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Methodism's 'national church' honors Wesley with plaque

11/4/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

A photo is available.

By Tim Tanton*

WASHINGTON (UMNS)- Nearly 300 years ago, a young Anglican minister crossed the Atlantic Ocean to serve in the English colonies, with dreams of evangelizing the native people and settlers in what today is the state of Georgia.

Two years later, he was back on a boat to England, believing he had failed. Shortly after returning home, he attended a Moravian prayer meeting, where he gained a personal understanding of Christ's saving power and felt his heart "strangely warmed." The experience transformed John Wesley and catalyzed what became the Methodist movement.

Wesley's impact - particularly his service in the colonies - was remembered Nov. 2 with the installation of a plaque at Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church in Washington. The church was designated as "the connectional monument to our beloved Methodism" by the 1852 General Conference of the Methodist Church.

The marble plaque, with black lettering, commemorated the 300th anniversary this year of Wesley's birth on June 28, 1703, and his service in North America from 1736 to 1738. The inscription includes his words of assurance, spoken on his deathbed: "The best of all, God is with us."

About 70 bishops and their spouses attended the ceremony. The bishops are meeting Nov. 2-7 in the Washington area.

Bishop Felton Edwin May, leader of the denomination's Washington Area, said the commemoration service was powerful.

"Metropolitan has been designated as United Methodism's national church," he said. "Therefore, it seemed appropriate to (honor) the founder of Methodism at that place."

The British ambassador, Sir David Manning, participated in the ceremony by reading the gospel lesson from Matthew 5:1-12. "That significant moment anchored our historical understanding that we are a global people," May said.

Sir Robert Young, a lifelong Methodist who recently retired as British ambassador to India, also attended the service.

Bishop James Mathews, bishop in residence at Metropolitan, suggested the idea of placing the plaque as a way to honor Wesley while the Council of Bishops was in town, said the Rev. Frank Trotter, church pastor. Metropolitan had a tradition of creating historical tablets commemorating people - such as Ulysses Grant, who helped lay the cornerstone of the church in a former location - but no plaques had been installed since 1930, Trotter said. "This plaque helps resurrect that tradition of the church."

Metropolitan Church honored Mathews at the same time with a brass plaque for his years of service. Mathews was elected and consecrated a bishop at the church in 1960. He served as bishop of the area from 1972 to 1980, and became a bishop in residence at the church upon retirement.

"I was pleased with this gesture," he said, "pleased and honored by it."

Trotter described Mathews as a highly educated and deeply spiritual person with a strong passion for the Lord. "He's been one of my spiritual mentors, and he's just a terrific inspiration."

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*Tanton is United Methodist News Service's managing editor.

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