Almost directly across the road from Bunhill Fields Cemetery which I wrote about last week is Wesley’s Chapel which can be considered as the mother church of Methodism and so I thought I would take a look.
I’m not a Methodist but I have an interest in most religions and notable people and there are few people more notable or worthy than John Wesley.
Methodism began as a renewal movement within the Church of England. It’s beginnings are associated with the work of John and Charles Wesley, both of them Anglican clergymen who were so diligent and methodical in their religious life whilst students at Oxford University, that people called them mockingly ‘Methodists’.
Both men were converted in May 1738 and soon they established themselves in the Foundery, a ruined ordnance factory on the edge of the City of London. John Wesley, at the instigation of his friend George Whitfield, had begun speaking in the open air. This brother was soon putting Methodist theology and spirituality into the form of hymns. Methodism was in the process of being born.
The simple and accessible way in which the Wesleys and their followers preached and exemplified the Christian life attracted thousands of followers. The doctrine which was preached from the pulpit and sung lustily by those early congregations centred upon the universality of God’s grace and the need for all believers to grow in love towards that perfection which is God’s goal for all people. This teaching was accompanied by practical action too – healthcare, micro finance, a ragged school, prison visiting, and literacy.
When the Foundery lease ran out, the building we now know as Wesley’s Chapel was constructed and opened in 1778. By then, there were Methodist meeting houses across the whole of the United Kingdom.
Charles Wesley died in 1788, his brother John three years later.
I visited on a sunny but freezing afternoon two weeks before Christmas and as you can see in the final photo, the sun was already going down just before 3pm.
As well as the chapel you can visit the house of John Wesley and associated museum. Sadly I was running low on time but will have to return soon as I would like to create a new Methodist Walking Tour.
Nevertheless, I made my way to the rear of the chapel to the graveyard. Like the chapel itself, it is quite small and simple as I think is largely the Methodist way.
There are a number of notable tombs here but of course the first amongst equals here is that of John Wesley himself.