Pilgrimage to England highlights what Wesleyan movement ‘is, was, and can be’

August 05, 2014

By: Amanda Willis

Rev. Susan Mullin recently asked members of her congregation to pray each day before arriving at an upcoming ecological day camp that her church, Faith United Methodist in Saint Anthony, is involved with. It’s a request that she wouldn’t have thought to make just a month earlier.

But a recent Wesleyan pilgrimage to England reinforced to her the importance of being intentional in our spiritual lives—and not just when we come together as a large group for worship or mission projects but as part of our everyday routines.

“The importance of intention…how we think about who we are as Christians and how God is acting in our lives…is something to consider before we come together,” said Mullin.

She is not alone in discovering new ways to put Wesleyan teachings into practice. At least once every few years since 2003, United Methodists from across the connection have gathered in England for a 10-day spiritual journey into the lives and teachings of John and Charles Wesley. This year, six Minnesota Conference clergy made the pilgrimage to study and practice the Wesleyan method alongside 30 others from around the globe.

Late last month, Revs. Mullin, Laurie Boche, Lynda Ellis, Steven Manskar, Ruth Phelps, and Victoria Rebeck visited Epworth (the Wesleys’ birthplace), Oxford (where the Wesleys led the ‘Holy Club’), Bristol (home of Methodist societies and class meetings), London (center of British Methodism), and Salisbury (home to a vital Methodist congregation once served by Francis Asbury). The trip was arranged through the General Board of Discipleship, for which Manskar works, and the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, for which Rebeck works.

Beyond visiting the physical spaces that the Wesleys occupied more than 250 years ago, the group developed a keen understanding for what John and Charles lived and preached.

“We were immersed into what the Wesleyan movement is, was, and can be,” said Boche, pastor at Hope United Methodist Church in Duluth. “Not only was this trip for our personal holiness, but also for our congregations.”

The teachings, led by Manskar and Rev. Paul Chilcote of Ashland Theological Seminary, were the highlight of the trip for Mullin.

“I went to find out what it means to be a Methodist, but what I found out through the pilgrimage was…what it meant to be a Christian,” she said. “Just like in Philippians 2:5, ‘Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,’ it is about the love we have in us that was also in Christ Jesus, and really wanting to be better Christians and better people—that was the turning point for me.”

Manskar has led eight pilgrimages to England since 2003. He helps bring the United Methodist tradition to life through his teachings.

“Very few are aware of more important events, especially the development of the small groups, known as ‘class meetings,’ and the lay pastoral leadership of the class leaders and others that were the engine of Methodism through the latter half of the 18th and most of the 19th centuries,” he said. To this day, small groups remain one of the defining practices and most effective systems for disciple-making in the United Methodist Church.

Despite the fact that centuries have passed since the Wesleys began the Methodist movement, Boche says that their practices and teachings are just as relevant today as they were back then.

In fact, she’s already started looking at small groups in a different way since returning from the trip and wants to make them more discipleship-based. She also plans to offer a morning prayer service every week to help members of her congregation lead a more devotional life.

“We need to get our passion back and light our fires,” she said. “We need to find our personal holiness and go out and do things that are backed with spirituality. [Methodism] fits with our world today as much as it did 250 years ago.”

Boche said that throughout the trip, it became clear how the Minnesota Conference’s gospel imperatives of reaching new people, growing in love of God and neighbor, and healing a broken world align with the traditional Wesleyan teachings.

“The gospel imperatives are what the Wesleys were all about,” Boche said. “If you grow in spirituality and reach new people, you can heal a broken world. The connectional piece came through…they all work in concert with one another.”

Two pilgrimage participants from the Minnesota Conference received $1,000 scholarships through the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry to help offset the cost of the pilgrimage. Scholarships are also offered through the Minnesota Conference.

Next year’s pilgrimage is scheduled to take place July 13-23. Watch the General Board of Discipleship’s website for more information about that scheduled trip.

Amanda Willis is communications associate for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

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