In our September essay we posed the question: “So who is Charles Wesley?” On December 1, the first Sunday of Advent, we will sing Lo! He comes with clouds descending written by Charles Wesley, perhaps the most prolific hymn writer in all of Anglicanism. This month we will begin the story of Wesley’s life, and we will continue that story in the next month that we sing one of his hymns.
The Rev. Samuel Wesley, a priest in the Church of England serving as rector of Epworth and Humberside, and a family man, must have thought life in the service of God’s Church a tranquil existence in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. There were no passionate movements within the Church, or within politics for that matter, that endangered his life or liberty. He was rector of his parish, so staying in the good graces of his bishop was his only concern. And though one would hate to use the word “stagnant”, there was very little happening intellectually within the Church, thereby making the rules for maintaining the bishop’s favor very clear. As for parishioners, the respectable middle and upper class people who populated the churches were hardly a bother at all, and the working people, the lower classes, and the poor, never really came to church.
Samuel Wesley must have taken some satisfaction upon learning his fifteenth child, John, and his eighteenth child, Charles, had decided to follow his footsteps into Holy Orders of the Church of England. John even served as Samuel’s curate for a period of time. In the twilight years of Samuel’s ministry, sons John and Charles were exhibiting an inclination to preaching. Because Samuel died in 1735, we can only speculate as to whether he would have approved of the movement that was to grow from his sons’ preaching missions; however, there is no speculation about the fact that by the time John and Charles died, the church in England was a very different place than it was when Samuel first took on Holy Orders.
(To be continued in a month with another Charles Wesley hymn)