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Event to explore Charles Wesley?s work, legacy

By Melissa Lauber*
April 13, 2007 | COLUMBIA, Md. (UMNS)


Charles Wesley's life and legacy will be remembered at a 300th birthday celebration July 20-22 in Chevy Chase, Md. Artwork by Frank Salisbury, courtesy of the World Methodist Museum. 

While history may have cast him in the shadow of his brother John, it was Charles Wesley who set Methodism to music and gave the church a song to sing.

The writer of an estimated 9,000 poems, Charles Wesley's works and legacy will be explored during his 300th birthday celebration July 20-22 in Chevy Chase, Md.

Participants will sing some of the 41 Wesley-penned hymns that are in today's United Methodist Hymnal, including: "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," "Christ the Lord is Risen Today," "O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing" and "Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus."

They also will explore the character and faith of this man who lived from 1707 to 1788 and called together a group of like-minded men to form the Holy Club at Oxford University in London, laying the foundation for what grew to become the Methodist Church.

John Wesley, the acknowledged founder of Methodism, was "a man of angles and straight lines. Charles was a man of curves, parabolas and ellipses," said ST Kimbrough Jr., the founding president of the Charles Wesley Society.

Poet with a mission

In 1985 at Carnegie Hall in New York City, Kimbrough debuted in a one-man show about Charles Wesley titled "Sweet Singer." The baritone, who performs opera on international stages, has enacted Wesley's story more than 500 times.

In the process, he has gained many insights about faith from this "poet with a mission."

John Wesley was “a man of angles and straight lines. Charles was a man of curves, parabolas and ellipses.”
–ST Kimbrough Jr.

"One of the things I've learned from Charles Wesley is that music opens the door to mystery in a magnificent way," Kimbrough said. "In 'And Can it Be,' he wrote, 'Tis mystery all.' Charles Wesley was willing to stand firmly in that mystery with faith."

For both Wesley and Kimbrough, it is art that keeps opening the door to the mystery of the unknown. "Art provides a continual affirmation that God continues to renew that which sustains us as we journey through life," he said.

Love also plays an essential role in Wesley's theology, Kimbrough said. In 1738, when Wesley had "heart palpitations" as he experienced his conversion (three days before his brother John's heart was "strangely warmed"), he discovered of God that "thy nature and thy name is love."

"Almost inevitably, if you read his poetry carefully, that four-letter word 'love' will usually be the culmination of what he is saying," said Kimbrough. "Love is the full nature of God. Love should be the full nature of human beings who emulate God on this earth."

Time in America

Shortly before his conversion, Wesley spent time in America, where events conspired to send him on a quest for inner peace. What he experienced in the Colonies also found its way into his music, according to Kimbrough.


ST Kimbrough Jr. portrays Charles Wesley in his one-man show titled "Sweet Singer." A UMNS Web-only photo courtesy of
ST Kimbrough Jr.

For example, Wesley witnessed a slave being nailed up by his ears, beaten and soaked in scalding water. It took the man four months to be able to move again. Two years later, he wrote, "Come thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free."

"Those words are not only about salvation," said Kimbrough.

Knowing the life experiences that shaped the man and his hymns adds another dimension when singing these sacred songs.

The tercentenary celebration is being held in conjunction with the sixth historical convocation of The United Methodist Church. The event will include the annual meetings of the Historical Society of The United Methodist Church, the Charles Wesley Society, the Southeastern Jurisdiction Historical Society and the General Commission on Archives and History. To register by June 10, visit http://www.gcah.org.

Kimbrough also is participating in other events and activities during 2007 to honor the acclaimed hymnist. In addition to a music festival at Oxford and creating two music CDs, he has written on Charles Wesley's experience in America for Methodist History magazine.

*Lauber is associate editor of the UMConnection newspaper in the Baltimore-Washington Conference.

New media contact: Marta Aldrich, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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