As John and Charles Wesley rode, strode, preached and sang their way through the streets and lanes of Britain they transformed lives. They did so in the heart of of a society that was far from God, bringing uncompromising grace and hope to people whom the church had largely forgotten.
These words are easy to write, but I am in awe of their courage and strength. They worked amongst the poorest and toughest communities, with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the gifts God had given to them, as their only weapons. By modern standards, the Wesleys’ message would have seemed like very “tough love”.
And yet this was what was needed for its time and season. At Kingwood Colliery in Bristol it is said that thousands of miners listened to Wesley’s words as tears of penitence and gratitude made white furrows down their begrimed faces. But it was not only their faces that bore witness to the changes that John and Charles brought. In his journal, John Wesley wrote, “Kingwood does not now, as a year ago, resound with cursing and blasphemy. it is no more filled with drunkenness and uncleanness and the idle diversions that naturally lead thereto.”
There is a danger, of course, that we just resign ourselves to waiting and hoping that a new Wesley will appear. But we live in a different time and place. As James Emery-White put it at a talk I once attended by him, we live in a world that is more “Mars Hill” than “Acts 2”. By which he meant that our starting place for telling the Gospel story is very different. The difference between today’s society and that of John Wesley, in terms of it’s knowledge of and desire for the Gospel, is about as great as the difference between the crowds of Pentecost Peter addressed and the Greek scholars that Paul amongst whom Paul found himself in Athens.
We too must work out what is needed for our own time and season – where are the fields and pit heads of the modern day? Are we able to recognise the “begrimed faces” of people far from God? Do we know how to speak in a language they understand? Can we set a light in their hearts that will change lives, cities and communities? Do we have a message for them that will be etched into their faces for all to see?
Perhaps Netley is a place where we will discover the answer to some of these questions.
2 thoughts on “Day 18 – Netley – White furrows down tear-stained faces”
I am curious if, as you work through these blog posts, you have any hopes or ideas about what Netley should become. My hope was always that it would become a “church” as, knowing the area, I felt it cried out for a true and honest expression of God’s love for the world. My hope remains that God will lead it that direction at this turning of seasons. I remain in and we of how God’s presence has moved in that small building but, perhaps selfishly, I long to see it reach out to the community.
Hi Pete, and thanks for the question. At this stage I am trying not to “fix” my view or opinion, but to genuinely hear what God is saying. Sometimes the answer comes as the question is asked and as I write, but I am hoping to stimulate the discussion and am therefore really pleased to hear your own opinion.
For what it’s worth, it may well be time to “show my hand”…
Firstly, I’d like to just say that there is nothing at all “selfish” about wanting to see any church reach out to the community – quite the opposite in fact. However, there is a wider picture here and I am sensitive to the needs of New Community Sholing too.
When we began the little community at Netley it was with a view to reaching the people of that area. We’d never intended it to be a “gathered” church.
So, my heart is to see Netley restored as a place of worship that is accessible to people from that area – I connect very much with the mission statement of Willow Creek, which is that the “local church is the hope of the world”.
On the other hand, I also completely understand how difficult it is to find the people resources for planting a new church. When considering my own input to Netley I am conscious of the need for me to also support the relatively new expression of church at the St James Road 9.30 am “Encounter” service.
If I could somehow “drop everything” I think I would want to devote myself to planting something new at Netley, but I would need support for that from perhaps two dozen other people. At the moment I think I could see maybe a half-dozen of those.
When I write about Netley, it is hard to do so without doing so in a way that reveals a desire to see a continuing presence there. The challenges are real, but there is something in my spirit that doesn’t want to let it go.
There is a temptation when things are in a “dip” to enter a defensive mode – to try to somehow “secure” what we have and to stop further decline. I have been around Methodism enough to know that this is neither a successful strategy for long-term renewal, nor for bringing new believers to Christ; it is, at best, a means of extending a slow and soul-destroying end.
To see new life emerge, we must first plant something. Some things will take root and grow and some things will not, but we must keep planting. Whether it be moving New Community to St Andrews, a House of Prayer at Netley, the Encounter service at St James Road or some other form of outreach, I am quite sure that we are called to keep trying and to trust God that He has a plan.
In some attempt to draw this ramble to a close – if we could get the support needed, I’d like to start a new Sunday afternoon expression of church at Netley and I’d love to “pastor” it. I’d want it to be accessible to new “seekers” and to be a place of nurture and discipleship where the experience of the gifts of the Spirit is a reality and not just an aspiration. Only God knows if that can happen and if that is His desire.