200 Years of United Methodism
An Illustrated History

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John Wesley

John Wesley (1703-1791). Oil on canvas, painted in Tewksbury, England by an unknown artist in 1771.The father of Methodism, John Wesley, was born in England in 1703, the son of Samuel Wesley, a Church of England clergyman, and his wife, Susanna, who had strong pietist inclinations although she was a convinced member of the Church of England. John Wesley received his education at Oxford University and was ordained a priest of the Church of England.

While John and his brother Charles were at Oxford, they were part of a group often called the Holy Club, whose members met regularly for Bible study, prayer, and self-examination. They shared in the Lord's Supper at least weekly and went forth to visit prisoners and teach poor children. Not content with this ministry at home, John signed up for a stint in General Oglethorpe's new colony of Georgia, where he was to serve as pastor to the colonists and missionary to the Native Americans, although he admitted his chief motive was "the hope of saving my own soul." Charles signed on as the general's secretary.

View of Savannah in Georgia. Engraving by Peter Gordon, London, ca. 1734.The Wesley brothers discovered in America that their faith was flawed. Both of them lacked the God-given courage of the heart that enables persons to be unyielding in their love of God and neighbor but flexible in the way they share with others what they know to be true for themselves. John was unbending as a church leader, in part, perhaps, because he was unsure of his own faith. This rigidity coupled with doubt resulted in John's return to England shortly after Charles had set sail in the same direction.

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