Celebrate but don't canonise Wesley, says Methodist leader

Christians should celebrate the 300th birthday of John Wesleyand then move on, said the leader of Britain's Methodists yesterdayduring a service marking the anniversary of the Church's founder atLincoln Cathedral.

The Rev Ian White, President of the British MethodistConference, said in his sermon at the ecumenical service for JohnWesley - born on 17 June 1703 - that the anniversary "is aboutcelebration and thanksgiving of a life, but not about canonisation.We mark the birthday and then look forward."

In a meditation on Grace, the President went to say thatChurches and other organisations must be prepared to be continuallyrenewed in order to thrive: "That involves a letting go of some ofthe elements we cherish to embrace the new. We are being remade andthe best is yet to be."

Grace challenges the powerful in society - whether nations orchurches - to look out for the less powerful. He warned againstpowerful nations that exploit the poorer one and deny them Jubilee.And he also warned powerful churches not to ignore the contributionof smaller ones.

More than 1,600 people attended the service at LincolnCathedral, which was broadcast live on the world wide web by BBCRadio Lincolnshire. More than 50 guests representing MethodistChurches across the globe took part in the celebration, as well ascivic and ecumenical guests from Lincolnshire and acrossBritain.

John Wesley was born on 17 June 1703 in Epworth, Lincolnshire,the son of the local Anglican rector. He went on to be ordained inthe Church of England himself. He was the founder of the Methodistmovement, and during his life travelled more than 250,000 miles andpreached over 45,000 sermons. Last year the BBC included Wesley inthe 100 Greatest Britons.

The Methodist Church is today the largest Free Churchdenomination in Britain, with more than 320,000 members attendingaround 6,100 churches. It is governed by the annual MethodistConference that was first established by John Wesley. There aremore than 33 million members of the Methodist Church worldwide.

Fuller extract from the sermon by the Rev Ian White,President of the Methodist Conference, at the national service ofcelebration for the life of John Wesley, Lincoln Cathedral, 17 June2003:

"Today is an occasion for celebration. As we give thanks for thebirth of John Wesley 300 years ago we celebrate the preacher,leader, founder of Methodism, writer, evangelist, entrepreneur. Thelist is almost endless. Earlier today, along with our internationalvisitors, the Vice President and I visited Epworth Rectory - theplace of his birth here in Lincolnshire.

Writing in his Journal of his experience on 24 May, 1738 Wesleyalso reflects on those formative years and those responsible forhis nurture. It was a time of tension and care, education andsocial commitment. Today, we recognise a leader whose ministryimpacted upon both church and nation, which is a matter ofhistorical record. Today, however, is not only a denominationaloccasion. For John Wesley belongs to the Universal Church and tothe people of these Islands. But he is also a person whoseinfluence and ministry reached out across the world - he became aninternational figure as the presence of the World Churchrepresentatives indicates. Today is about celebration andthanksgiving of life but not about canonisation. We mark thebirthday but then look forward.

In his Journals and Sermons the word 'Grace' is a regularfeature. A gift from God, a power to change lives and renew life.Throughout his life the free gift of God's Grace was an emphasiswhich took the outsider from a sense of rejection to being a personof worth. Through the changed person came the changed society. Agift from God which changed a church from a narrowness of vision toa breadth of life that proclaimed acceptance for all. For all forall was a constant theme.

A grace which opens up new life and restores human dignity is amessage not confined to the 18th Century but relevant to the 21st.A gift which brings, value, hope and new beginnings. A wholenesswhich for Wesley was grounded in the work of the evangelist and thesacramentalist. We diminish the grace if we separate the two orallow them to become party matters. We need to hold evangelism andthe sacraments as one.

A grace for the individual which also reaches out to the widercommunity. From a changed person to a changed community. God'sGrace for all challenges the powerful as the Gospel reading remindsus. Grace for all challenges the powerful nation which exploits thepoorer one and denies them Jubilee; the powerful church whichignores the contribution of a poorer one. Grace is based not onstrength or numbers or influence. God's Grace challengesnationalism and denominationalism. The grace that exposes racism,the exploitation of the asylum seeker or international conflict. Asheirs of Wesley who worked for justice for the slave, education forthe poor and care for those in need we too care called to continuethat work within our modern context.

A grace which is continuing to work amongst the people. TheGrace we share is constantly working amongst us - we are being madenew. That involves a letting go of some of those elements wecherish to embrace the new. As a church, a nation or internationalfamily we cannot be tied into the past or to a previous generation.We cannot live on the faith and experience of others. God's Gracemoves onwards and invites us to respond to the movement. Aroundthis nation and others are signs of the new life of the People ofGod at work in the world. We are being remade and the best is yetto be.

We celebrate a life; we share in the continuing work of Godsgrace. Give thanks, reflect upon it for ourselves and the world weshare and then move on. You each represent the gift of grace - Godto you, you to one another and to the wider world. What a movementfor change and the work of God's Kingdom. Amazing Grace - forAll."

Views from Lincoln Cathdedral

Read the full Order ofService from Lincoln Cathedral

More information on the 300th anniversary of the birthof John Wesley