Roots

Back in April, Rose and I took a short vacation to London. I had been there overnight a couple of times in my life, but never really got to see and explore the city.

I wanted to get a feel for my Methodist roots, so London was a great place to start, and we took a side trip to Oxford while we were there.

John Wesley began his life in Epworth in Lincolnshire about 170 miles north of London (our next trip to England will include that excursion). He was basically homeschooled by his mother Susannah for the first part of his education, and at age 10, he was enrolled at Charterhouse in central London. 

We walked by that area on our trip but did not take time explore Charterhouse and surroundings because we spent that Sunday at Wesley's Chapel and his old home place (about a mile away).

We followed that Sunday with a trip on Monday to Oxford, about an hour train ride from London. It was here that I began to feel the roots of the Methodist movement.

Wesley spent about five years at Christ Church in Oxford, a former monastery turned into an institution of higher education in 1546.  In the middle of the campus is the cathedral (the only academic institution in the world that is also a cathedral) where the Wesley brothers would have been required to attend morning and evening prayer on a daily basis, and where they were both ordained in the Church of England.  So, the early roots of Methodism started on a college campus that had been an ancient monastery, and daily prayer and Bible reading was expected.

A ten minute walk away is Lincoln College, an older school that was founded in 1427, and was where Wesley served after finishing his studies at Christ Church.  It was at Lincoln College where the "Holy Club" began.  Wesley was elected a fellow of the college in 1725 and remained a fellow until he married in 1751, though his travels and preaching took him away from Oxford (It is noted that even after 1751, he signed correspondence: "Sometime fellow at Lincoln College").

Along with teaching and tutoring at the college, he and his brother Charles along with two others began daily disciplines that included Scripture reading and prayer, along with reading Christian classics and discussions. 

They did not give themselves the name of "Holy Club" but were probably called that as an insult by other students there.  This was also how the term "Methodist" got attached to the movement, because of their methodical disciplines of prayer, study and service.

About a five minute walk from Lincoln College, we walked down a side street and saw a plaque on the wall, saying this was the location of the first Methodist meeting house in Oxford.  Wesley preached there in 1783.  Wesley left Oxford in 1735, and traveled far and wide, to Georgia in the U.S. colonies, and all over England by horseback. On his return to Oxford at age 80, he got to preach in a meeting house rather than outdoors.  In his journal he described the place as “a lightsome, cheerful place, and well filled with rich and poor, scholars as well as townsmen”.

So beyond diving into Methodist history for a short period of time, what did I learn from our trip to England?

  • The church through the centuries always has a historic context.  The Methodist movement in England began with Anglican roots.  The Methodist movement in the USA has its roots in England and the Wesleys, but was also founded on the frontier.  The church where I now serve was founded prior to John Wesley's death, but has its roots in the leadership of Francis Asbury and more  specifically a Methodist preacher named Daniel Asbury. Knowing our roots is essential to discerning our future.
  • In a few days in London and Oxford, traveling mostly by rail with modern conveniences, I realized what a monumental task it was for Wesley to travel that country by horseback to establish the Methodist movement. Preaching nearly every day for nearly 60 years, and celebrating communion two or three times weekly, makes my "busy" schedule look puny in comparison. We 21st century circuit riders serve on the backs of giants.
  • The disciplines of daily prayer and Bible reading have not gone out of style.  It started with the early church (Acts 2),  it was there at the priory of St. Frideswide that became Christ Church, it was there with the Wesleys as students and then at Lincoln College.  It was a part of the early Methodist movement in England and in the American colonies.  If we are faithful to our roots, we still focus on it in 2018.
One of the things I learned on this trip to England is that many of the historic spots were more like museums and less like active churches.  There were certainly exceptions, and we visited some vital congregations as well as some ancient architecture. But this quote from Wesely near the end of his life haunts me:

I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out. 
I ponder this quote this week as I look back on our history and look to the future.

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