‘With a knot of shabby people’

I Mark Noll’s wonderful book The Rise of Evangelicalism he quotes a scholar by the name of John Walsh writing about the most distinctive forms of John Wesley’s ministry:

Perhaps the most characteristic image of the English movement is, not that of John Wesley preaching to great crowds in the sunken outdoor amphitheater at Gwennap in Cornwall, but Wesley as he is described in John Barrit’s diary, standing in a barn with a knot of shabby people around him, explaining the love of God in the process of regeneration. Would they recognize the presence of God’s love? Yes, they would. For how did wives and husbands recognize the love they bore each other, or children know that they were loved by their parents? They felt it in their hearts. And so too would it be with God’s grace.

I love the image here. I love the way Wesley explained the meaning of the inner witness of God’s Spirit with our spirit in a way that would make instant sense to anyone who heard him. It is the ministry of visitation that Wesley urges so often on his Methodist preachers. Those conversations do not leave paper trails or get captured often in our history and biography, but perhaps Walsh is correct that the real beating heart of Methodism can be found in such scenes.

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2 thoughts on “‘With a knot of shabby people’

  1. I think this is why I love ministry in low income neighborhoods so much. Everything is clearer. The stark realization of the good news of the gospel, the sin that we know in our lives and in the life of the world around us, and the lack of crap that gets in the way. I, personally, would find it much more difficult in a place where people had so much that it took quite a bit of peeling away of the layers to get to the person that is behind all the “stuff” of the world around us. I grew up in low income rural communities and found the same dynamic as I do in the city. Thanks for celebrating this.

  2. This reminds me of a picture on my facebook page today–posted by a friend who serves as a district superintendent in Kenya. He was shown with a group of 18 people (8 adults and 10 children). The caption reads, “Had a powerful service today! Methodism LIVES!

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