On Sunday June 6th 1742 John Wesley, the English Evangelist re-visited his home town, Epworth in Lincolnshire.
This was the town of his birth and his father had been the Pastor of the St. Andrew’s Anglican Church there. The Wesley children had been raised there.
Prior to the Sunday service beginning Wesley offered to assist the Curate with the service, either by preaching or ‘reading prayers’ (from the Book of Common Prayer, then used by Anglicans).
The curate wasn’t keen, and we pick up the story from Wesley’s Journal:
‘He did not care to accept my assistance. The church was exceeding full in the afternoon, a rumour being spread that I was to preach.
‘But the sermon on ‘Quench not the Spirit’ was not suitable to the expectation of many of the hearers. Mr. Romney told them one of the most dangerous ways of quenching the Spirit was by enthusiasm; and enlarged on the character of an enthusiast…’
It’s quite likely that John Wesley, his friends and many of the people could clearly understand that the dodgy ‘character’ being described was Wesley himself!
‘Mr. Wesley will preach in the graveyard!’
Wesley continues, ‘After sermon, John Taylor stood in the church-yard, and gave notice, as the people were coming out, ‘Mr. Wesley, not being permitted to preach in the church, designs to preach here at six o’clock.’
‘Accordingly at six I came, and found such a congregation as I believe Epworth never saw before.
‘I stood near the east end of the church, upon my father’s tomb stone and cried, ‘The kingdom of heaven is not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.’
We might expect that many left the Church of England because of the combination of the Curate’s and Wesley’s behaviour. And they did. But Wesley remained a loyal Anglican to the very end, urging new converts to attend the very churches that were teaching against the evangelical movement and preaching specifically against him and Whitefield.
In fact, because some who had left what they considered an unbelieving church were urging others to leave, Wesley, the very same day he had defied the Curate, decided to stay in Epworth and plead with several to remain within the Church of England.
It was a religious loyalty and tension that he struggled with all through his life.
While he was in Epworth he preached every evening of that week from his father’s grave to great crowds who continued to hear him. (all quotes from John Wesley’s Journal, Baker edition, Vol 1, p.377)
It was only near the end that he finally faced the inevitable and laid hands on the first apostolic delegate to America, Thomas Coke. Coke, in turn, had authority to appoint other leaders over the Methodist work in America.
So the Methodist movement, finally freed from its traditional English roots, became established in its own right and for many years became a mighty mouthpiece for evangelical Christianity around the world.
More next time…
© 2009 Lex Loizides