From Methodist to Anglican: Returning to the Church of the Wesleys

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In 2022, I left my spiritual home of over 23 years. God was calling me from the United Methodist Church to the Anglican Church, and I am just now beginning to put this spiritual journey into words. 

I realized that the United Methodist Church denomination that had nurtured me for so long was shifting. However, looking back, it wasn’t so much the United Methodist denomination as it was the historic faith of the Wesleys that had nurtured my faith journey. 

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John and Charles Wesley began Methodism at Oxford as a way to live out their Anglican faith in Christ. Thus, the very priorities of the Wesleys, which first drew me into Methodism, are now leading me to the Anglican Church.

The First Priority: A Living and Practiced Faith

Over the past 20 years, I have served as a minister in The United Methodist Church. What brought me to the Methodist Church was its intentional focus on growing as a disciple in Scriptural holiness. In John Wesley’s understanding, Methodism is a formation process by which a new believer can understand the faith, unite with the faith, and then continue to grow in holiness. A great description of a “Methodist” is found in Wesley’s short pamphlet “A Short History of Methodism.” Wesley writes that a Methodist believes in three things:

  1. “That men are all by nature dead in sin, and consequently Children of Wrath.”
  2. “That they are justified by Faith alone.”
  3. “That Faith produces an outward and an inward holiness.”

Wesley originally envisioned Methodism not as a denomination but as a systematic approach to faithful living. Wesley’s big idea was that, through practicing the “ordinances of God,” we may grow in sanctification. We approach Christianity as a way of life that must be continually practiced in the community with one another. John Wesley writes that the original Methodists were zealously attached to the Church of England. Their differences weren’t denominational but practical. 

One of the primary contributions of John Wesley to the church was the class meeting and accountability where faithful followers of Jesus could live out these three things in an intentional community of repentance and forgiveness. In this way, we grow as disciples. Methodism gave a voice to my struggles as a Christian. I found a home proclaiming the gospel of Scriptural holiness and encouraging those around me to engage in this systematic approach to following Jesus. I became a Methodist pastor to spread Scriptural holiness across the land. 

Wesley established his Methodism as a way to practice the faith of the Church of England. In his Journal entry on September 13, 1739, John Wesley wrote, “A serious clergyman desired to know, in what points we differ from the Church of England? I answered, ‘To the best of my knowledge, in none: the doctrines we preach, are the doctrines of the Church of England: indeed, the fundamental doctrines of the church, clearly laid down, both in her prayers, articles, and homilies.” Methodism took the Book of Common Prayer and put it into practice with accountability to one another. 

Coming from a background in the Christian faith that seemed uninterested in how the faith was lived out, Wesley’s priority of a living and “vital religion” made sense to me. I needed the experience of this practice in my life. It gave me hope when I struggled and support when I failed. 

The Second Priority: A Missional Faith

As a member of the United Methodist clergy, I moved around quite a bit. The United Methodist Church system calls this form of ministry itineracy. The church deploys clergy to various places around the area. In this system, I served six different churches over 18 years. In some places, the ministry was thriving, but in others, the ministry was struggling. However, this was not Wesley’s intention with his clergy. The intention was to ensure that clergy would go where the people were. The gospel was meant to be shared with everyone. The rise of the modern missional movement began, in part, with Wesley, who went out to the people. One of the questions Wesley asked his clergy was, “Will you visit from house to house?” In other words, will you be intentional about spreading Scriptural holiness with your neighbor? 

The faith that Wesley envisioned was both global (he said, “The world is my parish.”) and intentionally local (“visit house to house”). The missional church envisioned by John Wesley went beyond its walls and into the community to live the faith alongside our neighbors. Wesley writes, “They (preachers) should endeavor to live according to what they preach, to be plain, Bible-Christians. And they meet together at convenient times, to encourage one another therein.” Wesley wanted a plain faith that reached outward in a missional way. Methodism started as a missional movement within the Anglican Way. 

It seems the goal of so many churches today is to bring people into the church. However, the missional church proposed by Wesley was a movement to bring the church to the people. It took serving many different churches in many different places for me to finally realize Wesley’s priority of a missional faith. I need to be planted as a neighbor to live according to what I preach. 

The Third Priority: A Liturgical Faith

I have been in the church for as long as I can remember. My earliest memories were memories of the church. My grandfather was a pastor. The community of believers gathered together for worship nurtured my spirit. However, looking back, I find it difficult to remember a single sermon I heard in my lifetime. Sure, there were a few standouts where I could remember a phrase, sentence, and tone. What I can recall in vivid detail is the first time I heard the church’s liturgy. I remember the words offered by the minister after we have confessed our sins:

Almighty God, our heavenly Father,
who of thy great mercy hast promised forgiveness of sins
to all them that with hearty repentance and true faith turn to thee:
Have mercy upon us;
pardon and deliver us from all our sins;
confirm and strengthen us in all goodness;
and bring us to everlasting life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

It was like a cup of cold water for a dry and thirsty soul. The centrality of the liturgy in worship has been part of my faith journey ever since this moment: reading scripture together, reciting the creeds together, praying for one another together, confessing our sins together, exchanging peace with one another, and gathering around the common table and sharing in the common cup. This is the fullest expression of the church. It expresses our allegiance and dependence on the one true King of Kings and Lord of Lords. This liturgical worship ultimately transforms our life into a cruciform shape.

John Wesley wrote these words on September 9, 1784, in his preface to The Sunday Service of the Methodist in North America,

I believe there is no liturgy in the World, either in ancient or modern language, which breathes more of a solid, scriptural, rational Piety, than the COMMON PRAYER of the CHURCH of ENGLAND.

Wesley turned to the Book of Common Prayer time and time again in his life in Daily Prayer. It shaped his formation and his ministry. 

Returning to the Church of the Wesleys

I found that as my ministry matured, my desire to be a part of the church of John and Charles Wesley also grew. In my daily prayer and discernment, I realized that my faith journey wasn’t abandoning The United Methodist Church, where my ministry developed, but returning to the historic church that gave birth to the Methodist missional movement. Wesley wrote of the earliest Methodists, “They were all zealous Members of the Church of England, not only tenacious in her Doctrines, as far as they knew them, but of all her Discipline, to the minutest Circumstance.” 

The church’s liturgy is the work of the people practicing their faith with the saints and the community. John Wesley knew how important it was to shape our identity, so he recommended it for his churches in America. I found the same language to express my faith through the church’s liturgy used by John and Charles Wesley. This is why moving from Methodism to Anglicanism is like returning home. I will always be a Methodist the way John Wesley was a Methodist. However, now I will practice that method while living missionally and sharing liturgically with my brothers and sisters in the Anglican Church. 

Author

Stephen Fife

Stephen Fife is a pastor and licensed professional counselor from Columbia, Louisiana. He has spent the last twenty years serving churches across the state. Stephen has been married to Marny for over 25 years, and they have three daughters.

View more from Stephen Fife

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