Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
June 8th, 2016 by Joel Watts

Who Gets John Wesley’s bones?

statue of John Wesley in Reynold’s Square, Savannah.

Recently I visited Savannah, Georgia. It is not quite the spiritual home of American methodists, given that Wesley’s trip here was a bust. However, there are several Wesleyan historical markers, such as his statute in Reynold’s Square giving some history of where he lived during the time. He simply did not leave a mark on the city, so much as it became a point of significance once Wesley became who Wesley was.

However, there is at least one living and active connection to John Wesley. It is Christ Church. But here is the kicker. There are two Christ Churches in Savannah, both claiming to be the parish he pastored. There is the building which the Episcopal Church won in litigation, sitting in the historic location where a previous building existed. On this site, both John Wesley and George Whitfield served as rectors to a parish. In 2011, the parish, led by the current rector, left wholesale and bought another building. This is Christ Church Anglican.

When visiting, I had to determine which one I was going to visit. Indeed, which one is actually the parish pastored by Wesley? 87% of the parish that moved to Bull Street, forced out of their historic home, after a protracted fight? Or the new parish that currently inhabits the historic building? I chose Christ Church Anglican.

But, that got me thinking. If The United Methodist Church splits, who gets the bones of John Wesley, Francis Asbury, and Thomas Coke? Do the progressives? The evangelicals? Who gets to claim to be the rightful heir to American Wesleyanism?

What is more is the local congregation. How many will split and force those trying to seek a Sunday morning home to choose between two that carry the history? Which one is the authentic one connected to theology, family, or other milestone? I think of my local congregation, formed in 1804. If it splits, who is the real local congregation first formed in 1804? The history cannot be shared too easily. Perhaps it doesn’t matter to some — and some do not recognize proper Wesleyan theology anyway. But to others, maybe many others, the history of the American people called Methodists as well as those of our local congregations do matter.

Most of us have recognized that some sort of schism is coming. Some even believe it is necessary. Someone, somewhere has started to formulate another plan. But I worry is that we will ask congregations to divide. In somewhat, we will also force a division. If we follow the EC’s example, we will cause a lot of suffering and lose a lot of (our) history. I pray that there is a real way forward that seeks to preserve the connection to the local congregation as well as to our history.

As to the rightful heirs of John Wesley, I believe John Wesley himself sums it up:

Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

4 Responses to “Who Gets John Wesley’s bones?”
  1. Temporal Issue only.

    Assuming a second coming of Christ, are we all going to be thinking, “Gee, remember the good old days, when we use to be the left/right/center wing of the Methodist denomination?” Are there any denominations then? Speaking of dead sects, do the Essenes make the cut? Are Roman Catholics rubbing elbows with Methodists? Are the gay Methodist bishops having tea with the African Methodist bishops?

    If the answer is no, then we are buying into the old doctrine of, “you’re going to hell, I’m going to heaven”, which is REALLY the root of the problem with this whole “gay” issue with the Methodists.

    I prefer to think Jesus will be presiding over a pre-school in heaven. With all the left/right/center denominations as children fighting with each other, and Jesus saying, “time out, use your inside voice”.

    Reminds me of Jesus chiding his disciples, when they were arguing about who Jesus loved best.

    Realistcally, it won’t matter when we’re dead. Bet it doesn’t matter to Wesley. Unless he is more concerned about his legacy, than the big picture.

    On churches, I wonder if the Essenes are thinking, “Man, I wish Qumran was still up and running. Damn Romans”!

    My main regret, will be the possibility of us saying, “Damn lawyers!”

  2. Scott Spencer says

    Well, what about Jacob Albright’s bones? Or Otterbein’s? And why can’t the AME, AMEZ, CME, Wesleyan, or Free Methodist claim them bones too? I mean why is the “UMC” the rightful heir? And your church in 1804… was it ME, MES, or Methodist Protestant eventually? And does that matter? And maybe, just maybe, the Methodists in England are the rightful heirs?

  3. Stephen Burkhart says

    Believe it was a wise Jewish Carpenter/Rabbi that was quoted to say ” Let the dead bury the dead, follow me!” I think Wesley and Whitfield would not be impressed if we spent too much time tracing their history, rather than developing a growing focus on professing Christ to a dying world.

  4. The only bones to be claimed are what was taught and practiced in early Methodism that made it so effective and then apply that to the here and now. Currently, the Wesleyan initiative out of Asbury Seminary, seedbed.com and the New Room Conference seems to be the only one tackling that head on.

Leave a Reply, Please!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: