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Worldwide celebrations for John Wesley’s 300th birthday

Special festivals, exhibitions, conferences, lectures, worship, musical plays and stage shows among events

METHODISTS all over the world are celebrating the 300th anniversary of the birth of their founder, John Wesley, this month.

The “Father of Methodism” has been described as the “single most influential Protestant leader” of the English-speaking world since the Reformation. He was born in a rectory in the small Lincolnshire town of Epworth, in northeast England, on June 17, 1703.

Across the United Kingdom, people are celebrating the life and legacy of Wesley with special festivals, worship, exhibitions, lectures, seminars and conferences. Events include a Wesley Pageant with parades, market stalls, preaching at the original market cross in the town centre by a look-alike John Wesley, the staging of several displays of Wesley memorabilia, an exhibition on the life and writings of Wesley, choir festivals, musical plays, and stage and street performances.

Epworth and other English cities such as Bristol, Manchester and London, will lead in the celebrations with major events. Epworth, in fact, has been playing a prominent role in celebrations since March 1. Continuing over an eight-month period, celebrations there are focusing on the Anglican church of St Andrew’s, where Wesley’s father, Samuel, was rector; the Wesley Memorial Church; and the Old Rectory itself.

Epworth Rectory, where John Wesley was born in 1703. – Interpreter picture.

In London, Methodists were reminded of the time when Wesley’s heart was “strangely warmed” at a special worship service at St Paul’s Cathedral on Aldersgate Sunday, May 25.

On June 17, there will be a Major Ecumenical Service of Celebration at Lincoln Cathedral. The preacher will be the Rev Ian White, President of the Methodist Conference of Britain.

Bishop Dr Robert Solomon has been invited to attend this service together with heads of Methodist churches from countries in the Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Americas and the Caribbean and Africa. The service is part of the Wesley Tercentenary Celebrations, District Visit, Pre-Conference Consultation and Opening Weekend of Conference to be held in various parts of England from June 16 to 29.

Countries in Europe, too, will have their own programmes. A major event is the Methodist “Festival of Faith” at Potsdam, Germany, from July 30 to Aug 3.

Top scholars to lecture on Wesley’s life and legacy

In the United States, home of the World Methodist Council, many events have been planned. An important one is 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.

Countries in Asia, where there is a Methodist presence, will also have their own celebrations. They include special worship services, talks and seminars in Malaysia, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Taiwan and India among other countries.

Here in Singapore, the main event was the Aldersgate Service, which was held at the Concert Hall of the Arts Centre of Anglo-Chinese School (Barker Road) on May 24.

A book, The People Called Methodists, was launched by Bishop Dr Robert Solomon during the service also to commemorate the tercentenary celebrations of Wesley as well as to mark the Dedication of the new Methodist Centre. The book tells the story of The Methodist Church in Singapore – its history, and more than that, its structures, life, mission and the essence of the Wesleyan heritage.

One of the most important events of the celebrations is an “International Conference on Wesley’s Life, Legend and Legacy” organised by the Department of Religion and Theology of the University of Manchester from June 15 to 18.

Mr Earnest Lau, Archivist of The Methodist Church in Singapore, will be joining participants from various countries at the conference.

It will begin with a worship service on June 15 at St Ann’s Church, Manchester, where John Wesley himself preached, and where the sermon will be delivered by the Rev John Newton, past President of the (British) Methodist Conference.

The interdisciplinary conference proper aims to bring together historians, theologians, art historians, literature specialists and all others interested in any aspect of Wesley’s life and legacy. Conference participants will be able to listen to five Plenary Lectures on the following topics given by distinguished Wesley scholars:
· “John Wesley and the Rise of Methodism” by Professor David Hempton;
· “Major Methodist Myths and the Legends we Love” by Professor Richard Heitzenrater;
· “Re-thinking the Systematic Nature of John Wesley’s Theology” by Professor Kenneth Collins;
· “Does Gender Matter? Salvation and Selfhood in 19th Century Methodism” by Professor Phyllis Mack; and
· “John Wesley and the Legacy of Methodist Theology” by Professor Ted Campbell.

In addition some 50 shorter papers will address the following broad themes: Wesley the Man; Wesley in Context; Wesley and Theology; and The Wesleyan Legacy.

The conference will include a roundtable discussion on the future of Wesley Studies that promises to be a lively and thought-provoking time, followed by a post-conference visit to Nazarene College, Didsbury and the launch of the Manchester Wesley Research Centre.

During the conference, there will also be an exhibition of visual, archival and printed artefacts at the John Rylands Library, Deansgate, taken from the world’s finest collection of Wesley material housed there.

Wesley’s Chapel in City Road, London: the Mother Church of World Methodism. – Picture from a postcard.