Yesterday was Wesley Day, the 275th Anniversary of John’s Wesley’s experience of the ‘warmed heart’ at Aldersgate. I’ve attended the commemorations in London a few times over the years, though this was the first time I actually managed to get to evensong at St Paul’s Cathedral, which precedes the wreath-laying tour of Methodist historical sites.
Evensong at St Paul’s was – well, evensong at St Paul’s. Various Methodist dignitaries, including the President and Vice-President of Conference and the three Chairs of the London District got to process and sit with the choir, and read one of the scriptures. The following collect was sung (a variation and improvement on the version in the Methodist Worship Book, I thought):
God of mercy,
who inspired John and Charles Wesley with zeal for your gospel:
grant to all people boldness to proclaim your word
and a heart ever to rejoice in singing your praises;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
But it felt a little remote, partly because the Cathedral ran out of service programmes and partly because there didn’t seem to be any other recognition of the occasion in the liturgy; most obviously in the choice of ‘O love that wilt not let me go’ as the congregational hymn, when one of the Wesley brothers’ compositions might have been expected. No matter; we made up for it later.
Despite the weather being so inclement, there was a larger crowd than usual making its way around the various pilgrimage sites as we were joined by parties of American, Singaporean, Nigerian and South Korean Methodists, as well as individuals from around and beyond the London District (I was talking with one woman who had come from Bedford especially for the celebrations). This included members of the Susanna Wesley Mission Auxiliary UK (part of the Ghana Methodist Fellowship) who sang choruses and hymns at various points of our journey. We were also accompanied by special guest Bishop Sundo Kim of the Korean Methodist Church, whose Conference has recently donated $1m towards the refurbishment of the Museum of Methodism at Wesley’s Chapel.
Hymns were sung, prayers and readings were said and wreaths were laid at the state of John Wesley in St Paul’s Churchyard, the Aldersgate ‘Flame’ Memorial, Susanna Wesley’s grave in Bunhill Fields and finally, at about ‘a quarter to nine’, John Wesley’s grave in the burial ground of Wesley’s Chapel.
Prior to making our way to Wesley’s grave for the final prayers of the day there was a service in Wesley’s Chapel where the Vice-President of Conference Mike King preached an excellent sermon on the theme of knowing that we are loved by God – and sharing that love with others. As we had just sung, in a verse from the Wesleys’ ‘Conversion Hymn’:
And shall I slight my Father’s love,
Or basely fear His gifts to own?
Unmindful of His favours prove?
Shall I, the hallow’d cross to shun,
Refuse His righteousness to impart,
By hiding it within my heart?
Having come to a personal knowledge of God’s love (as he recorded in his Journal entry for 24th May 1738 ‘an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death’), John Wesley felt an imperative to share with love with others. We, in our own time, are called to do the same.