Open to God, open to all, open to you.
Oxford is full of connections to the Wesley family. John and Charles Wesley followed their elder brother Samuel to Christ Church; their father, also Samuel, was a student at Exeter College; and their grandfather John studied at New Inn Hall (from which New Inn Hall Street takes its name).
John Wesley entered Christ Church as an undergraduate in June 1720. He graduated in 1724 and on 19 September 1725 was ordained deacon in Christ Church Cathedral. In March 1726 Samuel Wesley was able to announce with pride, ‘My Jacky is Fellow of Lincoln.’ As a Fellow, Wesley received free board and lodging, with a small stipend. In the next few years Wesley showed signs of a new seriousness and self-discipline. He was ordained priest in September 1728, having left Oxford the previous year to serve as his father’s curate at Epworth and Wroot in Lincolnshire.
Charles Wesley arrived at Christ Church in 1726. He was a popular and lively undergraduate with a large circle of friends.
After a couple of years, however, he began to take both his studies and his faith more seriously, and from the beginning of 1729 he agreed with two friends, Robert Kirkham (Merton College) and William Morgan (Christ Church), to meet regularly to read together, and to receive Communion every week.
Later that same year Lincoln College asked John Wesley to return to Oxford, to take up teaching duties. John joined with Charles and his friends, and began a regular schedule of study. This was looked back upon by Wesley as the ‘first rise of Methodism’.
Morgan introduced them to the social work for which the group became famous. The Wesley brothers, with Morgan, made their first visit to the Castle Prison on 24 August 1730.
The group also became well known for their religious observances. As a result they were given a series of unflattering nicknames: ‘Holy Club’, ‘Bible Moths’, ‘Supererogation Men’ and ‘Methodists’, the name that finally stuck in 1732.
In 1735 the Wesley brothers sailed for the newly formed colony of Georgia, John to serve as minister to the settlers and Charles to act as secretary to the Governor. The expedition proved a disappointment. On their return the brothers were caught up in the burgeoning spiritual renewal described as the Evangelical Revival, coming to a new assurance of faith at Whitsuntide 1738.
As a college Fellow, Wesley was invited at intervals to preach before the University in the church of St Mary the Virgin. In 1744, preaching on ‘Scriptural Christianity’, he criticised the University for its sluggishness and spiritual apathy. For Wesley, it was the end of his University connection. As required by the regulations of the time, he resigned his fellowship at Lincoln College upon his marriage in 1751. In future, until the first Methodist preaching house was opened in 1783, Wesley preached in private houses when he visited Oxford.
A guided walk of The Wesleys’ Oxford takes in many of the principal sites. A leaflet is available.
Epworth Old Rectory, Lincolnshire
The New Room, Bristol
Englesea Brook Chapel and Museum of Primitive Methodism