Go on an adventure with FUMC as we celebrate summer with FLAT WESLEY!
(The idea for the FLAT WESLEY is based on the youth literature character, Flat Stanley©, by Jeff Brown.)
- Color the FLAT (John or Charles) WESLEY template, then cut him out.
- Take FLAT WESLEY with you throughout your summer, take a photo of what you are doing with him to share with your church family! Let your imagination soar as we enjoy these tangible reminders of the dedicated brothers who worked to help others live out their faith. Perhaps, FLAT WESLEY will be seen singing hymns with the church, like Charles Wesley’s hymn, “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing”; Sunday School classes may share stories about Circuit Riders; children may include FLAT WESLEY in acts of worship and devotion in the home, like saying prayers together before meals and bedtime; one could create a prayer journal like John Wesley’s journal; youth could bring FLAT WESLEY with them at the end of June as they participate in BigStuf; FLAT WESLEY may accompany you when you bake cookies for neighbors, or participate in a community walk to raise money to assist others; or how about bringing FLAT WESLEY on your summer vacation!
- Send the photos and a short note on what you did with him during your summer vacation to firstname.lastname@example.org We will post the pictures and notes on the bulletin board outside the church office and on our Facebook page with the hashtag: #FUMCFlatWesley.
- Take this time to learn more about the Wesley brothers (John and Charles) and celebrate the founders of the Methodist movement. Read some fun facts in the history section below.
History is more than facts and figures. It is full of real people with real stories. Connecting with those people and stories helps us understand our lives and discern God’s direction for our future. That is why it is important constantly to connect our teaching back to the important people in our church history. To help you do that, we have gathered some interesting, and maybe even surprising, facts about the Wesley brothers to help you connect United Methodist history to our FLAT WESLEY summer adventure.
1. JOHN WESLEY WROTE ONE OF THE ALL-TIME BESTSELLING MEDICAL TEXTS.
Wesley was deeply convicted that God is concerned about our earthly life as well as our heavenly one. To that end, he wrote a medical text for the everyday person titled Primitive Physick. The book detailed the current knowledge about home remedies and went through 32 editions, making it one of the most widely read books in England.
Many of Wesley’s cures and tips on healthy living remain widely accepted. While some of his advice was wishful thinking, the most important part of his philosophy was his insistence on continual observation to support hypotheses. Wesley boldly questioned modern doctors—how they sometimes treated humans like machines; that much of their “medicine” lacked merit and they lacked evidence to support its efficacy. By the same token, some of Wesley’s beliefs certainly needed more supportive evidence. For instance, Wesley recommended holding a puppy against the stomach to cure stomach pain. He offered dried and powdered toad pills for asthma. He also enjoyed regular dips in cold bathwater, thought to be a near panacea. It sounds strange to us, but many leading minds during Wesley’s time, espoused these sorts of folk remedies. And honestly, who doesn’t feel better after holding a puppy? The point is, like David—who had the heart of God and still fell short—even the greatest leaders with the biggest hearts are fallible.
2. JOHN WESLEY COINED THE TERM “AGREE TO DISAGREE.”
Over the years, Wesley had serious theological differences with another popular pastor named George Whitefield. Though they both argued passionately, Wesley reflected on these differences in a memorial sermon for Whitefield by saying: “There are many doctrines of a less essential nature. … In these, we may think and let think; we may ‘agree to disagree.’ But, meantime, let us hold fast the essentials. …” This appears to be the first recorded use of the term. It was a hallmark of Wesley’s way of holding to his convictions while remaining in connection with those with whom he disagreed.
3. JOHN WESLEY RODE FAR ENOUGH ON HORSEBACK TO CIRCLE THE EARTH 10 TIMES.
Wesley rode 250,000 miles! He was convinced that it was important for him personally to spread the gospel through relationships and continue to grow closer to God in those relationships. Asked if he would consider walking instead of riding, he replied, “Nay.”
4. WESLEY HAD SERIOUS DOUBTS ABOUT HIS FAITH.
Questioning one’s faith should not be disparaged. Doubts are essential to making any belief system one’s own. They do not mean that one will let it go. In fact, even as Wesley struggled with deep doubts about faith, he followed the wise instruction of a mentor who told him to “preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.” Even as we struggle, we can maintain our hold on the truths we question until we can settle all of our doubts.
5. “METHODIST” WAS ORIGINALLY A DEROGATORY TERM.
Though the origins of the term “Methodist” are in dispute, it is clear that it was originally used by outsiders to mock John Wesley and his early societies because of their dedication to following a method for growing closer to God. They ended up accepting the term, considering it a positive descriptor of their movement. Way to own it, Methodists!
6. WESLEY COUNSELED PEOPLE TO “EAT A LITTLE LESS THAN YOU DESIRE.”
Staying slim was far from Wesley’s goal (1), though he did weigh in around 128 pounds. This was not the result of dieting, but rather of a practice to ensure that people were not ruled by their natural desires, but exercising control over them.
7. WESLEY NEVER INTENDED TO SPLIT FROM THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND.
However, when the revolution happened in the American colonies, most of the Anglican priests returned home. Faced with the fact that none of the Methodists in the colonies could receive the sacraments, Wesley ordained ministers whom he sent to do the same in America (he was practical even when it caused problems). That act was the beginning of the separation that formed the Methodist Church in America. The Methodist Church in England did not officially form until after Wesley’s death.
8. WESLEY NEVER SAID THIS FAMOUS QUOTE ATTRIBUTED TO HIM.
It has been on the back of more than one United Methodist youth camp T-shirt: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, as long as ever you can.” Though the quote is often attributed to John Wesley and is consistent with his perspective on life, many historians have confirmed there is no record of Wesley ever saying that.
9. WESLEY BELIEVED YOU COULD NOT BE A CHRISTIAN ON YOUR OWN.
He said that we needed to be involved in “social holiness.” Though some often think this term is synonymous with “social justice,” its meaning is quite different. Wesley believed we could only grow as Christians in community. In his preface to the 1739 hymnal, he was adamant that “the gospel of Christ knows of no religion but social; no holiness but social holiness.”
10. METHODISM GREW FROM FOUR TO 132,000 MEMBERS IN WESLEY’S LIFETIME.
The beginning of Methodism was a group of four who called themselves the “holy club” at Oxford. When Wesley died in 1791, he left behind a movement with 72,000 members in the British Isles and 60,000 in America.
He was said to have averaged 10 poetic lines a day for 50 years. He wrote 8,989 hymns, 10 times the volume composed by the only other candidate (Isaac Watts) who could conceivably claim to be the world’s greatest hymn writer. He composed some of the most memorable and lasting hymns of the church: “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “And Can It Be,” “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” “Jesus, Lover of My Soul,” “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” “Soldiers of Christ, Arise,” and “Rejoice! the Lord Is King!”
And yet he is often referred to as the “forgotten Wesley.”
His brother John is considered the organizational genius behind the founding of Methodism. But without the hymns of Charles, the Methodist movement may have gone nowhere. As one historian put it, “The early Methodists were taught and led as much through [Charles’s] hymns as through sermons and [John] Wesley’s pamphlets.”
Charles Wesley was the eighteenth of Samuel and Susannah Wesley’s nineteen children (only 10 lived to maturity). He was born prematurely in December 1707 and appeared dead. He lay silent, wrapped in wool, for weeks.
When older, Charles joined his siblings as each day his mother, Susannah, who knew Greek, Latin, and French, methodically taught them for six hours. Charles then spent 13 years at Westminster School, where the only language allowed in public was Latin. He added nine years at Oxford, where he received his master’s degree. It was said that he could reel off the Latin poet Virgil by the half hour.
It was off to Oxford University next, and to counteract the spiritual tepidity of the school, Charles formed the Holy Club, and with two or three others celebrated Communion weekly and observed a strict regimen of spiritual study. Because of the group’s religious regimen, which later included early rising, Bible study, and prison ministry, members were called “Methodists.”
In 1735 Charles joined his brother John (they were now both ordained), to become a missionary in the colony of Georgia—John as chaplain of the rough outpost and Charles as secretary to Governor Oglethorpe.
Shot at, slandered, suffering sickness, shunned even by Oglethorpe, Charles could have echoed brother John’s sentiments as they dejectedly returned to England the following year: “I went to America to convert the Indians, but, oh, who will convert me?”
It turned out to be the Moravians. After returning to England, Charles taught English to Moravian Peter Böhler, who prompted Charles to look at the state of his soul more deeply. During May 1738, Charles began reading Martin Luther’s volume on Galatians while ill. He wrote in his diary, “I labored, waited, and prayed to feel ‘who loved me, and gave himself for me.'” He shortly found himself convinced, and journaled, “I now found myself at peace with God, and rejoice in hope of loving Christ.” Two days later he began writing a hymn celebrating his conversion.
At evangelist George Whitefield’s instigation, John and Charles eventually submitted to “be more vile” and do the unthinkable: preach outside of church buildings. In his journal entries from 1739 to 1743, Charles computed the number of those to whom he had preached. Of only those crowds for whom he stated a figure, the total during these five years comes to 149,400.
From June 24 through July 8, 1738, Charles reported preaching twice to crowds of ten thousand at Moorfields, once called “that Coney Island of the eighteenth century.” He preached to 20,000 at Kennington Common plus gave a sermon on justification before the University of Oxford.
On a trip to Wales in 1747, the adventurous evangelist, now 40 years old, met 20-year-old Sally Gwynne, whom he soon married. By all accounts, their marriage was a happy one.
Charles continued to travel and preach, sometimes creating tension with John, who complained that “I do not even know when and where you intend to go.” His last nationwide trip was in 1756. After that, his health led him gradually to withdraw from itinerant ministry. He spent the remainder of his life in Bristol and London, preaching at Methodist chapels.
Throughout his adult life, Charles wrote verse, predominantly hymns for use in Methodist meetings. He produced 56 volumes of hymns in 53 years, producing in his lyrics what brother John called a “distinct and full account of scriptural Christianity.”
The Methodists became known (and sometimes mocked) for their exuberant singing of Charles’s hymns. A contemporary observer recorded, “The song of the Methodists is the most beautiful I ever heard … They sing in a proper way, with devotion, serene mind and charm.”
Charles Wesley quickly earned admiration for his ability to capture universal Christian experience in memorable verse. In the following century, Henry Ward Beecher declared, “I would rather have written that hymn of Wesley’s, ‘Jesus, Lover of My Soul,’ than to have the fame of all the kings that ever sat on the earth.” The compiler of the massive Dictionary of Hymnology, John Julian, concluded that “perhaps, taking quantity and quality into consideration, [Charles Wesley was] the greatest hymn-writer of all ages.”