Through the providential collusion of streams of my life, I find myself visiting London a few days prior to taking a week-long course on the spirituality and theology of the Wesleys, and at the same time joining with others in “141 Days of Wesley” in reading through all of Wesley’s sermons.
Some time into our engagement, Lynn shared with me her initial impression of me the day she met me at O’Hare airport. She aptly described me as a “Methodist geek,” because I was wearing my sterling silver cross and flame. Today, though I don’t wear that charm as often, I seem to wear my Methodist roots on my sleeve. My first two fully days in London seem to demonstrate both a conscious and subconscious connection to our great Connexion…
Friday: Wandering Toward Wesley
(What I was reading: Methodism: Empire of the Spirit [specifically Ch 2, “Enlightenment and Enthusiasm”]; Sermon 5, “Justification By Faith”)
I woke early Friday. Well rested, I looked at my watch and was distressed to see the first digit was still only a 5! However, unable to go back to sleep I stirred myself to motion without coffee. Over a simple breakfast, I contemplated my day, and decided to spend the morning reading as none of the sites I intended to visit opened before 10am.
I spent over an hour reading both a chapter out of one of the texts for next week and the day’s sermon. Upon completion, I happened to look up St. Paul’s Cathedral, and discovered it opened to guests at 8:30! It was not one of the sites I planned to visit that day, but I figured it wasn’t out of the way, so why not start there? So I jauntily journeyed forth, caught an over-packed Tube, and found my way to the beautiful cathedral designed by Christopher Wren .
Others have visited St. Paul’s and suggested I do the same, and it was a beautiful testament to the faith of many generations. I visited the ground floor, crypt, the “whispering gallery” (a ring along the inside of the beautiful, but very high!, dome), and also walked the outside balcony around the dome, seeing the city from a wonderful vantage point. I somehow missed the bronze statute of Wesley that is in the churchyard (though I was to see the original it was cast from the next day)
A (Heart)Warming Walk
From the time I left St. Paul’s until I returned to my hotel, I carried my jacket in my hands. I expected 64° temps, and instead the day was warming up to a beautiful 80°. I left St. Paul’s and meandered my way north, toward the Museum of London. Walking up a street that changed its name on my map from New Change to Le Grand, I was apparently oblivious to the second and significant name change: Aldersgate Street.
I happened to find myself looking across the street and I saw a strangely named chapel, St Botolph’s-without-Aldersgate. I knew naught of the church at the time, but would later learn that during its time as an Anglican Parish, Samuel Wesley – father to John and Charles – was curate here for a year. (Also, had I known at the time, I could have stepped just around the corner to see a plaque marking the home of John Bray, with whom John and Charles were lodging when they both had their moments of conversion in May, 1738.)
What did stop me was the name of the church and the street, Aldersgate. It is well documented and known among Methodists that Aldersgate Street was the location of a small group meeting where John Wesley felt his heart “strangely warmed,” and when he came to fully experience the assurance of faith he had witnessed in his Moravian brothers and sisters in his passage to and from Georgia. And upon the railings of the combined churchyards next to St. Botolph’s was a plaque marking the brothers’ conversions.
From there I visited the Museum of London. At the entrance I was surprised to find another memorial to Wesley’s conversion- the “Aldersgate Flame.” Designed to suggest both flame and wind, the memorial includes a reproduction from Wesley’s journal of the account of his conversion.
I will admit that I walked fairly quickly through the Museum of London. I lingered the longest in the rooms describing the history of Medieval London through the World Wars. The Museum is located along Wall Road, which includes some significant sections of the ancient wall that surrounded Londinium.
From the Museum I headed east along London Wall and then north along Moorgate. I noticed the open space of Finsbury Square as I walked. I noted the open space as I walked, but did not think or know much of it. I’ve since learned it is one of the last open spaces of what were the Moorfields, a large outdoor space where the Wesleys and George Whitefield engaged in the open-air preaching that sparked the Methodist revival! In Wesley’s day, this was outside of London (north of the Wall, notice), and was where the poor lived and labored.
And so it was, in the early afternoon of Friday, August 17, I walked up City Road and entered the gates to Wesley Chapel, having providentially walked the very streets Wesley had once walked, and preached, upon.
Wesley’s Chapel and John Wesley’s House
Wesley’s Chapel was built in 1778, and his home (located adjacent) in 1779. Wesley would spend his last 11 winters living in the home (he spent the spring through fall months out on horseback, traveling the length of England as he preached, organized societies, and called upon Methodist classes previously organized). He died in the upper bedroom in 1791. The house still holds Wesley’s original furnishings – including a cock-fight chair that he re-designed as a writing desk!
Wesley’s Chapel was built to replace the Foundery, the original center of English Methodism, which when it stood was only a stone’s throw away (though I did not visit the site – the Foundery is long gone).
Behind the altar in Wesley’s chapel is a three-part panel: on the left and right the core of Christian faith and life (“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all they heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind and with all thy strength” “and though shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”) with the Apostle’s Creed in the center, directly behind the pulpit where generations of Superintendents have shared God’s word with the congregation.
Wesley’s house is tall, but not particularly large. In fact, the rooms are not much larger than the small hotel room flat I am staying in; most of them were apx 12 by 15. The windows in Wesley’s second floor study looked out across City Road to the Bunhill Fields burial ground across the way; while his second floor bedroom window looked out upon the Chapel.
Wesley’s grave is in the Chapel’s outdoor graveyard (and, as mentioned elsewhere, the Museum and gift shop are in the crypt!). I’m apparently not sentimental enough to be in awe of his gravestone – but I was struck that the modern office building built to fit snugly around the Chapel’s yard had windows such that the open space of the graveyard was reflected in two and a half directions. And I had to wonder what it was like to work in an office beside the grave of someone identified by some as the “best loved man of England”…
I did sit in the Chapel for a time. I won’t make a service there (I plan, next Sunday, to attend 10am Matins at Westminster Abbey and 11am worship at Methodist Central Hall Westminster; but of this, I was in awe. This hall was built, over 200 years ago, and within its walls preached the founder of a movement that exploded into the world as a means of positive change. Wesley’s movement – a movement toward holiness in the Holy Spirit, symbiotically fusing elements of enlightenment reason with the the spirituality of those dubbed “enthusiasts” – not only made changes in his day, but was the seed from which other movements would later grow (e.g. the holiness movement, the Assemblies of God churches, etc).
Wesley was the first Superintendent for the Chapel, from its founding to his death in 1791; he was followed by Thomas Coke. In the basement, near the crypt, on the wall, hang framed pictures – from line drawings, to black and white photographs, to modern color images – of all who have served in the position, uninterrupted, from Wesley’s day to today.
Of the Museum, one thing of striking interest I will note. I had read recently that Charles had disagreed with Wesley’s decision to ordain Thomas Coke as Superintendent and send him to America to help organize the Methodists there into The Methodist Episcopal Church. Neither brother intended to break away from the mother Church of England, nor did either in their lifetime. However, the situation as it was with the American Revolution, Wesley chose to provide new leadership and organization to the Methodists in the States.
In the museum, in Charles’ own handwriting, is a verse he wrote, with a note around it:
Charles took any opportunity to express his feelings and views in rhyme:
“A Roman Emperor, tis said,
His favourite Horse a Consul made:
But C- brings stranger things to pass,
And makes a Bishop of his – Ass.”
These four lines refer to his strong opposition to the ordination [of Francis Asbury] by Coke. By using a classical reference to a horse being made a consul, he plays on the first syllable of the surname to indirectly refer to Asbury as an ‘Ass’.
I don’t think I read that particular line in any of my Methodist history texts!
That well sums up my first day in London. From Wesley’s Chapel I meandered back to St. Paul’s, bought some postcards, and returned home for the night.
But my Methodist meanderings of London weren’t (quite) done…