As a United Methodist, a Protestant branch of Christianity, the one thing I was told before going on my trip to London was that I must go on the John Wesley tour. After being told about 10 times, all from different members of my church, I decided that I would make this journey a priority once I got to London. However, let me take a step back – for those who are unfamiliar with Methodism, Methodism was founded by John Wesley, an Oxford University graduate and an Anglican (Church of England) minister. The name Methodist actually came from a bit of a taunt his fellow classmates and Oxford used to tease him with; while at Oxford, he led a group of students in what was called the “Holy Club”, where they took communion every Sunday, fasted twice a week, and even visited those in jail to read scripture to them. Since religion was not much of a thing on campus at the time, Wesley’s classmates used to complain that he and his group were so “Methodical” in the approach to religion. Later on, that name morphed into Methodists and remained attached to John Wesley for the rest of his days.
Once I landed in London, I decided to do all of the run-of-the-mill tourist things first – I went to Tower Bridge (often confused with London Bridge), Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, and even the British Museum. However, I knew that nobody on my trip would be interested in going to old Methodist landmarks with me, so I saved this journey for the later part of my trip. After about three weeks in London, I decided to finally start my Methodist journey. My first stop was Wesley’s Chapel and John Wesley’s old home, located on City Road in London. Founded in 1778 by John Wesley, it was the first Methodist church to be built for the purpose of Holy Communion. Today, the building is still used for church services but it also home to the Wesley Museum, located in the lower level of the church. The museum holds artifacts from Wesley’s lifetime, as well as other historical items that hold relevance to the Methodist church as it is now. After exiting the museum, I was able to see John Wesley’s tomb, which was surprisingly big for a man who was quite humble. It was rather disappointing, however, to be forced to take in this sight with the view and loud sounds of construction in the background.
Besides the Museum and Wesley’s house, the other Methodist landmark I went to is a lesser known one and one that is quite easy to miss if you’re not looking for it. Right by Postman’s Park (made famous by the play and movie Closer) and the Museum of London is the site of Aldersgate. Aldersgate is a significant landmark because this is where John and his brother Charles felt the spirit of God move them in a way it had not before. Because of this experience, John Wesley took the steps needed to start the Methodist church in Britain and the United States. Being able to see these landmarks in person gave me time to reflect on my religious beliefs and my own experiences as a Christian. It was quite moving and I am glad to have experienced it.
For more information on the Contemporary London, United Kingdom Program visit the MCompass page.