Today, March 2nd, the church remembers brothers John and Charles Wesley, renewers of the church.
John was the 15th child of Susanna and Samuel Wesley, and Charles was the 18th, born in England. Both were ordained as Anglican priests in the early 18th Century, in the midst of a serious decline in the Church of England, both in influence and conversion.
John and Charles grew dissatisfied with the religious life they were instructed in, and Charles started the “Holy Society” at Oxford comprised of those intent on finding a deeper and more meaningful way of spiritual living. They focused on frequent communion, prayer, spiritual practices like fasting, and service to the poor and disenfranchised.
This methodological way of doing things led others to disparagingly call them “methodists.”
The name stuck.
Charles and John were sent to evangelize in Georgia in the 1730’s, primarily to the colonists and the Indigenous Peoples. Their insistence on denouncing both slavery and gin, however, didn’t sit well with the colonists.
Both joined the Moravian church, having experienced an inner conversion. This sparked the 18th Century Evangelical revival, and the brothers eventually began their own order of Christianity, a “Methodist” way of being in the world.
Charles became an accomplished hymn writer; John an antagonistic writer and theologian, not unlike Martin Luther before him, pushing the church onward. Both were often met with hostility and derision for their thinking and work, which bucked the status quo of the church of the day.
They are a reminder to the church that what at first might seem unorthodox and detrimental may, at length, be just what the church needs for revitalization, renewal and, yes, reform.
-historical notes gleaned from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations