Wesley pilgrims visit the past to shape the future
View a beautiful slideshow of what pilgrims experienced during the 2016 Wesley Pilgrimage in England.
At first glance, the Wesley Pilgrimage to England looks to be an exciting way to learn the history of The United Methodist Church. Pilgrims visit important historical sites, including the childhood homes of the Wesleys and Francis Asbury; Christ Church in Oxford where a group of students gathered and earned the name Methodist; and the New Room where the Methodist movement began to take hold.
Ultimately, however, the pilgrimage is not about our understanding of John and Charles Wesley, but our relationship with Jesus. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, the early Methodists started a movement that continues through the work of The United Methodist Church today.
From a small group of students in Oxford who encouraged one another to live their Christian faith every day, to the current mission statement of The United Methodist Church, “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” (Discipline 2012 ¶120), Methodism has always been about making and shaping disciples of Jesus Christ.
Families of Methodism
Pilgrims visit the Old Rectory in Epworth, where Samuel and Susanna raised John, Charles, their brother and sisters. They stand in the kitchen where a young John and Charles saw their mother lead small groups. Inside St. Andrew’s Church where their father served as rector (lead pastor), pilgrims see the font where he baptized his children, and the chalice from which they would have received First Communion.
Francis Asbury, leader of the Methodist movement in America, grew up differently. Like others of us, he was raised in a working class town where he apprenticed as a metalworker before becoming a local Methodist preacher.
Pilgrims also visit his family home, where Asbury told his parents he was called to go to America. “Though it was grievous to flesh and blood,” he would write in his journal, “they consented to let me go.”
Visiting the homes of these families helps us understand that the joys and struggles of raising our children to know Jesus, and to let them go to serve him, are not so different today.
The Methodist movement
When the time came for each of them, John and Charles Wesley attended university in Oxford. As a student at Christ Church, Charles brought together a group of friend who would support and encourage one another in their spiritual journeys. He enlisted the help of his brother John, a recent alumnus of Christ Church who was working as a fellow at nearby Lincoln College. They prayed, worshiped, and served together earning the name Holy Club and later Methodists.
When pilgrims visit Oxford, the bus stops near Oxford Castle, the prison where Holy Club members visited inmates regularly. In the Lincoln College chapel pilgrims see the Jonah story stained glass window upon which John Wesley meditated as he was struggling with his call to travel to Georgia as a missionary.
Leaders in the faith are often characterized as making decisions that change the world. In Oxford, pilgrims see how these journeys start from humble beginnings, like a group of friends seeking to grow in their faith, and a struggle to understand God’s call for one’s life.
Another seemingly small decision of John Wesley's would also have lasting impact.
Soon after returning from Georgia, a Methodist preacher invited John Wesley to come to Bristol to continue his ministry of open air preaching. Wesley’s preaching and organizational skills were so effective, that within months of arriving, the Methodist societies began building a meetinghouse called the New Room.
Pilgrims stand in the New Room pulpit where John Wesley and other early Methodist preachers boldly called people to follow Jesus in their everyday lives. They are told how the New Room was not only used as a chapel, but also a schoolhouse for poor children and a mission station to serve the people of Bristol.
Above the chapel pilgrims visit rooms where Wesley and other early Methodist preachers gathered for renewal, study, and rest. This is holy ground.
Sitting in the New Room in Bristol or St. Mary’s Church in Oxford where Wesley also preached, pilgrims sense what it must have been like to be part of this new movement of the Holy Spirit, and how they might continue the ministry today in The United Methodist Church.
Through the Wesley Pilgrimage to England, Pilgrims visit the past and feel called to continue the ministry of the early Methodist movement: growing as disciples of Jesus Christ who make disciples for the transformation of the world.
Editoral note: This story was first published on August 1, 2016.