The method of early Methodism: The Oxford Holy Club
September 29, 2016
On the wall of a residence building in one of the Lincoln College quads is a bust of John Wesley who served as a fellow there. Photo by Joe Iovino, United Methodist Communications.At the request of his father, the Rev. Samuel Wesley, rector (lead pastor) of St. Andrew’s Church in Epworth, John went home to serve as the curate (associate pastor) in the congregation in which he and his brothers and sisters were raised. One day, John received a letter from Charles. “I … awoke out of my lethargy,” his younger brother wrote of his renewed desire to focus on his spiritual growth. He also asked for tips on keeping a spiritual journal, a practice John found helpful. Growing as disciples together John soon traveled to Oxford to visit his brother. A few weeks after his arrival back in Epworth, Lincoln College asked him to return to his residence on campus and resume his duties as a fellow. Reunited in Oxford, the brothers periodically met with Charles’ friend William Morgan for prayer, Bible study, and conversation. They also received the Lord's Supper at least once a week, earning them the nickname “Sacramentarians.” Slowly, more Oxford students joined the group. Morgan invited fellow members to join him in visiting the Castle prison on the outskirts of town. After their first visit, John and Charles vowed to return at least weekly to visit the debtors and felons incarcerated there. The Castle prison still stands today, but is no longer used a prison. Part of the prison has been renovated into a luxury hotel and restaurant. Historic tours are offered in restored sections of the building. Later, Morgan suggested the group also join him in other ministries with which he was involved. Soon these young Oxford men were teaching children, visiting the elderly, and caring for the poor as part of their regular activities. Other students noticed them, but didn’t understand their zeal. They gave the group mocking nicknames including, Bible-moths, The Holy Club, Supererogation-Men, and Methodists. Undeterred, they continued their meetings and ministries. The Holy Club, as this group is most often referred to as today, was adopting a holistic approach to their Christian formation. They studied the Bible, prayed, and worshiped together. They also served together, reaching out to those in their community who were in the most need. The Methodist movement was, in a sense, a replication of this group to help others grow as leaders in discipleship for the church. The focus on both love of God and neighbor expressed in everyday actions, was a centerpiece of early Methodism, and continues today. Learn how the Holy Club grew into the Methodist movement in Part 2. *Joe Iovino works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications.