By Sybil Davidson
Dr. John Beyers, pastor of Conyers First UMC, had the Methodist history trip-of-a-lifetime last month as he preached and served Holy Communion at Wesley Memorial Methodist Church in Epworth, England.
In a visit to England that included participation in the 2013 meeting of the World Methodist Council, of which Beyers is a member, Beyers was invited to preach and administer the sacrament at a joint service of Wesley Memorial Methodist and St. Andrew’s Parish (Church of England) in Epworth.
Epworth, England was home to Samuel and Susanna Wesley and their children – including John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, his brother Charles Wesley, and their eight surviving siblings.
Samuel Wesley served as rector of St Andrew’s Parish and his family lived in the church rectory there – now owned by the World Methodist Council and referred to as “The Old Rectory.” Also in Epworth, Wesley Memorial Methodist was built in 1889, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of John Wesley’s death in 1791.
As part of his commitment through World Methodist Council, Beyers is a trustee of The Old Rectory in Epworth currently overseeing the restoration of the 1709 Queen Anne style structure.
Thrilled to preach at the special service for the two churches, he asked if it would be possible to use the historic “Wesley” Chalice as he administered the sacrament.
This chalice, which is kept locked away at St. Andrew’s, was used by Samuel, John and Charles Wesley. It was a gift to the church in 1706.
The present vicar at St. Andrew’s church, also a trustee of The Old Rectory, was delighted for Beyers to use the chalice. In the service another piece of history unfolded.
“What has rarely happened is for the chalice to sit on the altar table used by the Wesleys,” said Beyers. “After a Victorian-era restoration, the old wooden altar was replaced by a larger, more ornate altar. The Wesley-era altar was sold and used in a pub before be recovered and placed in Wesley Memorial Church in 1889.”
For the first time in anyone’s memory, Beyers placed the chalice on the storied altar that now stands in Wesley Memorial Methodist.
“I couldn't believe the number of Methodists in Epworth who have never seen the chalice,” said Beyers.
Keeping with the theme of his historic journey, Beyers literally followed in the footsteps of Wesley at another location. In St. Andrew’s church-yard he stood in an unusual place where John Wesley once preached to hundreds – on his father’s grave!
In a conflict with the vicar of St. Andrew’s that ended with the vicar slamming the church door on John Wesley on Sunday June 6, 1742, Wesley stood on his father’s grave where he proceeded to preach to the largest crowd ever assembled in Epworth.
“I stood on top of Samuel Wesley’s grave!” said Beyers.
Beyers has been attending trustees meetings of the Old Rectory since 2011.
“Through the gracious support of Conyers First, I have attended three trustees meetings each year since my appointment to the board of trustees,” said Beyers.
An avid Methodist historian, Beyers’ primary interest in The Old Rectory is as a vehicle to tell Susanna Wesley’s story. Although she is known as the “Mother of Methodism” by some, her story of faith can stand apart from her husband and children’s stories.
“We have not fully told the story of Susanna Wesley, a heroine of the christian faith in her own right” Beyers explained. “She was well educated, she was progressive for her day, she had 19 children of which 10 survived (three boys and seven girls). She took equal time tutoring her boys and her girls."
When the rectory caught fire in 1709, it is thought to have been Susanna Wesley's ingenuity that led the crowd to form a human ladder to reach young John Wesley. He narrowly escaped causing his mother to refer to him as a “brand plucked from the burning”.
"After John was rescued from the fire, it is said she spent extra time with him believing that God had a special calling on his life," said Beyers. "Her influence is the root of John Wesley's belief that women had a role in church life and her teaching informed his anti-slavery stance. She is the reason why I am so passionate about being a part of the rectory’s historic restoration.”
Beyers invites you to become a Friend of The Epworth Old Rectory and assist in the ongoing restoration of the birthplace of Methodism. Log on to the website and read about the restoration and the recent discovery of a shoe hidden in a bricked over cupboard for more than 300 years. Could it have belonged to Samuel or Susanna?”
To learn more about The Old Rectory and learn more about the home and its most famous occupants, and to become a Friend of The Epworth Old Rectory visit http://www.epwortholdrectory.org.uk/.