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John D. Spalding

The Shocking Truth About John Wesley

A visit to the cradle of Methodism

Even the most devout Methodists will be excused if they've never considered what their denomination's founder's kitchen looks like. I have stood in it. I was on a tour of the John Wesley House and Museum of Methodism in London, and in my ears were the voices of James Rogers, a preacher who lived in the Wesley home, and Elizabeth "Betsy" Ritchie, John Wesley's housekeeper.

All right, what I heard was only actors, playing Rogers and Betsy on the audiocassette tour. But to one like me who spent his youth fidgeting in Methodist and Holiness church pews, the house is entrancing. In a room off John Wesley's kitchen are display cases containing his personal belongings—christening robe and baby rattle; his nightcap, shoes, and traveling case, containing the holy man's fork and fruit knife—relics displayed with such reverence it's hard to believe Protestants were involved. "The one on the far right has a very special meaning for me," Rogers said of one cabinet. "It's a lock of Mr. Wesley's hair, cut after his death from his poor, dear head and given me." After a pause, the Reverend Rogers added solemnly, "Please, take as much time as you want to look at this cabinet, and when you're finished, switch the tape guide on again."

Wesley moved into his four-story Georgian townhouse in 1779, a year after he built his famous chapel—the "Cathedral of Methodism"—next door. The house stands on City Road in what's now the London Borough of Islington. Wesley, a dissenter from the Church of England, chose a location beyond the old city wall on a site that, ironically, had been used some one hundred years earlier as a dirt dump during the construction of St. Paul's Cathedral about a mile south. Before my visit I stopped to pay respects at Bunhill Fields, the small nonconformist burial ground across the street from Wesley's house. Those buried on the quiet, tree-shrouded grounds include Daniel Defoe, William Blake, George Fox (founder of the Quakers), Susanna Wesley (John and Charles's mother), ...

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