Saturday, July 17, 2010


Searching For John Wesley in Dallas, Texas

Tinney Chapel Group Photo by Rev. Jim Ozier
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Searching For John Wesley in Dallas, Texas

WESLEY THE MOVIE was worth the four-hour round trip to Dallas’ Lakewood Theater for nine pilgrims from Tinney Chapel UMC on Saturday, July 17, 2010. The fellowship alone, much of it during the drive, was enough to justify the trip. Not to mention a great meal at the nearby Dixie House restaurant, less than a block from the historic Lakewood, a culinary event that brought Dallas singer/songwriter Colin Boyd to our table to share a brunch meal. All this was well before entering the movie theater.

REV. JIM OZIER happened along just in time snap our group picture pose in front of the Lakewood. Some of us had not seen him since he visited Tinney Chapel during the DNA evaluations of several months ago. For some readers of this column, the picture will be posted nearby, showing, left to right: Joe Dan Boyd, Pastor Sue Gross, Roger and Sharon Schneider, Nyla Gross, Jenna Nelson, Linda Hallman, Ronny Ellison and Joe Mathews.

ONCE INSIDE THIS UNIQUE THEATER, the Tinney Chapel delegation found an entire “pew row” to seat all of us together. We were 20 minutes early, and the lights did not dim until perhaps five minutes after 2 pm, the scheduled show time, which was followed by a half hour of Q and A, hosted by Wesley director John Jackman and (briefly) actor Keith Harris, who played Charles Wesley in the movie.

WESLEY IS A FULL-LENGTH FILM, lasting nearly two hours, and does provide an informative introduction to the early career and ministry of John Wesley, who is justly regarded, worldwide, as the founder of Methodism, although he never relinquished his Anglican Church of England credentials. During that early ministry, as a young man, John Wesley sailed to America, then still part of the British Empire, a perilous, stormy voyage which tested his courage and his faith, also exposing him to a group of Moravians on the same voyage. It was the Moravians’ perceived serenity in the face of danger that helped Wesley deal with his own fears.

DURING HIS TWO-YEAR STAY in the area of Savannah, Georgia, young John Wesley was involved in a real-life, but ultimately ill-fated, romance with a young girl named Sophy Hopkey. Unfortunately, the movie devotes far too much footage to this event, a decision which precludes coverage of later Methodist historical development in the United States. In fact, after Wesley leaves Georgia, the balance of the film takes place entirely in England.

ON THE PLUS SIDE, the film does present an overview of John Wesley as a relatively indecisive young man who is, for some time, not entirely certain of his own faith or his future as a member of the Anglican clergy.

WESLEY’S WELL-KNOWN Aldersgate experience, at which he received an assurance of salvation during a reading of Luther’s commentary on Romans, is presented in a low-key, but entirely convincing scene, after which he becomes a much more decisive and confident cleric-innovator. It’s a touching moment, during which his heart is “strangely warmed,” handled well by actor Burgess Jenkins.

FROM THE STANDPOINT OF METHODIST HISTORY, we see signs indicating meetings of The Methodist Society and an explanation of what has come down to us as the Wesley Quadrilateral of scripture, tradition, reason and experience, a method of interpretation and proclamation still in use today.

WHAT WE DO NOT GET in this film is any sense of what a John Wesley sermon was about. At most, we get a few sentences which are apparently intended to typify his theology and delivery, but fail to present his complex understanding of faith and salvation, much of which still undergirds United Methodist doctrine via the full texts of many surviving sermons by John Wesley, himself a prolific writer and journal keeper, which provided the basis for much of this film’s dialog.

ONE POSSIBLE EXPLANATION FOR THIS OVERSIGHT might have been suggested by the film’s director, John Jackman, during the Q&A which followed this showing at Dallas’ Lakewood Theater. There, Jackman described himself as also a Moravian pastor. Perhaps Jackman’s primary motivation with Wesley The Movie was to emphasize the Moravian influence on Wesley, rather than Wesley’s historical influence on the development of Methodism as a doctrine and a denomination?

In any case, whatever his primary motivation, we are indebted to director Jackman for his interest and the final product, Wesley, a movie which apparently surpasses any previous attempt to capture John Wesley on film, and raises the bar for any future attempt.

For this, director/pastor Jackman we thank you.

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