Since last Monday, I have been in the land of England on a Wesleyan pilgrimage. While this might sound like a fancy name for a sightseeing tour while on vacation (or “holiday” as the Brits say), this has been a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn, to study, to grow, and to touch history. So far, this pilgrimage has proven to be just that: A pilgrimage. We have trod where John and Charles Wesley and so many others have trod, touched where they lived, worshiped, shopped, preached, and undoubtedly shed many tears. It is not enough to state that these places have been historical in nature. Indeed, we have been to sacred, holy places.
The trip began, in earnest, when we went up to Oxford (one always “goes up” to Oxford) to explore the place where the Methodist movement was begun. It’s important to remember that John and Charles Wesley were not setting out to start a new church, rather this was a renewal movement within the Church of England. One thing to note is that it was actually Charles who began what would be come the Holy Club at Christchurch College. Later on, they would be called Methodists as a way of poking fun at their methodical style of study and prayer. While in Oxford, we saw St. Mary’s Church where John preached sermons which caused him to be scorned by many within the Church of England power structure. Christ Church Cathedral is the place where John and Charles were both ordained Anglican Priests.
Seeing and touching these holy places was an amazing experience but here was the real sobering moment for me: We stood at a spot on Broad Street which commemorated the place where Anglican bishops Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, and Thomas Cranmer were burned at the stake for heresy. These men are who became known as the Oxford Martyrs. To see the place where these men were killed for their faith in Christ rather than their faith to a monarch was inspirational and sobering.
In addition to this significant faith history, we also experience another place where our faith was shaped: The Eagle and Child pub. This is where C.S. Lewis would often congregate while he was in Oxford. There was a door marked “Narnia” but I darned not to open it. For the record, the fish and chips are excellent.
Yesterday we spent the day in Epworth where the Wesley boys and
girls grew up. We toured the Old Rectory where the Wesleys lived while Samuel Wesley was rector of St. Andrew’s Church. At St. Andrews, we were able to see and touch the baptismal font where John, Charles, and their siblings were baptized. We were even able to see and hold the chalice which belonged to Samuel and from which his children received their first Eucharist. We saw some of the places where John Wesley practiced open air preaching, including the market cross and his father’s grave (he climbed on top of the grave to preach after he was denied an invitation to preach at St. Andrew’s).
Along the way, we have learned much from our leaders who have been lecturing on Methodist history as well as ways by which we can reclaim some of the Wesleyan fervor. Hopefully by doing this, what began as a renewal movement within the Anglican Church will itself be renewed today. I throw this in mainly because I did not want you to think we have only been sightseeing. This has very much been a learning experience, both by being able to learn from some of the best Wesleyan scholars available as well as being able to experience the places where so much of our Methodist heritage was formed.
Still on tap for us is worshiping at Salisbury Methodist Church tomorrow as well as an excursion to Bath, where there has been much Roman influence preserved. Monday we head to Bristol to see sites such as the New Room and Bristol Cathedral. Tuesday and Wednesday will be spent in London where there is also much Methodist history to be experienced and learned about.
This has been our trip so far. As you can see, we still have much more to go and I can not wait to see what God will do with these final days for us here. As I expressed to a friend of mine earlier today, this has been a learning experience that is helping to shape my future ministry in the United Methodist Church. Even if I were to go back home today, I would come away with much knowledge and the blessings of being able to be in these holy places. I have experienced joy, affirmation, new friendship, and the Holy Spirit speaking to me. May we continue to listen for His small voice as we continue this sojourn.