Skip to content


July 25, 2012

We Methodists have a very special heritage in John Wesley’s story of an experience that changed his life. In 1738, John, an ordained priest in the Church of England, had just returned to London, discouraged and depressed after two years of a failed mission to Savannah, Geogia, in the American colonies. On Wednesday, May 24, 1738, he was in London – and here are his own words from his Journal for that day:

“In the evening I went very unwillingly to a [Moravian] society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter to nine while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.

“I began to pray with all my might for those who had in a most especial manner despitefully used me and persecuted me. I then testified openly to all there what I now felt in my heart.”

And the next day, in his Journal, he continued,
“Being again at St. Paul’s in the afternoon, I could taste the good word of God in the anthem which began, ‘My song shall be always of the loving kindness of the Lord . . .”

It was that heart-warming experience that changed his preaching and changed England. His Methodist Societies multiplied in villages and towns all over England. When his detractors prevented him from preaching in the churches, he began to preach outdoors. And Methodist Societies spread in the colonies. In Baltimore, the Lovely Lane Methodist Meeting house was built in 1774, at what is now 206 East Redwood Street, near present Mechanics Hall. Ten years later on December 24, 1784, with Wesley’s approval, eighty-three of the American Methodist itinerant preachers met in the Lovely Lane Meeting House for the famous Christmas Conference creating a new denomination, called the Methodist Episcopal Church, with Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury as co-superintendents – who later assumed the titles of Bishop. In 1786 the Lovely Lane congregation moved to nearby Light Street, and in 1884, 1½ miles north on St. Paul Street, the large First Methodist Episcopal Church was built, in a Romanesque style with a tall square bell tower all in gray granite. It is today known as the Lovely Lane United Methodist Church, the “Mother Church of American Methodism.” [The “United” comes from the 1968 merger of the Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren Churches.]

John Wesley’s heart-warming experience is still key for Methodists. It is the reason our Methodist emblem has the tall red flame alongside the cross. It reminds us of God’s flaming presence within each of us and gives each of us the charge to “wash more feet.”

Loren Bullock
November 21, 2011

BACKGROUND:  John Wesley in Savannah 1736-1737

In his Journal, in May 1738, John Wesley refers to “those who had in a most especial manner despitefully used me and persecuted me.” This undoubtedly refers to the happenings in Savannah that forced him to leave to return to England at the end of 1737. They were clearly on his mind when he went to the meeting in Aldersgate Street. Here is what happened, much of which he described in his Journal.

In Savannah, Wesley was to be a missionary to the native Americans and pastor of the Savannah Church of England parish. It was a difficult assignment. Wesley’s stiff high churchmanship met with little success with the native Americans and also antagonized the local parish. During the four-month voyage from England to Savannah (October 17, 1735 – February 8, 1736), Wesley became romantically involved with Sophia Hopkey who was returning to Savannah on the same ship. On the advice of a Moravian minister in whom he confided, Wesley broke off the relationship with Sophia who subsequently married a William Williamson. But that was not the end of his involvement with Sophia.

In Savannah, Sophia of course was one of Wesley’s parishioners. Things came to a head when Wesley refused Sophia the sacrament of Holy Communion, but would not publish his reasons, thus marring her reputation in the community. Sophia and her new husband filed suit, and a warrant was issued against Wesley for defaming Sophia in public without due cause. That Sophia was the niece of the Savannah’s chief magistrate, Thomas Causton, probably contributed to the action. Wesley was arrested and brought before a bailiff, but believing the matter to be ecclesiastical, Wesley did not acknowledge the court’s power. Wesley appeared before several courts, and when Causton indicated that he would continue charges, Wesley made it known that he intended to return to England. Williamson joined in raising charges against Wesley to prevent him from leaving the colony, but on November 3, 1737, starting before dawn, Wesley managed to escape by walking four days with three other men the forty miles to Beaufort , South Carolina, then getting a boat to Charleston, South Carolina, where he took a ship on November 22, 1737, arriving in England a little over two months later on February 1, 1738.

No wonder that he was discouraged and depressed when he dropped in at Aldersgate three months later in May.

From → Uncategorized

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: