We went to Bristol today. It is on the west coast of England about a 2-hour bus ride from where we are staying in Oxford. The scenery along the way was amazing! Rolling green hills dotted with castles and wooly sheep! Everything you think of when you imagine England. But Bristol was another story. It’s a seaport and a working class town. Tall buildings, McDonald’s, and a coffee shop on every corner. There was a good bit of graffiti around. For the first time I saw folks who are living on the street.
I mention this because the context of Bristol is an important part of the story of Methodism. In 1739, John Wesley was invited by George Whitfield to come and preach there. Whitfield had been preaching on the street corners and in the fields and needed someone to take over. So Wesley did. There was such a positive response to his sermons that John decided there was a need for a regular meeting place. So he had one built. It is still open to this day.
During the 18th century, Bristol was one of the largest cities in England. It had extreme wealth. But it also had extreme poverty. Wesley felt especially compelled to minister to the poor. He used his new meeting room to dispense free pharmaceuticals (turns out Wesley had a life-long interest in medicine). He also developed ministries to educate those who could not afford it. He took every opportunity he had to share with the poor that they too were loved and mattered to God.
This led some to violently oppose Wesley. They felt threatened by the idea of an empowered poor. At times Wesley’s life was endangered. Downstairs windows in the meeting place were sealed off because of the danger of thrown rocks. But Wesley kept on. He was a change agent who challenged the established order. Clearly his passion followed after that of Christ – who in his very first sermon said he had come to proclaim good news to the poor, recovery of sight for the blind and to set the oppressed free (Luke 4:18).
Hearing all of this today made me think about my passion. What am I doing to proclaim good news to the poor, the blind and the oppressed? What am I doing to share that all are loved and matter to God? Furthermore, what are we doing as a church? I am so proud that we are involved in helping those in need. Is there more we are called to do? How can we more fully live up to our roots as a people called Methodists?
This brings me to my picture today. It’s a sign that was posted on a statue of John Wesley just outside the meeting room he built in the center of Bristol in 1739. Some might think it sacrilegious. But I suspect John Wesley would probably agree with its invitational nature. His heart beat with a passion to introduce people to Jesus Christ. How about you? How about you?
(I couldn’t resist!)