I have often been asked about the origins of our College’s name. It is not well known that the College is named after, John Wesley (1703-1791), one of the most radical social reformers of the past 500 years, at least in the English-speaking world.
John Wesley was an English cleric, theologian and evangelist who was the leader of a revival movement within the Church of England known as Methodism. Early in his ministry, Wesley travelled to North America to serve as chaplain of the then English colony of Georgia, with his brother Charles. However, neither of them was suited to the climate nor colony life. Wesley also managed to tarnish his reputation through a disastrous love affair with a young woman named Sophia Hopkey, and two years later he returned to England. Had there been anything remotely like today’s obsession with social media, his career would have been over.
Wesley, it could be said, was a flawed individual. Yet, his time in the Americas was not wasted as Wesley was deeply influenced by a devout group of Christian believers, known as the Moravians. They helped create a deep hunger in Wesley to experience God’s mercy and love, rather than feeling as though he was constantly under judgement, from both his peers and his perception of the Divine.
These deep questions, unresolved in Georgia, brought him to a Moravian in London, on 24 May 1738, where he felt his heart being ‘strangely warmed’. This experience was so profound for Wesley, that it made him realise his time in Georgia had not been in vain and would serve as the foundation of his work for the next fifty years.
Such was the influence of John Wesley, that at the time of his death, in 1791, more than one third of the population of England and Wales identified as Methodists and followed Wesley’s theology of commitment to faith, education and the betterment of humanity.
As part of the Wesley College community, we are indeed beneficiaries of this one man’s binding commitment to his faith in Jesus and what he described as ‘God’s mercy’; the undeserved gift of insight that comes from a life of engagement in the service of others.
In a very real sense, that too is the message of Easter. It is about living a life of total commitment to the service and liberation of others and being the best that God has called for us to be. However, this is not a very popular cause. We know that it did not end well for Jesus, nor has it ended well for many of his followers over the centuries.
Seeking to change the way we live for the better, or as believers would say, ‘to live as we believe God has called for us to be’, is one of the most taxing, yet one of the most liberating and fulfilling aspects of our lives.
As we prepare for Easter, in what we know as the Season of Lent, let us reflect on the College’s traditions and remember Wesley’s words of wisdom:
‘There is mercy enough in God,
enough for all,
enough for each,
Rev Nalin Perera, Wesley College Chaplain