Failure and the Wesley Brothers
• “Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing and being nothing.” Denis Waitley
• “Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.” Napoleon Hill
• “Rejoice and exult in hope; be steadfast and patient in suffering and tribulation; be constant in prayer.” – Romans 12:12
Mell and I visited “Epworth by the Sea” a retreat center in St. Simons, Georgia; named for the boyhood home of John and Charles Wesley, founders of the United Methodist Church. The vision of “Epworth by the Sea” is to provide a Christian place where one might come and feel the same “reviving of the spirit” felt by the Wesley’s so long ago.
We discovered several roadside plaques throughout St. Simons Island recognizing the contributions of John and Charles Wesley. Curious to know more, I visited a bookstore to see what local historians had to say about the brothers and their only visit to America.
In 1736, John and Charles, accompanied General Oglethorpe from England to St. Simons Island, Georgia. Oglethorpe built a fort to provide protection for the settlers. John and Charles were to oversee the local church and fulfill their dream of witnessing their faith with Native Americans. According to local historians, the trip was a disappointment.
“Although a number of illustrations show the Wesley’s preaching to the Indians, they never actually did. After two months, filled with problems, disagreements and fights, the Wesley brothers abandoned hope of ever reaching the colonists and soldiers. Less than a year later, discouraged, Charles returned to England. Shortly afterward, John too would return with a parting comment, ‘It was not any apprehension of my own danger but with an utter despair of doing good there.’”
So, by all accounts the Wesley brothers’ trip to Georgia was a failure. So why would St. Simons, honor them? Why name “Epworth by the Sea” after their boyhood home?
“Failure isn’t fatal but failure to change might be.” John Wooden
“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” Robert Kennedy
“Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again — my Savior and my God!” Psalm 42:5
In 1738, shortly after returning to England, John and Charles had a significant religious experience that John would later describe as feeling his “heart strangely warmed.” Resuming his ministry, by preaching in open area settings throughout England, John formed small groups or societies based on personal accountability, discipleship and teaching.
These societies would become the foundation for Methodist churches all over the world. Charles provided music and wrote lyrics for more than 6,000 hymns, including, “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” The Wesley Brothers failed trip to Georgia ended up being a catalyst that led them to form the Methodist movement which has become one of the larger denominations within Christianity.
Saint Simon’s understandably takes pride in being the only area in America visited by the Wesleys. A trip that on the surface, was a failure, yet this failure led to founding a movement that impacted and deepened the lives of millions of Christians.
What appeared to be a failure led to something greater. “Epworth by the Sea” stands as a place where I can pray and reflect on what it means to serve a God who continually turns failure into ministry.
“What is the point of being alive if you don’t at least try to do something remarkable.” John Green.
REV. LARRY E. DAVIES can be reached at email@example.com.