Methodist Church

Britain celebrates Charles Wesley’s life and legacy

LONDON – Three hundred years to the day since prolific hymn writer, poet and priest Charles Wesley was born, worshippers gathered at St Marylebone Parish Church to celebrate the life of a man whose 7,000-plus hymn legacy has shaped Christian worship ever since.

Like his older brother John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, Charles was ordained in the Church of England and remained an Anglican all of his life. When he died in 1788, he was buried in the St Marylebone’s churchyard.

At the Dec 18, 2007 evening service at the church, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rt Rev Rowan Williams, and the President of the British Methodist Church, the Rev Martyn Atkins, were among those who acknowledged Charles Wesley’s substantial contributions.

“We thank God for the life and ministry of Charles Wesley, for his winsome, passionate, integrated and authentic faith, for his infectious love of Christ,” the Rev Atkins said in a sermon.

He called Charles a model Christian who shared his faith through songs that “touch eternity and the deepest place in our spirits”.

The service was jointly organised by St Marylebone and the Hinde Street Methodist Church., which recently signed a covenant agreeing to work together more closely.

Year-long remembrance
The worship service closed a year of events honouring the tercentenary anniversary of Charles Wesley’s birth, ranging from an ecumenical Evensong in Westminster Abbey to academic conferences to BBC radio and television programmes about him.

A series of Advent programmes currently airing on the BBC’s prestigious Radio 4 network has taken its theme and title from the great Wesley hymn “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus”.

In October, the BBC television’s flagship religious programme, “Songs of Praise”, aired two hour-long programmes about Charles Wesley and his influence. Producer David Taviner noted that for a television series with a 46-year history of celebrating hymn-singing, Charles is a central figure.

Mr Taviner, who also is a Methodist local preacher, said he wanted to make a programme that helped a broad range of television viewers get to know the man who gave the world “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”, “Oh, For a Thousand Tongues to Sing” and other beloved hymns.

“Three hundred years later, Charles Wesley’s impact is still felt worldwide,” Mr Taviner told United Methodist News Service. “Brought up in rural Lincolnshire at the back end of nowhere, it’s amazing what they (Charles and his brother, John) did with their lives and all those they have affected.”

A hidden force

Prof Donald Saliers, the William Cannon Professor of Theology and Worship, Emeritus at Emory University, believes that the two brothers really were “yin and yang” to each other; very contrasting in terms of their sensibilities.

“Charles’ hymns and poems are full of both great doctrinal integrity and biblical imagination, and also great affection, emotional fervour and deep piety,” observed Prof Saliers.

“Charles Wesley gave us a lyrical faith and doctrine and, above all else, a hidden imaginative force that is still carried in the body of the Methodist and Wesleyan family,” he said.

“If we can recover it and practise it, it will make all the difference in a time of literalism, dullness and cultural silliness.” — United Methodist News Service.

Kathleen LaCamera is a United Methodist News Service correspondent based in England.