Sydney, Australia: Wesley Mission, Sydney, is celebrating 200 years of Methodism in Australia with a series of special events and milestones being marked between 2012 and 2015.
Celebrations began on 6 March this year when Wesley Mission congregation members, staff, volunteers and other Uniting Church members gathered together in prayer to remember and give thanks for their founding faith.
It was on 6 March 1812 that three pioneering and committed Methodists met in the home of Thomas Bowden in The Rocks area of Sydney.
“The prayer gathering gave people the opportunity to give thanks to God for the legacy of Methodism in Australia,” said the Superintendent of Wesley Mission, the Rev Keith Garner. “Methodism has made a significant contribution not only to individuals but the fabric of Australian society.”
The event focused on the four areas which will be the heart of activity during the next four years – hope (2012), advocacy (2013), innovation (2014) and faith (2015) – culminating in 2015 with the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the first Methodist minister, the Rev Samuel Leigh.
The major caring and community work that Wesley Mission conducts today can be traced to the first meeting of Methodists in Sydney in 1812. This pioneering care went on to found the organisation that became Wesley Mission which is now the largest Uniting Church parish in Australia with 150 community, aged care and health services and programs, 2000 staff and 3000 volunteers.
This Methodist legacy was also acknowledged and celebrated by 2000 Wesley Mission supporters, donors, volunteers, staff, church and community in Sydney on 15 July. The celebrations are significant for the worldwide Methodist family too: the Rev Dr Sir Alan Walker was Superintendent of Central Methodist Mission, Sydney, for 20 years (1958-78) and Director of Evangelism for the World Methodist Council from 1978 to 1988. Sir Alan also founded the World Methodist Evangelism Institute in 1982.
The Celebrate 200 event began with a dramatic re-enactment of the first meeting of Methodists. The drama was performed in an open-air amphitheatre in the centre of Sydney’s CBD and drew hundreds of curious onlookers. Dressed in period costume the actors vividly re-created the meeting of Methodist lay people – Thomas Bowden, Edward Eagar and John Hosking – discussing how they would convince Governor Macquarie to allow them to send for a Minister from Britain.
A following scene captured the first meeting in 1815 between Governor Lachlan Macquarie and the newly arrived Rev Samuel Leigh. The two discussed the role the Methodist Church would play in the life of the colony.
Led by the Rev Keith and Mrs Carol Garner an inspired and enlivened crowd of 1000 people marched from the amphitheatre to the iconic State Theatre. The significance of the State Theatre was not lost on the group: it was at the State Theatre in the early 1960s that Wesley Mission congregations worshipped while their church in Castlereagh Street was rebuilt following a devastating fire.
The bevy of marchers joined a larger audience already assembled in the Theatre. The gathered crowd sang Methodist hymns and contemporary Christian songs and watched inspiring video presentations of Wesley Mission’s work, past and present.
The Rev Keith Garner said the day helped to make a clear connection with the history of Wesley Mission.
“We have a strong link with those early Methodists who helped shape a church that in turn gave birth to what we now know as Wesley Mission,” he said.
Mr Garner also noted that while Wesley Mission celebrated it had to “take hold of the challenges of the future”, particularly in the areas of mental health, homelessness, poverty and aged care.
Among the keynote speakers was the Premier of NSW, Barry O’Farrell, who emphasised the need for the community and church sector to work in an integrated way with government.
“I’m not one who believes government can meet the needs of everyone or work in isolation,” Mr O’Farrell said.
The State Theatre event was hosted by Mark Scott AO, a senior Officer of Wesley Mission and Managing Director of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation who said the afternoon was a celebration of how Wesley Mission served the Lord Jesus Christ in “thought, word and deed.”
The Federal Minister for Health, Tanya Plibersek, spoke highly of Wesley Mission’s innovative work in homelessness, mental health, financial and gambling counselling. She also commended the Rev Keith Garner for his public leadership on these and many other issues.
The audience also heard the electrifying voice of leading Australian entertainer, Silvie Paladino, who produced a powerful rendition of How great thou art backed by the Wesley Impact! band.
The service concluded with the cutting of a bicentenary cake by Keith, the Premier of NSW Barry O’Farrell, former Superintendent the Rev Dr Gordon Moyes, and Wesley Mission congregation members Angela Chiu and Lakshman Wijesekera.
A book about Wesley Mission and its contemporary work and Methodist history was also launched.
Wesley Mission 200 years of faith and pioneering care, today’s people tell today’s story, shares the story of the modern Wesley Mission including its large and diverse congregations, its early intervention work with families, the cutting edge care provided to the elderly, its counselling services and compassionate ministry among the homeless, marginalised and disadvantaged.
“This is a remarkable story which is truly inspirational,” the Rev Keith Garner said.
“It shows the practical care of staff and volunteers driven by an underlying commitment to the needs of others no matter what their background.”
Today, Wesley Mission has grown so that it serves God in more than 150 programs across Sydney and regional New South Wales. On any Sunday close to 2000 people attend worship services at the Wesley Mission Centre in Pitt Street and at other centres throughout metropolitan Sydney.
“I do not believe any of our congregations see themselves as making their God-connection through the ‘stained-glass imagination of grand ecclesiastical traditions’,” Mr Garner said. “Neither are they persuaded that contemporary styles of church are somehow above or beyond the authority of the wider church.
“Mission cannot be carried out in an historical or cultural vacuum. We are a sent people who will make the clearest and most profound connections with our society today.”
A DVD on the life and ministry of John Wesley has also been produced and released. It is hosted by the Rev Keith Garner who travels throughout the United Kingdom and captures the life, locations and experiences of John Wesley under four key themes: education, evangelism, ministry and social justice. This excellent resource features many leading Methodists who tell the story of John Wesley for today.
Wesley Mission’s Bicentenary events, a video, stories and Bicentenary memorabilia can be viewed at: www.wesleymission.org.au/200years