LONDON - People around the world will be able to log on to a webcast of Britain's national service marking the 300th anniversary of John Wesley's birthday. The webcast will be live from Lincoln Cathedral on June 17, beginning at 8:30 a.m. EDT. British Methodists will join with representatives from across the United Kingdom and all over the world in an ecumenical celebration of the life and legacy of Methodism's founder.
On the same day, a group of young British Methodists will begin a 12-day walking pilgrimage in honor of Wesley. The pilgrimage begins at Lincoln Cathedral and ends in Llandudno, North Wales, at this year's British Methodist Conference.
Celebrations of Wesley's tercentenary are already under way with a host of services, special events, exhibitions and conferences around the United Kingdom. The month of May saw a weeklong Wesley festival at Methodism's oldest chapel, the New Room in Bristol. In London, St. Paul's Cathedral held a special Wesley evensong, while Wesley's Chapel - a place Wesley himself deemed "neat but not fine" and the site of his grave - held a full weekend of anniversary events.
For the next five months, Wesley's childhood home, the Old Epworth Rectory in Lincolnshire, is exhibiting his letters, on loan from the British library. In Manchester, scholars from around the world will gather in June for an international symposium on Wesley's "life, legend and legacy." The British Broadcasting Corp., will air a special Wesley "Songs of Praise" television program, while BBC Radio will broadcast a worship service focusing on Wesley's influence on modern Britain.
Christine Morgan, a Methodist local preacher and BBC producer, sees the 300th anniversary as an opportunity to re-examine the essence of Wesley's faith in a modern context.
"For John Wesley ... the Gospel was for everybody. He got out there," Morgan tells United Methodist News Service. "Wesley rode around, driven by this passion for everyone to be included. If this anniversary does anything, I hope it helps us remember that the legacy of John Wesley is to be as open as we can be .... and not to get tied up in the minutiae of life in one particular church."
Pauline Webb, a writer, broadcaster and former British Methodist Church vice president, agrees. She believes this milestone is an opportunity to look at how one man's personal faith experience not only spawned an institutional church but a worldwide faith movement.
It's important not to be too nostalgic, Webb says. "The Methodist movement is much more important than any institution."
Webb pointed to a recent U.K.-wide survey of the top 100 Britons of all time, in which Wesley ranked at No. 50 - ahead of any other religious figure on the list.
"Wesley was a campaigner for the abolition of slavery, he had concerns for the poor, for a just society. ... In many ways, he influenced the whole faith of Britain in the 18th century," she explains.
As part of its 300th anniversary observances, the Methodist North Bank Center recently hosted a retreat called "Encountering God in Methodism." The Rev. Mark Wakelin, director of this center for the support and encouragement of Christian living, finds Wesley an inspiration for contemporary Christian life.
"His mixture of conviction and intelligent engagement (with society) is a resource for many important movements required of the church today, whether they are ecumenical, evangelical or interfaith," Wakelin observes.
Almost three centuries on, Wakelin says Wesley would still recognize his legacy in places "where a desire to engage in social issues is matched by a longing for Christ to be known, and where careful, conscientious Christian are prepared to get lost in wonder, love and praise."
For more information on other events around the United Kingdom, visit the Wesley 2003 Web site at www.wesley2003.org.uk. To watch the webcast at Lincoln Cathedral on June 17, log on to www.bbc.co.uk/lincolnshire at 8:30 a.m. EDT.
By Albert H. Lee