When I first arrived at seminary, I was astonished at the number of Wesleyans I met. Wesleyans everywhere! Having grown up in the small but active Wesleyan denomination, I was gratified to see it represented so fully.
Then, about a week into the semester, I began to realize something – all the Wesleyans I was meeting were Wesleyan, not Wesleyan. They were Wesleyan in their theology (as opposed to Catholic or Calvinist), not Wesleyan in their denominational affiliation. A good many of them were denominationally United Methodist.
I was a little dismayed – so the Wesleyan church had perhaps fewer student representatives than I first thought – but I was also relieved in a vague, undefined sense: there was a much bigger Wesleyan community out there than I had realized; full, robust Wesleyan theology was flourishing in a variety of soils.
I’m proud that I grew up in the Wesleyan church, a denomination that laid the groundwork of my fledgling faith as a child. I’m also proud to continue as a member of the Wesleyan movement through my service in the United Methodist Church, a denomination with a rich heritage that I hope will help steer it through its current identity crisis.
So why do I love being Wesleyan, in its fullest sense?
I love being Wesleyan because I wholeheartedly believe that theology matters, and that Wesleyan theology is good theology. Despite being a child of the age of ecumenism – and despite having a strong ecumenical bent – I am deliberately, thoughtfully Wesleyan. Church, we have some amazing resources as participants in the Wesleyan movement. For Wesleyans, the Bible matters, becoming more and more like Jesus Christ matters, the freedom to exercise the will matters, the means of grace matter, and people matter, from the least and the last to the prominent and powerful: it is full-orbed, Spirit-driven engagement with the Word of God and the world, soup and Scripture, Ebola medication and intercessory prayer.
I love being Wesleyan because there was something about John Wesley that constantly put things in perspective: he was someone who knew how to elicit a response. Do you want to grow in your spiritual life? Excellent – he would plug you into a well-organized community – with community expectations. There was a constant “choose this day who you will serve” hanging in the background; early Methodists were people who responded to the call to go deep or go home. There weren’t gimmicks, or appeals marketed to egos, only a call to be genuinely, really committed to this lifestyle. That confrontational call to action in all its pared down, extremely difficult simplicity appeals to my Scottish side (after all, you couldn’t be halfheartedly alongside William Wallace!).
And I love being Wesleyan because Wesleyans are creative people: amid the things that stay the same, all times everywhere, we Wesleyans have elbowroom to ask, “how might the Gospel of Jesus Christ look in this setting? How can we effectively serve the marginalized and learn from them? How do the arts communicate grace?” and on, and on. Within the liturgical calendar, within the rhythms of celebrating communion and reading through the Word of God, within these timeless frameworks is an extraordinarily fertile ground for creative appropriations of our Wesleyan heritage.
So here’s to being Wesleyan – a movement that has stretched across the centuries to you, here, now – and that will, by the grace of God, continue to spill over into the centuries ahead.