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Commentary: Wesley's 300th offers time for renewing faith

3/6/2003 News media contact: Linda Green · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn

NOTE: A photograph of the Rev. Steven Manskar and an illustration of John Wesley are available.

A UMNS Commentary By the Rev. Steven W. Manskar* By the Rev. Steven W. Manskar*

This year, world Methodism is celebrating the 300th anniversary of John Wesley's birth.

To mark this milestone, which occurs June 17, many local congregations and annual conference sessions will offer special worship services, workshops, studies and learning opportunities that will introduce people to the life and ministry of Methodism's founder. Those who are more adventurous are joining Wesley heritage tours that will travel to England this summer and fall. They will attend the special events offered by the British Methodist Church and will visit places important to Wesley's life and the rise of Methodism: Epworth, Oxford, Bristol, Newcastle and London.

The temptation on such occasions is to idealize and venerate Wesley and the early Methodists. When we do that, we can keep them at arm's length, safely in the past. But when we make the effort to read Wesley's sermons, journal, letters and other writings, we find a man who challenges us still. Therefore, it is important in this tercentennial year that we honor Wesley's life and ministry by engaging his writings and reflecting on what he has to say to us in the 21st century. The times in which he lived were very similar to today (the 18th century saw huge and rapid social, economic and scientific changes that transformed the culture), so we will find that Wesley has much to teach the United Methodist Church.

The United Methodist Board of Discipleship is offering a different kind of Wesley heritage "tour." The plan is to gather 25 United Methodist women and men, lay and clergy, in England Aug. 12-17. Sarum College, located in the close of Salisbury Cathedral in Salisbury, will serve as base for the group. We will make day trips to Bristol, Oxford and London - places important to Wesley's life and the rise of Methodism. At each place, the group will encounter Methodist leaders who are keeping Wesley's work alive and striving to help the church be faithful to its mission in a rapidly changing world.

Tim Macquiban, principal of Sarum College, and I will lead the group. Macquiban, a Wesley scholar and historian of the Methodist movement in Great Britain, will host the group and provide interpretation for the visits to Bristol, Oxford and London. I, as director of accountable discipleship at the board, am focused on helping congregations reclaim the tradition of the Methodist class meeting - small groups for mutual accountability and support for Christian discipleship - as a powerful means of Christian formation.

Wesley was optimistic about the future of Methodism, but not without his fears: "I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid, lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case, unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out" ("Thoughts Upon Methodism," Vol. 13:259, The Works of John Wesley, edited by T. Jackson).

The Board of Discipleship's Wesley study trip to England holds wonderful possibilities for renewal and transformation for those who participate, and for the congregations and annual conferences they will represent.

The deadline for reservations for the Wesley study trip to England is May 31. For details, go online to or e-mail

Anniversaries are important opportunities to remember who we are and where we came from. They are also occasions for self-examination, reflection and looking to the future. The 300th anniversary of Wesley's birth provides an opportunity for all of us to take a fresh look at the founder of Methodism and our ministry in light of his.

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*Manskar, an ordained elder from the Minnesota Annual Conference, is the director of accountable discipleship at the United Methodist Board of Discipleship in Nashville, Tenn.

Commentaries provided by United Methodist News Service do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of UMNS or the United Methodist Church.

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