an almshouse for the homeless. He opened London’s first free clinic and dispensary and employed an apothecary and a surgeon so the poor could obtain treatment. He was not only a great preacher, but a great organiser and he created a new Methodist movement where people could be effectively nurtured and equipped to carry on the gospel. The list of Wesley’s achievements could go on.
And so, I simply close by saying let us not lose sight of our DNA as Methodists. Can we still capture something of Wesley’s desire in being able to attempt new things for God, believing He can use us? Can we have that same trust and confidence that God has a real purpose for the Methodist Church today, including ours? Can we be open to the leading of God’s Spirit which may take us out of our comfort zones into new areas of witness and service? If the answer to these questions is Yes, then the spirit of Wesley lives on and we can have hope for the future.
Blessings in Chris