Traveling through Wesley's England an Opportunity to Encounter "The Best of All"

September 23, 2011

This summer I traveled in the footsteps of the founders of the Methodist Movement when I went on the Wesley Heritage Tour* of England. Since I was basically born Methodist (both my parents and both sets of grandparents were Methodist) and I have been active in the United Methodist Church since childhood, this trip was both edifying and inspiring to me.

As a lifelong Methodist, I loved learning things I never knew about my church—and being reminded of things I had forgotten. Hearing about the work of the Wesleys and many others led me to reflect on the amazing way God works through people who see a need and do something to help meet that need, even when it means looking beyond the expected ways of doing things.

The tour was sponsored by EO (Educational Opportunities) Tours. Most of the people I travelled with were part of a group from the Central Texas Annual Conference, led by Bishop Mike Lowry. Nearly everything about the trip was great, from the accommodations to the food at the hotel (which was part of the tour package) to the tour guide to the group of fellow United Methodists I was privileged to share this experience with. Even the weather cooperated for the most part. I carried my umbrella everywhere we went, but there was only one day of heavy rain.

We began our tour in London, visiting St. Paul’s Cathedral, where John Wesley heard the choir sing “Out of the Deep Have I Called Unto Thee, O Lord” on May 24, 1738. That was the day he felt his heart “strangely warmed” while at a meeting on Aldersgate Street. Our tour took us to the area and a memorial plaque to this experience. We later visited City Road Chapel, which is also the site of John Wesley’s home in the last years of his life and his grave. The Museum of Methodism is located in the lower level of City Road Chapel. While at City Road Chapel, our group had a devotional time in the Foundery Chapel, a small room that houses Charles Wesley’s pipe organ and benches that were used at John Wesley’s first London chapel (The Foundry).

The tour took us to numerous other sites related to the history of Methodism. These included Francis Asbury’s boyhood home in Birmingham and Christ Church College at Oxford. The latter is where John and Charles Wesley were ordained and where they started the Holy Club. Another day we traveled to Gloucester and St. Mary de Crypt Church. This is where renowned 18th-century preacher George Whitefield grew up and first preached at the age of 21. Whitefield helped to convince John Wesley of the value of preaching in the fields. Gloucester was also the home of Robert Raikes, who started the Sunday school movement in an effort to help poor children learn to read. Sunday was the only choice for learning as the children were working the other six days of the week.

We spent most of Sunday in the town of Epworth. That morning we worshiped at Wesley Memorial Methodist Church. On our way from church to lunch, we saw the stone steps in the town center from which John Wesley preached many times. We visited the Rectory, where Samuel and Susanna Wesley raised their children, including John and Charles, and then visited St. Andrews Church, where Samuel Wesley was pastor for 42 years. This is also the site where John Wesley preached on his father’s grave when he was not allowed to preach inside the church building.

On our visit to Bristol, we toured the New Room, the oldest Methodist chapel in the world, and saw what is supposedly the only statue of Charles Wesley anywhere. We also visited a house where Charles Wesley and his family lived.

It wasn’t a Methodist-heritage site, but Coventry Cathedral was a highlight of the trip for me (and, I believe, for others in our group). The cathedral was destroyed by German bombs dropped on the city in November 1940. When the decision was made to rebuild that same year, Cathedral leaders chose to leave the ruins standing as a memorial and reminder of the devastation of war. The new building, dedicated in 1962, is full of stunning stained glass and other awe-inspiring artwork, all reflecting the glory of God. As a result of the World War II bombing, Coventry Cathedral has dedicated itself to a ministry of reconciliation. Each week the Litany of Reconciliation is prayed in the ruins. On the day we visited Coventry, our group gathered in the ecumenical Chapel of Unity for a devotional focused on the words etched on the wall behind the altar of the ruined building, “Father Forgive.” While considering how these words remind us that all of us stand in need of forgiveness and that we also need to give forgiveness, we sang, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”**

In the courtyard outside the New Room in Bristol, there is a statue of John Wesley on horseback. Around the statue are Wesley quotations, including his last words, “The best of all is, God is with us.” Throughout this trip, I appreciated the beauty of God’s creation and the creativity he inspires in architects and artists, the dedication of God’s faithful servants to teach about love and hope, their desire and willingness to work for forgiveness and reconciliation, and their passion to make a difference in the world. All of these things were tangible reminders for me of what Wesley called “the best of all.”

The Kentucky Annual Conference is working with EO Tours to offer the Wesley Heritage Tour in September 2012. For more information about this opportunity to visit the birthplace of the Methodist movement, visit this page on the Conference website.

Related Web Sites

St. Paul's Cathedral
City Road Chapel
Epworth Rectory
New Room
Methodist Heritage (Historic sites related to the Methodist Church in Britain)
Coventry Cathedral

*2011 Tour Itinerary
(Travel to England)
Day 1: London – St. Paul’s Cathedral
Day 2: London – City Road Chapel, Bunhill Fields Cemetery
Day 3: Birmingham, Coventry
Day 4: Epworth
Day 5: Cotswolds, Gloucester
Day 6: Bath, Bristol
Day 7: Stratford-upon-Avon, Oxford
(Travel home)

** “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” by Jill Jackson and Sy Miller, © 1955. Assigned to Jan-Lee Music, © renewed 1983.