16 May 2013

New £1.4m Museum of Methodism to open in London

A museum telling the story of Methodism's immense influence on Britain and the world is opening in central London on Saturday 25th May.

Situated in the crypt of the "Cathedral of Methodism", Wesley's Chapel, the Museum of Methodism promises to take visitors on a journey of spiritual discovery. 

It is a project that has brought together of some of the UK's finest craftsmen and storytellers.

The architects, John McAslan & Partners, and the designers, Barker Langham, came straight from transforming King's Cross station and the Royal Opera House.

BBC presenter, Huw Edwards, narrates the museum's seven-minute audio-visual presentation, and the latest technology, including tablet computers, provides interactive access to major archival documents, such as John Wesley's sermons and Charles Wesley's hymns. 

The museum is pioneering the use of heritage to further the Church's mission. In the telling of Methodism's dynamic responses to poverty and social ills, it hopes to fire faith in our time.

Three permanent exhibitions will be ready for the official opening.

"The Warmed Heart" tells the story of John Wesley's conversion. His Field Bible is one of the objects on display in a contemplative space. 

"Mr Wesley's New Chapel" traces the history of Wesley's Chapel using a series of maps of Finsbury and Islington, the earliest of which dates to 1746.

"Connecting the Connexion" illustrates John's Wesley's visionary organisational system of societies, classes and bands. Exhibits include a range of membership tickets and a print of Francis Asbury whose enthronement as a bishop in the United States sealed Methodism's separation from the Church of England.

Three more exhibitions will open in the autumn at the end of the second and final phase of the museum's development. 

"Speaking of God and Faith" will demonstrate how John Wesley exploited advances in printing and a much improved road network to share the gospel. 

"World Parish" will illustrate the spread of Methodism around the world, while  "Compassionate Mission" will highlight the social and charitable work done by Methodists over the years.  A database of all known missionaries is in progress.

In addition to the exhibitions, there is an examination of the hagiography that grew up around John Wesley and a kitsch Ceramics Collection made up of hundreds of mugs, plates and John Wesley figurines.

The minister in charge of Wesley's Chapel and the Museum of Methodism is the Revd Leslie Griffiths, a Labour peer and broadcaster. Lord Griffiths said the museum had been completely renewed: "Wesley's Chapel is to the 70 million Methodists spread around the world what Canterbury Cathedral is to Anglicans and the Vatican to Roman Catholics," he said. "Our new museum will release a compelling story from its chronological and denominational wraps and allow something of the genius and power which brought it to birth to touch and inspire our contemporary world. And that's why we've turned to world-renowned experts to advise, co-ordinate, design and build this amazingly beautiful facility."

Bishop Sundo Kim, the founder Kwanglim Methodist Church in South Korea, will offer prayers during the special service to mark the opening next week. His congregation of 85,000 has donated £630,000 to the project. "Methodism didn't arrive in Korea until 1885 - the latest wave of a spiritual tide that began its rise in London over a hundred years before that," he said. "There's a simple reason why we've invested seriously in this new museum. The story it tells of the power and the grace of God released through the ministry of John and Charles Wesley is our story too. It's what shaped our identity and challenges us to go on doing God's work in our own day." 

The BBC's Huw Edwards said: "This is a great project and I'm delighted to be associated with it."

The museum's full-time curator, Christian Dettlaff, is assisted day-to-day by a team of 50 volunteer stewards. He said the museum did not presume that visitors would be Methodist or Christian: "Its clean lines, its surprising space, the 'object-led' nature of its displays, the economy and style of its presentation - all these features will, in the fullness of time, generate their own narrative.  It's a thoroughly modern museum."

Carole Merriman, a steward in the museum, summed up the excitement: "I am really looking forward to seeing how the story of City Road and early Methodism is going to be told in a new, inspiring and more accessible way."


1. For more information contact Tracey Smith or the Rev Jennifer Potter by email administration@wesleyschapel.org.uk  or phone 020 7253 2262.  

2. Opening hours are 10:00-16:00 Monday to Friday, then after the Sunday service until 13:45.

3.  The money has come from the following sources:

- Kwanglim Methodist Church, £630,000

- Methodist Church in Britain, £123,500

- Wesley's Chapel and Leysian Mission funds, £100,000.

- The Laing Family Trust, £60,000

- Joseph Rank Trust, £50,000

- London Methodist District, £50,000

- Garfield Western Foundation, £25,000

- Jerusalem Trust, £20,000

- Allchurches Trust, £10,000

- Other, £10,000

Phase Two of the work will cost approximately £400,000. 

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