Reflections from the 2012 Wesley Pilgrimage in England

By Steve Manskar

wesleyan-leadership-reflections-2012-pilgrimageThe following is a collection of reflections from participants in the October 4-14, 2012 Wesley Pilgrimage in England. The pilgrimage is an annual event organized by the General Board of Discipleship. The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry provides scholarships for United Methodist commissioned provisional elders and deacons.

You can learn about the next Wesley Pilgrimage in England here.

As you read the following reflections, you will see that the pilgrimage is a powerful formational experience:

Rev. Christie John
Buckingham, Iowa

I am so grateful for the opportunity to be part of the Wesley Pilgrimage! When I first signed on, I was excited to learn more about the Wesleys, to see the places I had only read about in seminary. I was looking forward to my first trip to Europe and I was incredibly grateful for the scholarship which made this experience financially possible for me. Although I saw the word “pilgrimage” in the title, I didn’t give it too much thought and approached the trip primarily as an educational tour. But as the pilgrimage progressed it became so much more.

I am in my first appointment as full-time solo pastor and it has been both greatly rewarding and extremely challenging. I have sometimes felt overwhelmed and inadequate as a pastor and sometimes wondered if I misheard God’s call to ministry. The Wesley Pilgrimage became sacred time and space for a much-needed conversation with God about my own fears and doubts about the call to ministry.

As we visited the places where John and Charles preached powerfully even as they faced sometimes violent resistance, I felt a deep sense of responsibility and encouragement to carry the message of God’s grace into our world. As I stood in the rooms where John Wesley spent hours in prayer and Charles penned so many hymns, I sensed the Spirit prompting me to rekindle the spiritual disciplines that I had too often let slide in the daily rush of parish life.
Being at the Wesley home in Epworth and reflecting on the leadership and determination of Susannah Wesley reminded me that God has been speaking through strong, capable women throughout the history of the Methodist movement. As I strolled through the healing garden at Epworth and listened to the story of the Methodist free dispensary in London, I recalled again God’s concern and care for the whole person: body, mind and spirit. Hearing fellow pilgrims’ stories and learning about their struggles and victories humbled and reassured me of God’s amazing power and steadfast love.

It can be difficult to know the way forward in parish ministry as our denomination struggles to find its footing. This pilgrimage provided an invaluable look backward to a life-changing movement that was not born through institutional reorganization but through small groups of determined Christ-followers who watched over one another in love. As I walked and conversed and listened to our speakers, leaders and fellow pilgrims, I received spiritual and practical guidance to consider how I might help the disciples of this congregation gather for encouragement and mutual accountability.

Through the Wesley Pilgrimage I was reminded again of the singular grace that John and Charles Wesley experienced and resolutely shared: God’s gift of salvation for the world given in Christ, received by the power of the Spirit and breathed into all creation through love and good works. I am so grateful that God used this pilgrimage to help me better appreciate my Wesleyan heritage and trust in God’s grace to strengthen and work through me. Thank you for a faith-building, truly transforming experience!
Courtney Newman Spear
Vanceburg, Kentucky

When we learned of the Wesley Pilgrimage for 2012 and an opportunity for a scholarship, both Lloyd (my husband) and I were excited. He felt it would be a wonderful experience for me during this year of being ordained as a Deacon, but he also knew it would be a challenge and celebration for me physically. In the four years since being commissioned: I had lost weight and had knee replacements that allowed me to walk unassisted for the first time in around 20 years, but still had some posture and endurance problems that would need to be worked on.

In the time since returning home, we continue to process and discover various areas of impact that the trip had. Of course it was wonderful to see the places that Wesley grew up, lived and preached, and his final home and resting place. There were wonderful reading materials and the journal published for our use was a powerful resource/tool. There cannot be enough said about the programs and the opportunities to talk with and learn from some of the best scholars from both the States and England who spoke and were with us during the trip. We also experienced God and the Holy Spirit in many opportunities to worship together. Finally, there have been some friendships and relationships that we hope to grow and continue - special people who work in God’s vineyard of the Methodist Church (both British and UMC).

Intellectually, emotionally, physically, and spiritually the Wesley Pilgrimage both challenged and blessed me in powerful ways.

Thank you for this opportunity. May God bless ongoing work and future such programs!
Rev. Hyemin Na
Tinley Park, Illinois

John and Charles Wesley. Ah, the Wesley brothers. Especially for a cradle Methodist such as myself, John and Charles Wesley may just as well be disciples #13 and #14. As a fan and beneficiary of their theology and their legacy, I and my husband were thrilled to be part of the 2013 Wesleyan Pilgrimage in England.

In a group of 30 or so clergy and lay, we visited the historical landmarks related to the Wesleys and the early Methodist movement. With each visit, to the Epworth rectory where the Wesley children grew up, to Oxford—the site of their ordination, to the first formal meeting place of the Methodists in Bristol, to the Methodist movement headquarters in the Foundry Chapel of London, I felt the warm and romanticized glow of time peeled away. Instead, the more I learned through lectures, the tours at the sites, the incarnational experience of walking the same cobblestone streets, breathing the English air, seeing and touching--I came face to face with the personalities, quirks, and the humanity of these two beloved leaders.

They faced as many internal conflicts, times of despair and hardship as any next person would in this journey called life. As faithful as they sought to be, and in many ways, were, John and Charles each had faced failures, disappointments and made mistakes. It was no easier adhering to the way of Christ in their day than ours. It was no easier discipling followers of Christ, and it was no easier leading, organizing a Christian movement then than it is today. Yet God made it work, blessed the labor of God’s servants, and brought forth fruit.

The wonderful thing is, the grace of God which propelled these two brothers to serve the way they did, is still available to us today. God is still tangibly at work in our midst just as God moved and breathed new life in and through the early Methodists. This was inspiring and encouraging, all the while humbling.

No longer do the Wesley brothers remain to me an aloof, unattainable example of saintliness; John and Charles, as well as the early Methodists, are now friends and co-workers in the Kingdom of God—human, broken, yet transformed by grace. That gives hope. And hope can be a powerful thing.
Rev. Janice Lancaster
Holland, Michigan

I went on the Wesley Pilgrimage to learn about the Wesleys. I learned about myself. I quit my job the day before the Pilgrimage, and needed God's reassurance desperately. Unlike a vacation or a tour, a pilgrimage is a journey of searching, hoping you will find answers. As you travel, you encounter difficulties and things do not go as you wish, but that is part of the search. What does God want to teach you? What do you need to experience for a new understanding of God and God's movement in the world? For me, the most nourishing part of the Pilgrimage was Holy Communion each morning and evening prayers each night. The morning litany included the phrase, "... and all day long You are working for good in the world." In my search, I learned once again that God wants goodness for me, that God is faithful in tenuous times, and that God will provide all I need for my pilgrimage through life. My soul was deeply blessed by the Wesley Pilgrimage. I hope many people, especially new clergy, will travel on the Pilgrimage to discover what God wants to reveal to them.

I am deeply grateful to the GBHEM for providing the $1000 scholarship. I would not have gone on the Pilgrimage, and especially not this one, had it not been for the grant. I do not yet know how God will use the myriad of things I have learned, but am looking forward to what God reveals.

Thank you both for your generous care of us. You may want to check my blog about Primitive Physick in early December, after I post what I learned on the trip. My professor at MTSO is recommending after the blog is done to make it into a more permanent web page, present my research at MTSO, and then "take my show on the road" to congregations. Very complimentary, but I don't know if I'll have the time. I got a job offer yesterday, but do not think the insurance will be good enough for my husband's complicated health care needs. But there is a sense of peace while I wait for God to reveal my next vocation.

God bless you both richly. If there is anything I can ever do for either of you, please do not hesitate to ask.
Rev. Jim Winkler
Bloomingdale, Ohio

As soon as I signed up for the Wesley Pilgrimage, anticipation began to grow. Overseas travel is new to me, so Steve Manskar’s advance coaching with regard to passports, transportation, itinerary, reading lists, packing tips and the like served to raise the level of expectancy with each passing day. In particular, the required and supplemental reading list was essential to our preparation for pilgrimage, since it helped us pilgrims plunge into the history of the Wesleys’ England through the Heitzenrater book; engage with Wesleyan thought through primary reading of the journals, sermons and hymns; and reflect upon contemporary application of Wesleyan theology, methodology and practice through books by Paul Chilcote, David Lowes Watson, Steve Manskar and others. Finally, the Facebook Group provided a way for pilgrims to connect with one another in advance. By the time I boarded the international flight bound for London, I felt well prepared for and elated with the prospect of 10 days of pilgrimage .

Early arrival on the morning of October 3 allowed for a full day to explore the streets of Salisbury and the Cathedral Close. The sense of antiquity, the street musicians and the European beauty of the city literally thrilled me. Experienced travel advice to stay awake through the first day and go to bed at the regular London time helped overcome any effects of jet lag so that I was rested and ready to begin the pilgrimage by 1 p.m. on October 4. The folder and journal handed out upon arrival were well designed to orient and lead us into the pilgrimage experience. I found the journal book published specially for our 2012 pilgrimage to be strangely heart-warming. With this kind of attention to detail, I knew this adventure was going to be special. The shape of each day – starting with early morning devotional reading based on relevant Scripture passages, journal entries, hymns and prayer; followed by our gathering worship and Eucharist; and ending with Compline in the great Benedictine contemplative tradition – helped give us a real sense of pilgrimage. The lectures, deeply grounded in Wesleyan theology and practice, were without exception challenging and inspiring. I felt in the presence of Wesleyan scholars, masters in the best academic sense with practical application for our contemporary context. The guided tours at each historic location gave us a seasoned glimpse into the heart, mind and practice of the Wesleys and the Methodist Movement they launched. Our particular small group grew very close as we wrestled with the questions and perspectives that confronted us each day. By the luck of the lot (in the best Wesleyan fashion!), our group was blessed by the bond we formed, truly experiencing small group as a means of grace throughout the pilgrimage. The pilgrimage leadership was outstanding – with the organizational and historical mastery of Steve who orchestrated our preparation, travel, housing, food, and immersion in pilgrimage; with the academic, historical and theological mastery of David Lowes Watson who engaged our minds and hearts; and with the incredible hospitality of our hosts and guides who met our every need with grace – as they worked together to provide for a great pilgrimage experience in every conceivable way. Put all this together as a whole pilgrimage and there was for me an almost biblical sense of wonder and awe. How does it get any better than this? There was not one moment of the pilgrimage experience that I did not enjoy and savor.

We have been given all the resources we could need to apply the lessons of our pilgrimage experience to the contexts in which we serve. For me it will be a work in progress, but I now have the leadership team and the small group and the GBOD resources along with pilgrimage notes and books to help me put into practice at least some of what I have learned along the way. The best of all is God is with us.
Rev. John Loeser
Wilson, New York

What I experienced on this pilgrimage was extremely helpful to me in my spiritual formation, and my formation as a pastor on the elder track to ordination. Ever since I took the United Methodist History course in seminary and began learning about the history and the theology of the Wesley brothers, I have been drawn to them and their teachings in an ever increasing way. The Wesley Pilgrimage served as a catalyst to deepen and solidify my belief that Wesleyan Methodism is the Way that God has used to draw me closer to Christ. It has done this in two ways:

First, I am interested in the historical legacy that people of faith have left us to learn from. We visited many of the historical sites where the Wesley brothers lived, worked, and did their ministry for the common people of England. One of the more meaningful sites for me was the New Room in Bristol. I was so impressed by the simplicity of the building in comparison to the cathedrals that we visited. While the New Room is not visually impressive like the cathedrals, its versatile design was what most impressed me. It is a very practical space that allowed for (minus the boxed pews) a variety uses, all for the edification of the people and the glorification of God. I found it to be a very welcoming space, and I imagined myself sitting or standing in that space listening to John or Charles or another exhorter speaking about the joys, the mysteries, and the promises of God. For me there would be nothing about the building to distract me from hearing and receiving these edifying words. This was not the case when I was worshiping in the cathedrals. You see, I was a former building superintendant of a gothic style church, so cathedral architecture intrigues me, and can potentially distract me from giving my full attention to the preacher during worship. That is why I believe I would prefer to worship and receive teaching in a place like the new room.

Second, I find that the longer I am involved in ministry, the more I am drawn into Wesleyan theology. I was so pleased and impressed with the topics of discussion, both in the plenary sessions and in our one on one and small group discussions. I especially found the discussions surrounding the mission of the church being focused on the proclamation of God’s Kingdom to be especially helpful. While I was not necessarily in agreement with everything that was discussed, I found myself challenged to dig deeper into the Scriptures and into John Wesley’s writings to gain new insights into the reality of God’s Kingdom and how we as the Church are carry on the mission of Jesus Christ. I was so drawn into this discussion that I preached on Kingdom of God my first Sunday back in the pulpit, using portions of what I learned on the Pilgrimage in that message. I also found the discussion of the principals of Wesleyan leadership to be extremely helpful, and I briefly outlined those principals to my adult Sunday school class on my first Sunday back.

Overall, I believe that what I learned from my Wesley Pilgrimage experience will not only benefit me and draw me deeper into Christian discipleship, but I believe that my ability to draw the people of my congregation into a deeper faith and a more productive discipleship has been strengthened. I have been, and will continue to tell people that this was the best organized and executed United Methodist event that I have ever participated in. Thank you, leaders, for putting so much into this experience.
Lee & Bonnie Adkins
Middlebury, Vermont

We came to the Wesley Pilgrimage for different reasons than most of the pilgrims. We are not closely involved in the leadership of the church. I think for those who attended it was an excellent foundation occasion. First for the grounding of thoughts around Methodism and the two founding fathers, John and Charles. Not just an educational; exercise but one which has very practical application to their emerging ministry. Especially in current Methodism with questions about national programs which was a good leadership pattern of yesterday but it is a time for the small groups of intimacy of Wesley’s time. It is the key to growth and vitality both local church and individually. We are living in a time of spiritual development as well as social compassion and service. Therefore emphasis on local church small group vitality was excellent and reading David’s book prior to the experience set the practical reason for studying Wesley. David’s contribution is essential. The reading of the Wesley biographies prior to attending made the pilgrimage a field trip of enrichment.

We all should be grateful to the Board of Disciple and Higher Education for their support and contribution, especially your leadership. We know it is a lot of hard work prior and execution.

The Pilgrimage was a thoughtful and spiritual event which gave me encouragement that our church is in good hands and will be in the future. Most of the participate were the age of our grandchildren.

The small group relationships were exceeding essential to the warmth of fellowship. We felt very much a part of its fellowship in spite of the difference in age.

Again thanks are due for all those behind the scenes, from Linda, David, Nicky and all the presenters along the way. It will be one of the highlights of 2012 for us which will echo in our lives for years to come.
Lloyd E. Spear
Vanceburg, Kentucky

In today’s world, we always seem to have high expectations – we want our dinners all to be delicious and nutritious, our entertainment all to be exciting and suspenseful, our relationships all to be meaningful and transforming. All too often, our high expectations diminish when confronted with reality.

What an overwhelming joy, then, when our high expectations are exceeded! The 2012 Wesleyan Pilgrimage brought me such overwhelming joy – it was a transformative journey. To lie down and wake up in sight of the cathedral spire at Salisbury; to sing hymns in harmony in a tiny college chapel as well as Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral; to visit a 14th century library in Oxford and then read from the Wesley’s own books in Epworth and London – my extremely high expectations for this journey were exceeded. I was enfolded in the arms of God and encouraged in my faith by the efforts of men and women 250 years ago who burned to help me understand and know that God loved me, even me.

The Pilgrimage brought a richness to my understanding of the Methodist movement, as much or more so by being and worshipping with other pilgrims than just being in the same places where John and Charles Wesley lived. We saw no colliers or brick makers – but in large towns and small we saw people who were hurting and struggling to find their way in this world, people dealing with disease, and hunger, and hopelessness, people to whom the Wesleys (and us) could offer God’s grace and hope. The caring and the sharing that I saw between and among the pilgrims and the leaders and those we touched were glimpses of the Kingdom, and greatly exceeded my highest expectations. Hallelujah!!
Rev. Loraine Priestley-Smith
Edison, New Jersey

When I decided to be a part of the 2012 Wesley Pilgrimage, I could only imagine what it would be like: the people I would meet; and the places I would see. The pilgrimage exceeded all my expectation.

The scholarship ($1,000) from GBHEM, (which was instrumental in my decision); the welcome and hospitality at Sarum College, and the pin-point precision planning from the moment we met in Salisbury until our departure in London, contributed to a memorable and life-changing experience. To receive a customized journal (with quotes from John Wesley) and a book of some of Charles Wesley’s amazing hymns is a reminder of the richness of our Methodist heritage.

It was simply awesome to begin each day with communal worship, sing some of the “heart-warming” lyrics that were written by Charles Wesley, and to be reminded of the words of Christ “As often as you do this, remember me” as we shared in the Eucharist.

The commitment/dedication of the early Methodists to the spreading of the Gospel was evident in each location. I was left with this challenging question: “What would Sunday morning look like in the local church if today’s Methodists had to endure similar challenges as our ancestors?” Would we? Could we?

The information that was shared by the leaders and guests provided much food for thought. I found the humility of individuals so well versed in Methodism and their willingness to impart their knowledge memorable.

Thanks to Steve Manskar and David Lowes Watson for their contributions in ensuring that so much information was available to the pilgrims; and to Anita Woods for the scholarship. I highly recommend this pilgrimage and pray that it will continue to be available for many, many, more years.
Marlys Mitchell
Buckingham, Iowa

It is interesting how circumstances in life lead to other opportunities. About 20 years ago I researched Suzanna Wesley for a school project I did along with my gifted and talented students. That started an on-going interest in Suzanna and her considerable influence on her family. When I became aware of the Wesley Pilgrimage, my husband insisted in my registering for it. There were times I wasn’t certain that it was intended for laity, but I have concluded that laity experiencing such an opportunity could result in a greater impact on our churches than clergy in making us more aware of where we came from and why.

I can’t even select one thing that was the most meaningful to me on the Pilgrimage. The worship times in the various churches and cathedrals were inspiring, the worship times in the chapel at Sarum College were awesome (especially the songs raised in praise), the healing service for Nicky was moving (something I had never experienced before), and meeting so many people from our group from all over the country and from so many back grounds made it a growth experience in recognizing there are so many leaders in our denomination who desire to reach as many people as possible.

I had not heard much about the Wesley family in the almost 50 years I have been a member of the United Methodist Church, but Pastor Christie and I hope to change that in the near future by introducing the congregation to more of the Wesley philosophy and help us become more accountable disciples.

Thank you for providing such an awesome experience!
Rev. Meg Hegeman
Columbia, Missouri

Thanks to a grant from the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, and continuing education funds from the Missouri Conference, I was able to participate in a Wesleyan Pilgrimage to England at the beginning of October. The trip was organized by the General Board of Discipleship and included 35 United Methodists, clergy and laity, from throughout the United States.

We were there to walk in the footsteps of the founders of the Methodist movement, John and Charles Wesley. We were there to read and reflect on distinctively Methodist theology and leadership. We were there to participate in Wesleyan practices of taking daily communion, beginning and ending the day in prayer, and participating in small groups. We were there to find our place in the story of Methodism.

I’d like to share two particular insights from the experience.

First and foremost I was struck by the amazing courage of the Wesley family and those who joined the early movement to revitalize the Church. Comfort was given to early Methodist preachers such as, “People who are throwing rocks don’t usually have very good aim.” The first preaching house was built without windows so that the mobs couldn’t break them, and pulpits were raised to make it more difficult for them to reach the preacher.

What provoked such violent response? Teaching and preaching that salvation is “by faith, preceded by repentance, and followed by holiness.” The idea that faith in Jesus Christ is not the end, but the beginning of a life striving toward holiness, was a threat to the established church and society as a whole. John Wesley took the words and example of Jesus Christ seriously. Jesus was, is, and ever shall be a threat to the established order. Are we living that courageously?

Secondly, as powerful an experience as the trip was, the greatest gift was our small group. Almost every day, time was allowed for small groups to gather, to reflect, discuss and pray. Most groups met over meal times or talked together on bus rides as well. My group consisted of six people – three men, three women; three over age 45, three under; all with vastly different life experiences. We learned from each other, laughed and cried with each other, wrestled with questions of theology and call, supported each other and experienced true Christian community.

The small group experience was essential to the development of the Methodist movement. Some times we question what this “small group” thing is all about, as if the term itself is confusing. A small group is literally what it sounds like – a group of a small number of people, usually 5 or 6. John Wesley wrote to Richard Morgan that when he went to Oxford, “your son, my brother, myself and one more, agreed to spend three or four evenings in a week together. Our design was to read over the classics, which we had before read in private, …and on Sunday some book in divinity.” That’s a greater time commitment than most of us are able to make, so contemporary groups generally get together once a week. The purpose is connected to my first observation. It’s hard to be courageous alone. Jesus didn’t send disciples out alone. Jesus himself didn’t fulfill his ministry alone. Not only did he call the twelve, but he also had his own small group, Peter, James and John.

In the coming months, we’ll be talking more about how we can become the courageous disciples Jesus calls us to be, and how we can support one another on our Christian journey. My prayer is that each one of us will come to experience the joy of true Christian community.
Rev. Roger Mentzer
Dallastown, Pennsylvania

Epworth, Oxford, Bristol, London, and places in between and along the way… I have dreamed of visiting these spots as a means by which to more fully embrace my theological roots. The Wesley Pilgrimage provided me with the opportunity to go, see, listen, immerse, and breathe deeply of the origins of the Methodist Movement in its earliest stages. I was there… I was really there.

What is more, I had guides along the way, persons who had made it a point to study the life and work John and Charles Wesley. By their companionship, we enjoyed scholars who assured that we connected the dots as the movement was born, rising from the cradle of early decisions and beyond to fuller maturity. Dr. Steve Manskar and Dr. David Lowes Watson were a constant presence, and were careful to help us see how the 18th century birth of a movement teaches us about the life of our 21st century church. Dr. Manskar and his staff were careful to see that our worldly needs were cared for, so that we could simply soak in all that surrounded us.

Along the way, other scholars were invited to join us, who, along with tour guides at each location, offering their special expertise. In addition, fellow pilgrims offered the blessing of companionship, asking questions, joining conversation, and sharing in small group reflection, giving the experience the Wesleyan flavor of Covenant Groups.

It was a rich experience, challenging both head and heart to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit to empower the church to re-engage the movement, now called “United Methodism.”

And now? Now that my dream has come true, what does it mean?

I am committed and convinced that Wesleyan Theology is a living theology that can guide our church (both denomination and local) into the future. The head (theology) of the Wesleys, drives the heart. To see the prison where the Holy Club visited while students at Oxford… to see the streets where John Wesley walked in order to beg money for the poor for Christmas food and clothing, his feet wet from the slush from morning to night… to learn that the earliest structures of Methodism were built as flexible “preaching houses,” where a school could meet, and a medical dispensary… That is the way of connection, of building relationships. We have done this… we can do this… we must do this.

No matter what you may think of our denominational purpose stamen: “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world…” discipleship is where it is at. Are we followers of Jesus or not? How DO we, with the help of God, draw more disciples, and how DO we, with the help of God, grow to become better disciples? The birth and growth of Covenant Groups, after the Wesleyan model has so much to teach us.

We have what we need, in our head and in our heart. May God’s Holy Spirit give us power to be as faithful in our day as the Wesley’s were in their day.