To be rooted deep in to the earthiness of our history is to become alive and refreshed to the way in which God chooses to use Methodists. To be rooted deep into the presence of the Holy Spirit at the heart of our history is to be empowered by the one who shapes the energizing truths and defining charisms of our Methodist identity. To be so rooted is to come alive and flourish in that distinctively Methodist way: as a people enthused and vibrant in the down to earth pursuit of scriptural and social holiness.
Last Saturday I accompanied the President of Conference on a visit to Epworth, the birthplace of world Methodism. It is here that our roots are especially apparent. To walk around the Old Rectory where John and Charles were born and brought up is to understand how our particular charisms were birthed. Having been rescued from the fire which gutted the original building, John was shaped by his mother's spirituality and his father's religion, and all of this in conditions of poverty. Behind the grand facade the family struggled. As Parish Priest Samuel Wesley was a man who did not court popularity, and he quite literally paid the price for it.
Samuel's own bible is held at the Old Rectory. To look at it is to gaze upon something which was so crucially formative for John and Charles. Scriptural Holiness grew up in this home, not least through the pages of this very book.
Although there is little furniture which actually belonged to the Wesleys on display, one piece seems to speak right into their passion for social holiness, and it is easily overlooked. Just inside the front door, by the window, is a small chair with a high but narrow back. Carved within it is the shape of a heart, through which the light coming from the window shines. What a great image for a warm-hearted movement: Methodists are a people shaped to let the unconditional love of God shine through.
On leaving the Old Rectory we walked down to St. Andrews Parish Church. There one can look at the font in which the Wesley children were baptised, and ponder the beginnings of their Christian journey and perhaps, our Methodist passion for prevenient grace; God's unconditional love is always reaching out to hold us before ever we respond. Here too the President, Stephen Poxon, took into his hands another precious reminder of our common heritage, as he held the chalice which both Samuel and John used for Holy Communion. Stephen's hands embraced the chalice as a potent sign that contemporary Methodists offer that same earthed pragmatic understanding of unconditional love which so enthused their founder.
Then we moved outside to the tomb of Samuel Wesley. When John was fast becoming persona non grata within the Church of England he returned to Epworth with the intention of preaching. He was barred from the Parish church. Such was his determination to preach the good news of Jesus that he stood on his father's tomb. Stephen preached his heart out last Saturday from that same tomb. This was another powerful symbol of a movement energized by its roots in scriptural and social holiness to be on fire with enthusiasm for the gospel and to let nothing stand in the way of our being in touch with those most in need of God's amazing grace.
Then to Wesley Memorial Church in Epworth, and this stunning stained glass window. In their own ways John and Charles sought to communicate and embody this profound truth. The challenge for Methodists today is to do likewise with the same enthusiasm as the Wesley brothers. They were full of the Holy Spirit and alive to God, inspired and inspirational.
As we go back to the future, we discover the living power of our contemporary Methodist vocation.