One journey begins where another one ends. So it proved true for John and Charles Wesley. They returned in early 1738 from two years in America with their tails between their legs; having failed in evangelism, pastoral care and – in John’s case – in love. Yet this prepared their hearts to receive the deeper assurance of God’s love which they both lacked; John felt his heart ‘strangely warmed’ just a few months later in May. Yet it wasn’t until they accepted their friend George Whitefield’s invitation to come to Bristol that the Methodist movement really took off. For there, much against their natural inclinations, first John, and then Charles, began to preach outdoors, most famously at Hanham Mount.
Reflecting upon today’s walk my mind turned to the Book of Ruth. Ruth’s journey begins where her mother-in-law Naomi’s ends; in Moab, far from home for Naomi, where she had been triply bereaved. As for the Wesley brothers, out of this dead end, God’s love effects a new beginning; manifested through the steadfast love of Ruth who determines to leave her home and accompany Naomi back to Israel.
“Where you go I will go; and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God will be my God.” (Ruth 1v16)
Hanham Mount lies some 4 miles East of Bristol city centre, and having tried out the pulpit for size we set off down Tabernacle Road (yes, it’s a bit like that in East Bristol), down Conham Vale, to pick up the path alongside the River Avon.
It was a brightening January day and we made good time, finding our way to Wesley’s New Room, nowadays in the heart of the city’s shopping quarter. With ‘the Lord adding daily to those who were being saved’, Wesley needed a base for the growing work. The New Room was a preaching house and a place for two Methodist Societies to meet, but also a health clinic, a base for prison visiting, education and a food bank. Today, it was a place of refreshment in the beautiful new cafe.
Naomi and Ruth too found a welcome back in Israel. Through a mixture of hard work on Ruth’s part – gleaning around the fields after the harvesters – and God’s provision, they find support from Boaz, a wealthy relative of Naomi’s. Yet it took an act of courage and daring on Ruth’s part to secure their future.
From the New Room the second half of our day pilgrimage lay out along Bristol’s picturesque waterfront, under the soaring suspension bridge and most of the length of the Avon Gorge.
It took daring and courage to turn Methodism from a dimension of the evangelical revival in Britain into a world missionary movement. And it was from the quayside at Pill, 8 miles from Bristol, that many Methodist preachers set off; most famously Francis Asbury in 1771, and Thomas Coke in 1784. Ruth’s courage and steadfast love found a place within God’s saving purposes for Israel. For the story ends with the birth of a son to Ruth and Boaz, a grandson to the bitterly bereaved Naomi; none other than the great King David’s grandfather.
The light was fading as we ended our journey. The walk was a trial for a day pilgrimare in the Summer. So watch this space.