rNE OF the most interesting but
Uleast publicised events of Church Unity Week was Cardinal Hume's visit on Wednesday to the centre of world Methodism.
The event in question was not publicised because it was a private occasion on which the Cardinal attended an Ecumenical Breakfast following a service held at Wesley's Chapel in London's City Road.
The Cardinal was due to give a short speech at the breakfast at which the other guests were clergy and religious from the City area of London.
Wesley's Chapel is a magnificent building which is the "Mother Church of World Methodism." It forms the nucleus of a fascinating enclave comprising administrative and residential buildings, Wesley's own house and a museum illustrative of Methodist history and tradition.
I was all too ignorant of this history — as of so many other Vignettes of Christian history in general — until I had had the opportunity of reading something about it. For this opportunity I must, it the risk of momentary digression, express thanks to one of the members of a most remarkable community which exists within the "enclave," as I have called it, which contains the nervecentre of Methodism.
The community in question is part of a larger Community which constitutes a virtual religious order within the Methodist framework.
But Benson's Building at Wesley's Chapel was the community's first home when it started in 1978 with the arrival of a new ,minister and his wife.
They were Ronald and Olive Gibbons who were later joined by three other ministers, two American and one British.
But more recently still something unexpected has happened: something which possibly makes this community unique among any comparable group of as few as eight persons.
They are not only of mixed sex but also from different Christan communions. There is an Anglican member and also, as of just over a year ago, a Catholic one as well.
The latter is Sr Mary of the
Canonesses of St Augustine who lives in the community while working daily as a chaplain to the Catholic students of the City of London Polytechnic.
In other words, like the community's other members, she does her own job by day while participating in the spirit and life of the community.
This involves, among other things, joint prayer consisting of two offices which are said morning and evening in the small Foundery Chapel which is off the main church. It is an historic spot for it commemorates the original meeting place of the Methodists.
At one giant leap, as it were, this little chapel takes one straight back to John Wesley himself and the dramatic circumstances in which he was destined to become the founder of the world's largest Protestant Church.
RELIGION in England in the early eighteenth century was drifting through depressingly slack waters.
"Unwillingly", in May, 1738, a dispirited John Wesley, almost despairing of earlier efforts to revitalise the religious life of himself and others, went to a prayer meeting in Aldersgate Street. It was the "Damascene" moment in his life. He knew he had found God's love and burned from then on to return it by a life devoted to what some have called "evangelical Catholicism".
The phrase sounds startling but Wesley was accused by many of being a secret "Roman" because of his advocacy of frequent Holy Communion. His purchase of a disused foundry for just over a hundred pounds in 1739 anal ked the beginning of his new ni on in life.
Thus a "vast uncouth heap of ruins," once used for making weapons of war, was converted into Methodism's first place of worship, It came to be called the "Foundery," and was the forerunner of toc:ay's Chapel.
In Wesley's day, of course, the area consisted mostly of fields, including Bunhill Fields burial ground, the unconsecrated graveyard for "dissenters."
But before Wesley had had laid the foundation stone for the much bigger church, whose restored version is today's "Wesley's Chapel," he had travelled, during 40 years, over 250,000 miles on horseback and preached over 40,000 sermons.
His efforts revolutionised religious thought in England. And yet he was preaching, he said, "not a new religion, but the old religion of the Bible . . . of the primitive church . . . of the Church of England . . . no other than the love of God to all mankind."
CATHOLIC relations with Methodism have never been friendlier both at national and international levels.
We were lucky in England that so charming a spokesman as Bishop Mervyn Alexander of Clifton was the first Catholic cochairman of the commission dealing in this country with Methodist-Catholic relations. The foundations laid in those years have borne abundant fruit.
I was discussing the matter the other day with Sr Amelie Betton who is the immensely knowledgeable secretary of the Clifton Diocesan Ecumenical Commission. She stresses how providential has been the discovery since Vatican II of the closeness between new manifestations of Catholic "inner spirituality" and familiar Methodist practices.
The international Joint Commission between Catholicism and the World Methodist Council continues meanwhile to travel further along the road fixed by its great "signpost" document of' 1979: "The Holy Spirit — Christian Experience and Authority."
Much mutual inspiration has taken place since Neville Ward, a Methodist, wrote his splendid book of meditations based — causing something of a sensation at the time — on the Rosary.
John Wesley would surely have approved.
TALKING of Methodism, how does a Primitive Methodist from Downside come to be associated with the Rector of a nearby Anglican church in the preparation for the seventh centenary of one of Catholic Europe's most controversial philosophers?
For one thing, the Downside in question is not the famous Benedictine Abbey but a tiny village near Cobham in Surrey. From that village hails David Haley who is a great friend of the Rev Colin Still, Rector of All Saints Church, Ockham. And who is Ockham's most illustrious son? He is a man who has been somewhat forgotten but will becommemorated in great style later this year.
For, in April, a stained glass window in the parish church will be dedicated to the great William of Ockham who is
thought to have been born at the end of 1284 or in the early part of 1285.
To whet appetites for the later celebrations, a local classical scholar, John Kisch, agreed to give an introductory lecture on the subject of William of Ockham.
Perhaps most significantly of all, the April celebrations will be attended by scholars from the Franciscan Institute of New York's St Bona. enture University.
It has taken five of them ten years to produce and edit, in 17 volumes, the complete works of Ockham. This is the first time this has ever been accomplished.
Ockham, for the record, was a brilliantly original thinker who bitterly criticised the worldliness of Pope John XXII. His various alternatives to many basic doctrines of Thomism meanwhile gained him much enmity.
He demanded reform, both of the Church as a temporal poWer and also of some of what he looked upon as the overcomplicated tenets of scholastic philosophy. For such reasons some people called him "the first Protestant."
Will he now be rehabilitated? Time will show. "Formally," however, he has long, been considered as a heretic even though it is quite probable that he died within the Church as the result of generous overtures by Pope Clement VI.
Most Catholics today would probably agree with the Ock ham thesis which, in layman's language, was that it was impossible to try to "prove" God's existence. What mattered was to believe in him.
Perhaps he was more human than the great Aquinas who died within a few months of Ockham's birth. But who can doubt the latter's humility? After his last, and prolonged, ecstasy, he said "I can do no more. Such secrets have been revealed to me that all I have written now appears to 60 of little value."
What is exciting i that, for the first time ever, we will soon be flooded with material by and about the prolific, idealistic but fiery and uncompromising Franciscan from Ockham whose inhabitants, I am told, are, in general, blissfully unaware of his very existence.