John Wesley and the Methodist Heritage 1979
Entry written and researched by Chloe Ratcliffe, King’s College London Undergraduate Research Fellow.
Place: High Town Methodist Church (Luton) (Luton, Bedfordshire, England)
Number of performances: n/a
24 November 1979.
The pageant was first performed on 24 November 1979; the total number of performances is unknown.
Name of pageant master and other named staff
Names of executive committee or equivalent
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- O’Dell, Audrey
Names of composers
Numbers of performers
Object of any funds raised
- Grandstand: Not Known
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: n/a
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
Scene 1. John Wesley comes to Luton, January 1722.
Two village woman are worried that John Wesley will not come to Luton due to heavy snowfall.1 Various people are invited to come to hear Wesley at St. Mary’s. A Journal Reader reads a quote from Journal 5. Vol.5. page 443. The villagers discuss Wesley’s sermon in the street. All players on stage find their faith reinvigorated due to Wesley. The narrator deliberates over Wesley’s early life as the son of Rev. Samuel Wesley and lady Susanna, and introduces the next scene in his childhood nursery in Epworth.
Scene 2. The Nursery – Epworth.
The children and Susanna enter, and sing the first four verses of 842 ‘Gentle Jesus’. Susanna asks for the children to repeat for her the rules of the household. The narrator tells of a fire which broke out in the Rectory when John Wesley was five. It was feared that he was burned to death but at the eleventh hour he managed to escape. Susanna felt that God saved her son because he had some special purpose for him, and thus he was admitted to communion at eight.
Scene 3. The Holy Club, 1729.
The Narrator continues the story of Wesley’s life to his admittance to Christ Church College, Oxford. He eventually filled a vacancy among the Fellows of Lincoln College Oxford, in 1726, and became leader of a group of religious graduates nicknamed the ‘Holy Club’. Actors move onto the stage and sit around a table, and John Wesley enters after the others. The group discuss their readings and charity, then all kneel for hymn 877.
Scene 4. The Moravians, 1735.
Narrator explains that John stayed at Oxford, believing it to be God’s will, until he received what he believed to be a call to go to the American colony of Georgia. The journey was fraught, and impressed by the courage of a group of Christian Moravians who sang hymns throughout the journey. The group sings hymn 357. In America, John coverts Native Americans whilst also trying to understand his own faith.
Scene 5. Conversion, May 24th 1738.
Enter John Wesley and his brother Charles. Wesley excitedly tells his brother of his revelation on the texts he had been reading, and his aim to preach it to all of England and the world.
Scene 6. Field Preaching at Bristol, April 1739.
Enter John Wesley and his friends in Bath. They discuss the best way to raise money to pay for their preaching house.
Scene 7. Thomas Maxfield Preaches.
Narrator introduces Thomas Maxfield as one of John Wesley’s earliest converts. Maxfield had been preaching sermons, which had greatly displeased Wesley, who returned to London from Bristol post haste. Susanna tells John to accept Maxfield’s preaching, saying that he is just as qualified as any ordained man. Maxfield becomes recognised as a lay preacher.
Scene 8. The Wednesbury Riot. September 1743.
The Narrator explains that though the Wesley’s experienced success with their conversions, they also faced violence and protestations, such as the riot in Wednesbury in Staffordshire in June 1743. The scene is a house in Wednesbury, where two villagers are keenly expecting Wesley’s arrival. When Wesley arrives, he is warned of a mob which has formed in the town. Wesley demands to speak to the leader but it is unsuccessful and he ends up bloody and dishevelled.
Scene 9. Newgate Prison, 1748.
Sarah Lancaster visits John Lancaster in prison, imprisoned for stealing candlesticks from the Foundry. He asks her to tell the Methodists at the Foundry that he is broken hearted for betraying them.
Scene 10. Wesley’s Charitable Works, 1763.
Narrator sets the scene, the hard winter of 1763, where London streets were filled with frozen and starving mobs. The Methodists set up a soup kitchen, and John Wesley was out collecting money. Two Methodists speak of Wesley’s unyielding commitment to helping the poor.
Scene 11. Dr Thomas Coke and the Beginning of The Methodist Missionary Society 1776 – 1777.
Reading from John Wesley’s journal documenting his visits across the country in 1776, and his meeting with Dr Coke. Asking Wesley for help, Coke joins the Methodists and was never again a parish priest. Dr Coke travelled to America, where he founded the Methodist Missionary Society and became the first Superintendent in the USA.
Scene 12. Old Age and Death, 1778-1791.
The Narrator reflects on the spread of Methodism across Britain and overseas towards the end of Wesley’s life. New chapels were opening across the country. Methodists were pushing for the separation and creation of a Methodist Church, which was to come later as Wesley had always resisted it. The scene is at Wesley’s death bed, surrounded by his family. Choir sings softly, ‘I’ll praise my Maker’.
Key historical figures mentioned
- Wesley [Westley], John (1703–1791) Church of England clergyman and a founder of Methodism
- Wesley, Charles (1707–1788) Church of England clergyman and a founder of Methodism
- Coke, Thomas (1747–1814) Church of England clergyman and founder of Methodist missions
- Maxfield, Thomas (d. 1784) Methodist preacher
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Book of words
Other primary published materials
References in secondary literature
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Book of Words – MB172
Bedfordshire Archives and Records
Sources used in preparation of pageant
- The journal of the Rev. John Wesley, ed. N. Curnock and others, 8 vols. London, 1909-16.
Pageants remained quite popular with religious organizations and churches into the later twentieth century. This is an example of one such pageant. Organised by the Methodists of Luton, the pageant was staged in High Town Methodist Church, and was focused squarely on the work of John Wesley and other preachers and missionaries.
By Chloe Ratcliffe, King’s Undergraduate Research Fellow
- Synopses text taken from pageant Book of Words held in Bedfordshire Record Office – ref. MB172
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘John Wesley and the Methodist Heritage 1979’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1295/