Students at the Singapore Mission School in Laos.
Wesley believed that education could help remedy the spiritual, social and economic woes that plagued 18th century England.
Any enthusiast of Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) knows that DNA is inherited. Members of the same family share similar genetic characteristics, with distinctive markers that identify their relationship to one another.
In recent years, there have been references to the “Methodist DNA”, suggesting there are markers that identify Methodists as members of the same family. Indeed, the Social Principles found in The Book of Discipline of The Methodist Church in Singapore represent a distinctive aspect of our Methodist heritage. As Methodists, we recognise and acknowledge our social responsibilities in community life. Chief among these is a special obligation to ensure that children are not deprived of education, food, shelter, clothing, and health care.
It has been said that John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was as much an educator as a preacher. During his lifetime, he encouraged education for girls as well as boys, established orphanages that emphasised learning, and promoted MISSIONS Education: Our shared DNA! The Rev Teresa Wilborn is a missionary from Aldersgate Methodist Church and the Assistant Director of Community Development in the Methodist Missions Society. the creation of Sunday Schools. He not only founded day schools in Bristol, Newcastle, and London, but also established a model boarding school at Kingswood which exists to this day.
Wesley believed that education could help remedy the spiritual, social and economic woes that plagued 18th century England. He wrote, “I preached on the education of children wherein we are extremely wanting. Many were deeply convinced of this. I hope that they will not stifle that conviction.”1 He was convinced that society could be improved by teaching the importance of values and vocation, sacrifice and service.
Wesley established five key objectives that continue to influence Methodist educational thinking today. He felt education should:
1) promote self-discipline;
2) promote understanding and wisdom;
3) encourage a life-changing encounter with Christ;
4) encourage living according to needs instead of wants; and
5) encourage a strong work ethic combined with a powerful sense of service to others.2
Wesley held that life-long learning was necessary to grow in goodness and move towards Christian perfection. In a letter to fellow preacher George Holder in 1790, he said, “It cannot be that the people should grow in grace unless they give themselves to reading.” This idea of life-long learning was reflected 47 years later when the first Methodist Education Committee pronounced that education “should begin in an infant school and end in Heaven.”3
Just as John Wesley preached salvation for all, he urged education for all. He believed that every child, regardless of race, gender or socio-economic status, matters to God.
When the first Methodist training college for teachers was created at Westminster in 1851, Wesley’s desire for equal access to education was reiterated by the Conference President. He addressed the first class of teachers with this question: “Is a child less rational, less capable of intellectual and moral improvement, of living an orderly, creditable, and useful life in society, of serving God and ensuring blissful immortality because his parents are poor?”4
Today, there are hundreds of Methodist schools and universities around the world. The Methodist Church in Singapore alone has established 14 schools, including primary, secondary, junior college, and international institutions, as well as 17 kindergartens. The Methodist Missions Society has followed this rich tradition by launching Christian schools overseas in Cambodia and Thailand, and it is planning future schools in Laos and Timor-Leste.
With God’s help, may we Methodists continue this legacy for generations to come!
- the Methodist Missions Society’s (MMS) education ministry overseas
- the proposed new school in East Timor
- the MMS Student Sponsorship Scheme for a needy child
- support the expansion of schools in Thailand and Laos
1 Wesley, Volume 3, p. 270.
2 G. M. Best, online article entitled “Education from a Methodist Perspective”
The Rev Teresa Wilborn is a missionary from Aldersgate Methodist Church and the Assistant Director of Community Development in the Methodist Missions Society.