I talked today with Hope Morgan Ward, Bishop of the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church about her trip to England to visit historic Methodist sites. She and members of her cabinet were part of a tour in March 2014 that visited London, Oxford, Epworth and Bristol.
In our discussion, she told a story of visiting a remote chapel in northern England.
I came home very, very joyful to be a United Methodist. I have been a United Methodist my whole life. But there was something about particular places, hearing these stories again, standing on these places of holy ground that were spirit-forming for me.
I actually went over early with my mom. We rented a car and went up to Durham in the northeast corner of England. I had read that it was there that Methodism had flourished. It spread so fast. And that there were small Methodist chapels. The oldest of these was near a place called Weardale.
From Durham, we rode into the mountains and across the dales and made our way to Weardale. We found Ireshopeburn church. It was locked. I went up and knocked on the door. Nobody answered. So I went around to a window and looked in the way we do sometimes so we can see inside, and frightened a member of the church who was cleaning. I startled her.
She motioned to us to come back to the door. She opened the door, and Mom and I went in the church. We were able to be in this church where John Wesley had preached 17 times.
There was on the wall a wonderful etching of John Wesley coming in to the Ireshopeburn church. In the etching, Wesley was riding on a horse with lots of people, young and old, surrounding the horse as he rides up to the church.
Underneath is a quotation from his journal, a Tuesday evening in May in which he says “We rode on to Weardale. I had been out of ardor all night and found myself greatly weakened. However, I trusted in the Strong for strength and began to preach to the gathered congregation. I did not stop until I finished my discourse. I did not want for strength, nor did the people want for a blessing.”
That quote was one of the great gifts of the trip for me in realizing the way in which our forebearers pressed on even beyond their strength to receive God’s strength to do this absolutely amazing work.
Ireshopeburn is the site of the High House Chapel, the oldest purpose built Methodist Chapel in the world to have held continuous weekly services since its foundation in 1760.