LONDON – The birthplace and boyhood home of John Wesley at Epworth, England, is playing a prominent role in celebrations throughout this year to mark the 300th anniversary of his birth.
Now known as the Old Rectory, the original building was destroyed by fire in 1709, a conflagration from which the six-year-old Wesley was dramatically rescued. Wesley, the creator of the practical piety movement that became Methodism, was born on June 17, 1703, in Epworth.
Starting March 1 and continuing over an eight-month period, the local celebrations at Epworth (in the Humberside region of England) will focus on the Anglican church of St Andrew’s, where Wesley’s father, Samuel, was rector; the Wesley Memorial Church; and the Old Rectory itself.
Alongside Methodist “pilgrims” from all over the world, Epworth townspeople and traders are supporting the celebrations, which will include a Wesley Pageant with parades, market stalls, entertainment, music and dance. A “look-alike John Wesley” will even preach from the original market cross in the town centre, and an evening “Songs of Praise” Service is to be held around Samuel Wesley’s tomb, where John preached in 1742 after being excluded from his father’s former church.
The Old Rectory will host a number of important displays of Wesley memorabilia this year. An exhibition of Wesley’s life and writings is being held throughout March, and a local artist will exhibit a collection of watercolours and drawings called “John Wesley – A Pictorial Journey” from April 13 to May 21.
An international conference on “John Wesley: Life, Legend and Legacy” will be held at the University of Manchester from June 15 to 18. Papers are expected to address the following general themes: “Wesley the Man”, “Wesley in Context”, “Wesley and Theology” and “The Wesleyan Legacy”.
On a wider European front, a major all-age Methodist Festival is expected to attract hundreds of Methodists from many East and West European countries to the Hermannswerder Peninsular in Potsdam, Germany, from July 30 to Aug. 3. Organised by the European Methodist Council, the event, called “Get in touch”, will include Bible studies, small Wesley groups for sharing and growing together, creative art and other workshops, celebrations and “serious looks at our past, our present state and future prospects for mission”.
The many tercentenary events throughout Britain will include a national service of celebration to be televised by the BBC from London’s Royal Albert Hall (March 30); a Festival Week at Wesley’s historic New Room, Bristol (May 19-25); an Aldersgate Memorial Service in London on Wesley Day (May 24); and the opening of a major Social History Exhibition at London’s historic Wesley’s Chapel (June 7).
There will also be a national Service of Ecumenical Celebration at Lincoln Cathedral (on June 17); a Walk of Witness from Lincoln to Llandudno, Wales, for the opening of the British Methodist Annual Conference (June 17-28); and the unveiling of a new Wesley monument at Lincoln College, Oxford (June 21).
A British theatre group will bring the story of the Wesley brothers to a number of United Methodist churches in New York, Detroit, Delaware and Virginia from May 11 to June 14. The author, the Rev David Hill of East London, is travelling with a professional cast to present “Never Stand Still”, a musical play based on the correspondence between John and Charles Wesley.
Events in the United States being planned include the Fifth Historical Convocation, “John Wesley: His Life and Legacy”, to be held in Madison, New Jersey, and Xavier Center in nearby Convent Station from Aug 14 to 17. It will feature addresses by scholars. – United Methodist News Service.
John Singleton, a writer with the weekly Methodist Recorder in London, is administrator for the Methodist churches and social projects in the Tower Hamlets area of East London.