The Old Rectory

The Old Rectory

The Old Rectory in Epworth, Lincolnshire is a Queen Anne style building, rebuilt after a fire in 1709, which has been completely restored and is now the property of the British Methodist Church, who maintain it as a museum. It is the site of supposed paranormal events that occurred in 1716, while the Wesley family was living in the house.[1][2][3] The rectory was home to the Reverend Samuel Wesley, his wife Susanna and their 19 children,[4] one of whom, John Wesley, grew up to become a founder of the Methodist Church

rectory fire which occurred on 9 February 1708, when Wesley was five years old, left an indelible impression. Some time after 11:00 pm, the rectory roof caught on fire. Sparks falling on the children’s beds and cries of “fire” from the street roused the Wesleys who managed to shepherd all their children out of the house except for John who was left stranded on an upper floor.[9] With stairs aflame and the roof about to collapse, Wesley was lifted out of a window by a parishioner standing on another man’s shoulders. Wesley later used the phrase, “a brand plucked out of the fire”, quoting Zechariah 3:2, to describe the incident

Bunhill Fields Burial Ground is the last final resting place for an estimated 120,000 bodies. The site has a long history as a burial ground, but is most significant for its Nonconformist connections.

These date from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries with the burial of prominent people including William Blake, Daniel Defoe, John Bunyan and Susannah Wesley.

Five years ago, I was involved in a Quaker-Methodist dialogue event at Woodbrooke, in which a third of the participants identified as Quaker, a third as Methodist, and a third had an active involvement in both communities. Over the past two hundred and fifty years, in Britain and globally, Quakers and Methodists have interacted, intermingled, and inter-influenced one another. This relationship has not always been a comfortable one, but it has often been significant. Why is this?
These two groups emerged within early modern Britain: the Quakers, during the mid-seventeenth century; and the Methodists, during the mid-eighteenth century. Both were charismatic Christian renewal movements that achieved rapid growth due to the vigorous public preaching campaigns of itinerant ministers. Both were condemned for religious enthusiasm, were regarded as a threat to social order, and were accused of being Catholics in disguise. Each adopted a name that was originally used as a term of abuse by their opponents.
Because Methodism began as a renewal movement within the Church of England, it differed from traditional Quaker faith and practice in a number of significant ways. These included the presence of an ordained clergy, a commitment to the outward sacraments, expressive and emotional programmed worship, Scripture as the primary religious authority, and the importance of the ecumenical creeds. However, if we look at the words of John Wesley (1703-1791), it is possible to observe convictions that fit well with a range of historic Quaker concerns and emphases. I have identified seven examples that reflect the close connection between Quakers and Methodists, each illustrated by a short passage from Wesley’s writings.
God’s love is unconfined, so salvation is available to all:
“How freely does God love the world! While we were yet sinners, “Christ died for the ungodly.” While we were “dead in our sin,” God “spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all.” And how freely with him does he “give us all things!” Verily, free grace is all in all! The grace or love of God, whence cometh our salvation, is free in all, and free for all.” Sermon 128, Free Grace, 1740
 
Real transformation is possible in this life, so our lives can reflect God’s love:
“By salvation I mean not barely according to the vulgar notion, deliverance from hell, or going to heaven, but a present deliverance from sin, a restoration of the soul to its primitive health, its original purity, a recovery of the divine nature, the renewal of our souls after the image of God, in righteousness and true holiness, in justice mercy and truth.” A Farther Appeal to Men of Reason and Religion, 1745
War is evil and an example of human sin:
“And surely all our declamations on the strength of human reason, and the eminence of our virtues, are no more than the cant and jargon of pride and ignorance, so long as there is such a thing as war in the world. Men in general can never be allowed to be reasonable creatures, till they know not war any more. So long as this monster stalks uncontrolled, where is reason, virtue, humanity? They are utterly excluded; they have no place; they are a name, and nothing more.” The Doctrine of Original Sin, 1757 
Slavery is evil and an example of human sin: 
“Give liberty to whom liberty is due, that is, to every child of man, to every partaker of human nature. Let none serve you but his own act and deed, by his own voluntary action. Away with all whips, all chains, all compulsion. Be gentle toward all men; and see that you invariably do with everyone as you would he should do unto you.”Thoughts Upon Slavery, 1773
 
Social justice and acts of mercy are the essential fruits of faith:
 
“Do you not know that God entrusted you with that money (all above what buys necessities for your families) to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to help the stranger, the widow, the fatherless; and, indeed, as far as it will go, to relieve the wants of all mankind? How can you, how dare you, defraud the Lord, by applying it to any other purpose?” Sermon 126, The Danger of Increasing Riches, 1772 
There should be toleration in matters of belief and conscience:
“Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.” Sermon 39, The Catholic Spirit, 1755 
Creation is good; God loves all creatures, therefore, so should we: 
“If the creator and Father of every living thing is rich in mercy towards all; if he does not overlook or despise any of the works of his own Hands, if he desires even the meanest of them to be happy according to their degree – how comes it to pass that such a complication of evils oppresses, yea, overwhelms them?” Sermon 60, The Great Deliverance, 1782 
During the eighteenth century, relations between Quakers and Methodists were cool in principle, but rather warmer in practice. John Wesley, being the good Anglican churchman, was highly critical of the sectarian dimensions of the Quaker faith, especially its form of worship, its rejection of the sacraments, its quietism, and its willing acceptance of women as ministers. These views may also reflect his family’s Puritan lineage. However, Wesley maintained good relations with individual Quakers, some of whom provided financial support for his philanthropic works. He also drew on Robert Barclay’s Apology, when developing his arguments against the Calvinist doctrine of predestination, and on the writings of Anthony Benezet, in his anti-slavery works. The synergies between the two traditions went beyond mutual cooperation. A group calling themselves the ‘Quaker Methodists’ developed in Cheshire in the early nineteenth century. They combined Quaker practices such as unprogrammed waiting worship, plain speech and dress, non-sacramentalism and the rejection of a paid ministry, with Methodist class and band meetings, a circuit system and a preaching plan. Over time, however, the Quaker influence weakened, and the group merged into the Independent Methodist movement.
During the eighteen hundreds, within North America in particular, the impact of the Wesleyan revival on Friends was to prove more significant and divisive. At this time, many Quakers moved towards an Evangelical Protestant position. It is said that, for those Friends who felt that their Quaker communities had lost spiritual vitality, the expressive and emotional aspects of Methodist worship, along with its strong commitment to social reform, seemed inherently attractive. In many ways, the Hicksite-Orthodox schism, and the Gurneyite-Wilburite separation which fractured the Quaker family in America, were fuelled by disagreements over the compatibility of Protestant Evangelicalism with the Quaker way. Gurneyite Friends, who have incorporated a number of Wesleyan emphases into their faith and practice, inherited a strong missional imperative from their Methodist cousins. Today, as a result, it is this expression of Quakerism that has grown and spread most widely, accounting for a significant majority of Friends in the world.
In view of these long-standing connections and interrelationships, metaphorically speaking, I would suggest that George Fox and John Wesley have been close spiritual bedfellows for over two hundred and fifty years. It will be interesting to see how this relationship develops in the future.

Epworth, Lincolnshire, is located on the ‘Isle of Axholme’: higher ground in a landscape of canals and dykes, in keeping with the Dutch style of the town’s post- office building.

The Reverend Samuel Wesley became Anglican rector of Epworth in 1695, and also nearby Wroot in 1722. Here his wife, Susanna, bore him 19 children, although only 10 survived to adulthood, including three sons, Samuel Jr, John and Charles.

Susanna educated all her children diligently and instilled in them the methodical approach that would later characterise her sons’ approach to religion. John later served as his father’s curate in Wroot.

When he returned to Epworth in 1742, now an itinerant preacher, John found a religious society already established, and came back to visit and preach every other year until 1790. In 1742, excluded from the parish church, John famously preached outside it, from his father’s tomb.

Also nearby
Within 5 miles around Epworth are several villages where John Wesley preached and which are featured in his journal. These are Owston Ferry, Haxey and Wroot where Wesley was curate. Gainsborough Old Hall is another site where Wesley once preached and is situated 12 miles away.

Sites in Epworth

The Old Rectory

Kilham Memorial Chapel

St Andrew’s Church and Tomb of Samuel Wesley

Wesley Memorial Methodist Church

The founder of Methodism was brought up as a staunch Anglican, but cherished the dissenting traditions on both sides of his family. His grandfather, John Wesley or Westley, was a Puritan supporter of Parliament who was expelled from his Dorset living after the restoration of Charles II. This John’s son, Samuel, was educated as a nonconformist, but when he went up to Oxford, he explored his talent for writing and his misgivings about Dissenters. Surprisingly, he considered them unduly frivolous. He became a Church of England curate in London, where he met and married Susanna Annesley, one of the twenty-five children of a prominent Puritan divine, known as ‘the St Paul of Nonconformity’. Spirited and intellectual, she too had moved away from Dissent.

In 1695 Samuel became rector of Epworth, a remote little town in the Isle of Axholme in the flat country of northern Lincolnshire, windswept under a massive sky and so isolated among rivers and marshes that quite often it could be reached only by boat. It was a centre of Dissent and the inhabitants, who have been described by one biographer as ‘morose and in-bred’, were not all enthusiastic about their rector’s Tory politics, High Churchmanship and insistence that moral backslidings on their part required public confession and public acts of atonement.

In twenty years, between 1690 and 1709, Samuel and Susanna Wesley had nineteen (some say eighteen) children, ten of whom survived infancy. With so many mouths to feed, they were constantly worried about money, with which Samuel was hopeless. They also fell out because Samuel accepted William of Orange as the rightful king, but Susanna had Jacobite sympathies. Every evening at household prayers he would pray for ‘our sovereign lord, King William’ until there came an evening when Susanna refused to say ‘amen’. At this he summoned her to his study, where he knelt and called down divine vengeance upon himself and all his posterity if he ever touched her or went to bed with her again. After the rectory caught fire and burned down in July 1702, he changed his mind. Samuel and Susanna were reconciled and their son John was born the following June.

The little boy was called Jackie or Jack in the family. He had an elder brother, another Samuel, who went to Westminster School in London, and five elder sisters. His younger brother Charles and two more sisters were born later. The children were all taught at home, six hours of lessons a day, by their mother, who did not believe in sparing the rod. Years afterwards she wrote that indulging a child makes religion impracticable and salvation unattainable, and so damns the child body and soul for ever. The children said the Lord’s Prayer every night and morning, and Jackie already had Bible stories off by heart when his mother taught him to read. On the day after his fifth birthday she taught him his letters and started him reading the opening verses of Genesis.

In 1705 Samuel was imprisoned for debt for some months in Lincoln Castle. In 1709, when Jackie was five, the recently rebuilt rectory burned down again. When the alarm was raised, Samuel got his pregnant wife and their eldest daughter out and then rushed upstairs to the nursery, where he and the nursemaid seized baby Charles and hurried the other children downstairs and outside. In the confusion no one noticed that Jackie was still obliviously asleep in bed. When Samuel realised what had happened, he tried to go back up, but the blazing stairs would not bear his weight. In agony of mind he knelt down and commended Jackie’s soul to God. Jackie had now woken up and climbed on a chest of drawers to open the latch on the window. Neighbours outside formed a human ladder and plucked him from the casement just as the blazing roof of the house fell in. The tag ‘a brand plucked from the burning’ clung to him ever afterwards and may well have been a powerful force in motivating him. His mother certainly came to think that he had been specially spared by God for some important work.

Jackie was ten when he made the long journey down to London to go to school as a charity pupil at the Charterhouse. It must have been a shock. The boys slept two to a bed in dormitories that were bitterly cold in winter, and learned Latin and Greek in the big classroom which had once been a real tennis court. They played games on a field called the Green, which Jack dutifully ran round three times every day before breakfast. The older boys used to grab the best of the food. Jackie was brave enough to go on saying his daily morning and evening prayers and one story has him regularly gathering his schoolmates round him to tell them ‘instructive tales’. At seventeen he went up to Christ Church, Oxford, on a closed scholarship from the Charterhouse. At twenty-two he became a fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford, and curate to his father at Epworth, and entered the adult world on which he was to make so profound an impact.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *