We studied in Birmingham and Oxford, and those sites served as hubs from which we visited numerous historic sites. One such site is pictured above. It is the tomb of John Wesley’s father, Samuel, just outside St. Andrew’s Parish Church, Epworth. Samuel was the rector of the Parish Church during the Wesley children’s childhood. It was at Epworth that the rectory burned, and the legendary, if not apocryphal saving of a young Jacky Wesley as a “brand plucked from the burning” took place.
Of all the things I saw during my time in England, nothing hit me so emotionally as this. I didn’t expect it. The abbreviated story goes something like this. John’s message of reform to the Anglican Church, and his methodical approach to living a life of faith, while finding favor with commoners and the masses, did not go over so well with the establishment. So much a threat was he, that the Church banned him from preaching in any of the pulpits across the land. No greater injury could there have been to him than to have his home parish do the same. But, just outside the Parish Church lay his father’s tomb – property of the family. And here, we have this historic portrait of John, without a pulpit, standing upon his father’s tomb to preach the Good News. It is upon the legacy of his father he himself now stood.
It’s a stirring account that grabbed me. I was reminded of those giants upon whose shoulders I stood – including my mom and dad – my family and friends – and it was in that moment I was reminded that no one’s vocation is theirs alone. It belongs to the network of all those life influences paving the way.
Now, here’s the cool part. In two weeks I’m going back to England. It’ll be a quick tour of the country, with all the major Methodist historic sites a part of the itinerary. And while I would prefer to have much more time at various parts of the tour than others, I was thrilled to see St. Andrew’s, Epworth on the itinerary. Because this time, when I get there, standing beside me will be my own father.
And I wonder if the moment will grab him as it did me – and if he’ll reflect upon the giants upon whose shoulders he has stood as he sought to live out God’s call for his life. To stand there with him will be, I suspect, one of those “circle of life” moments I feel sure I’ll long cherish just as I do the first time I stood there.