Day 1: Departure from the USA
I am only an honest heathen…And yet, to be so employed of God! (from a letter John Wesley wrote to his brother at age 63).
Our journey begins with an overnight flight with full meal/beverage service and in-flight entertainment to London, England.
Day 2: Sheffield (D)
[A]n inward impression on the soul of believers whereby the Spirit of God directly testifies to their spirit that they are the children of God (John Wesley’s definition of the witness of the Spirit).
Upon arrival in London, we’ll meet our Faith Journeys tour manager and transfer by motor coach north to Sheffield, a city built on seven hills near the confluence of five rivers. It is estimated that Sheffield has over two million trees, more per person than any other city in Europe! Sheffield is also known for its production of stainless steel and fine cutlery dating back to the 14th century. After checking into our hotel and enjoying a fine meal, we’ll have the chance to relax for the remainder of the evening.
Day 3: Epworth (B,D)
John Wesley called himself a “brand plucked from the burning” (quoting Zechariah 3:2—because at the age of five, he was rescued from the burning Epworth rectory, a narrow escape that made a deep impression on his mind and heart).
Today we’ll visit the nearby town of Epworth, birthplace of John and Charles Wesley and the place where their father, Samuel Wesley, was rector from 1695 to 1735. Our ‘Wesley’ sightseeing tour will include a stop at the Old Rectory, a fine Queen Anne style building rebuilt after the famous fire of 1709 and now completely restored and maintained as a museum. Legend has it that the Old Rectory was home to an invisible guest (a ghost affectionately called “Old Jeffrey” by the nineteen Wesley children). The rector was said to have initially severely lectured the child who brought him any wild tale about a ghost walking about in the rectory and also said that if there were any strange noises, they were undoubtedly caused by all the awkward young suitors who came around in the evenings to pursue his four pretty daughters. Later Samuel Wesley allegedly accepted the presence of “Old Jeffrey” but not without telling him: “Why do you disturb innocent children? If you have something to say, come to me in my study!” We will also see the Wesley Memorial Church, built as a memorial to the Wesley brothers in 1888-1889, and St. Andrew’s Church, located on hill overlooking town where Samuel Wesley ministered to his flock. We’ll enjoy lunch on our own (perhaps at the Red Lion Inn where John Wesley used to lodge) and spend the afternoon exploring either the nearby town of Gainsborough (called the “capital that never was” because in 1013, the Dane Sweyn Forkbeard based his large empire here after gaining the kingship of England but died five weeks later and his son Canute established the capital elsewhere) or the market/garden town of Scunthorpe, known for its shopping in the old town or at many well-known retailers on High Street.
Day 4: Stratford upon Avon (B,D)
Heaven take my soul, and England keeps my bones! (Shakespeare; King John, IV, iii, 10).
As we travel south to Oxford, we’ll stop en route at Stratford-upon-Avon, a charming town visited by three million visitors a year owing to its status as birthplace of the playwright and poet William Shakespeare, and home to the Royal Shakespeare Company. Here we’ll see Shakespeare’s birthplace, a beautifully restored 16th century half-timbered house situated in Henley Street, where it is believed that ‘The Bard’ was born in 1564 and spent his childhood years. It is now a small museum open to the public and has been referred to as a “Mecca” for lovers of literature. We will also visit the childhood home of William Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway. Although called Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, it is a spacious twelve-roomed farmhouse now set in extensive gardens. As in many houses of the period, it has multiple chimneys to spread the heat evenly throughout the house during winter, and has visible timber framing, a trademark of Tudor style architecture. After we enjoy lunch on our own, we’ll have some free time to further explore Stratford before we continue on to Oxford for dinner and an overnight stay.
Day 5: Oxford (B,D)
I have preached, I suppose, the last time in St Mary’s. Be it so. I am now clear of the blood of these men. I have fully delivered my soul.” (John Wesley wrote this when he delivered his famous sermon “The Almost Christian” from here in 1741 and denounced the laxity of senior university members in 1744. After the latter sermon, he was not invited back).
We visit Oxford this morning, an ancient city along the Thames River made prominent by the oldest university in the English-speaking world. This beautiful “City of Dreaming Spires” (coined by Matthew Arnold to describe the harmonious architecture of Oxford University’s buildings) is also rich in Christian history and religious figures such John Wycliffe, John Wesley, C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkein. It was in Oxford that John Wesley, while a fellow of Lincoln College, began the Methodist movement. Our tour of the “City of Dreaming Spires” would not be complete without visiting Lincoln College with its Wesley Memorial Room and chapel, and the Wesley & Methodist Studies Center founded as Westminster College in 1851. We will also see the parish church of Oxford: the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin originally built in the 13th century and place where John Wesley preached his famous sermon ‘Scriptural Christianity’ in 1744. After an unforgettable experience in Oxford, we’ll make our way to Bristol for dinner and an overnight stay.
Day 6: Bristol (B,D)
[T]he fairest, goodliest, and most famous parish church in England (St. Mary Redcliffe Church described by Queen Elizabeth I).
Bristol, the most populous city in South West England, will provide us with many unforgettable sights including a great landmark and symbol of the city: the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Spanning the Avon Gorge, it was first proposed in 1753 but not completed until 1864 (in 1885, a 22-year-old woman survived a fall from the bridge when her billowing skirts acted as a parachute; she subsequently lived into her eighties). We will also see the first iron-built, propeller-driven Atlantic liner, the SS Great Britain, and St. Mary Redcliffe Church which was constructed from the 12th to the 15th century and is renowned for its Gothic architecture. We should be reminded that John Wesley came to Bristol every year from 1739 to 1790, and spent nearly 1,500 nights at the ‘New Room.’ Today we visit the ‘New Room,’ (closed on Sundays) the oldest Methodist building in the world, built when he started preaching outdoors to the poor people of Bristol. We’ll also see Hanham Mount, where a flagged cross marks the spot where the field preachers once stood, and Wesley College. After lunch on our own, we’ll continue on to nearby Bath built around the United Kingdom’s only naturally occurring hot springs (pours out around 280,000 gallons a day). From ancient Roman times, Bath has been known as a spa resort with the Latin name, Aquae Sulis (“the waters of Sulis”), but the city also has a variety of theatres, museums, and many other cultural sites. Before returning to Bristol for dinner and another overnight stay, we’ll visit the Costume Museum and, time permitting, the Wesley Center.
Day 7: Salisbury & Stonehenge (B,D)
The best of all is, God is with us (John Wesley on his death bed).
Today’s sights will thrill us. First we’ll stop in Salisbury en route to London, to visit the magnificent Salisbury Cathedral with its towering central spire (the tallest in England, it rises 404 feet tall and weighs 6,400 tons), the largest and oldest complete set of choir stalls in the country (made in 1236 from oak provided by King Henry III), and the chapter house (1263-84) which displays the best preserved of only four original copies of the Magna Carta (1215). Then we’ll experience the mystery of Stonehenge, one of the most famous prehistoric monuments in the world. Some believe Stonehenge is an ancient burial ground, sacred sanctuary or astronomical observatory while others attribute the monument’s construction to Merlin the Magician! Still others might espouse ancient folklore which has the Devil bringing the stones in from Ireland, wrapping them up, and putting them on the Salisbury plain. At the end of the tale the Devil cries out, “No-one will ever find out how these stones came here!” to which a friar replies, “That’s what you think!” After an eventful day, we’ll continue to London for dinner and an overnight stay.
Day 8: London (B,D)
[T]he bellow and uproar… the shuffling and swinging… the triumph and jingle… was what she loved; life; London; this moment in June (Virginia Woolf; Mrs. Dalloway (1925).
We awaken in a place described as the flower of all cities. Our tour of London includes Kensington and Knightsbridge, exclusive districts known for their shopping, museums, and wealthy residential areas (the local motto of Kensignton is Quam Bonum in Unum Habitare, which translates approximately as ‘How good it is to dwell in unity’). We will explore Westminster Abbey, a Gothic monastery church that is the traditional place of coronation and burial for English monarchs. The interior of Westminster Abbey is a veritable museum of English history where among other things are the medieval coronation throne, Poet’s Corner with memorials to Shakespeare, Dickens, and other literary giants, the tombs of Queen Elizabeth I, “Bloody” Queen Mary, explorer David Livingstone and naturalist Charles Darwin, and a memorial tablet to John and Charles Wesley. In the heart of London, we will see Pass Whitehall and Trafalgar Square with Nelson’s Column, guarded by four lion statues at its base. We will proceed past Big Ben (the largest four-faced chiming clock and third tallest free-standing clock tower in the world; it celebrated its 150th anniversary in May 2009, and first ticked on 31 May 1859) and the House of Parliament, to Buckingham Palace, the official London residence of the British monarch where we see the Changing of the Guard. We’ll continue along Fleet Street to St. Paul’s Cathedral, and then to the 900-year old Tower of London, which was founded towards the end of 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest of England. The White Tower, which gives the entire castle its name, was built by William the Conqueror in 1078, and played a prominent role in English history, serving variously as an armoury, a treasury, a menagerie, the home of the Royal Mint, a public records office, and the home of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom. After a rich experience in this “flower of all cities, we’ll enjoy dinner and a second night’s stay here.
Day 9: London (B,D)
Hark! The herald angels sing. Glory to the newborn King!/Peace on earth and mercy mild; God and sinners reconciled! (Charles Wesley; “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”).
Our marvelous tour of London continues this morning, as we concentrate more fully on Wesley-related sights. We will first explore St. Paul’s Cathedral, which sits on ground long-held sacred as it is the fourth cathedral to occupy this site. The present cathedral was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, whose original, grander plan met with considerable resistance. Although a compromise, the architecture of St. Paul’s still reflects the grandeur of Wren’s design; it was the tallest building in London from 1710 to 1962 and is still the highest point in the city, and its enormous dome is among the highest in the world second only to St. Peter’s in Rome. John Wesley worshipped in the chapel on several occasions and his statue is in the northwest corner of the churchyard. We will also visit Wesley’s Chapel on City Road which was built around the time the Americans were declaring their independence from Britain and which is considered the mother church of world Methodism. The tomb of John Wesley is in the churchyard and Wesley’s House where he spent the last eleven winters of his life, is nearby. Because many of John Wesley’s belongings are still inside the house, our visit will be like a step back into the 18th century. The Museum of Methodism tells the story of Methodism from the 18th to the 20th century. We’ll enjoy an afternoon at leisure to further explore London. We might take in a museum, enjoy a shopping excursion, or simply sit quietly at an outdoor venue to absorb the energy and atmosphere of this one-of-a-kind city. We will gather for dinner and spend our last night in London.
Day 10: Return to the USA (B)
We will let the wonder of all we have seen and heard settle over us; then like other pilgrims of other times, go back to our lives with renewed faith and readiness.
We leave our hotel and head for the airport to return to the U.S.
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