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Pit filled with voices 250 years after Wesley debut

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 06, 2012

The Reverend Dr Leslie Griffiths preaches at Gwennap Pit exactly 250 years after John Wesley first visited the site    SIMON PARKER

The Reverend Dr Leslie Griffiths preaches at Gwennap Pit exactly 250 years after John Wesley first visited the site SIMON PARKER

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Under a cloudless blue sky and seated on grass and stone tiers, several hundred Methodists gathered at Cornwall's famous Gwennap Pit yesterday evening for a service to mark the 250th anniversary of the first visit by their movement's founder.

A 5 o'clock – the exact time John Wesley spoke to a thousand-strong gathering of miners and their families on September 5, 1762 – the congregation rose to sing Father of everlasting grace.

It was an entirely different scene to the one that greeted the Methodist giant and his flock two and a half centuries ago. On that occasion, Wesley was unable to hold a service at his favoured site in the parish because of severe weather and instead sought refuge in a nearby hollow. He later wrote in his journal: "The wind was so high at five that I could not stand in the usual place."

Instead, the former mine working was pressed into service – and the hollow became so popular with the preacher that local people transformed it into an amphitheatre

Yesterday's event was led by Wesley's successor as Superintendent minister of Wesley's Chapel in London, the Reverend Dr Leslie Griffiths, who began the proceedings by saying: "It is so good to be here on the same date and at the same time that John Wesley first preached here."

Some 300 attended the service, some from as far afield as the US, Germany and South Africa and other parts of the UK, while the majority were from within Cornwall – Methodism's heartland. Hymns and prayers were followed by an animated sermon delivered by Dr Griffiths. In a style worthy of Wesley himself, he talked of poverty, racism, the dissociation between the church and modern life and the need to rebuild trust.

"Today we are uniting that date in 1762 with this and uniting those people with these here today," he said. "Wesley described the sight and sound of thousands singing at Gwennap Pit as 'the most wondrous thing this side of Heaven'. And it is not difficult on a day like this to give thanks to God: the blue sky over Gwennap pit is as much God's place as any vaulted cathedral."

Dr Griffiths gave some background to his predecessor's journey, saying that before Gwennap he had already been to Mevagissey, Grampound, Truro and Redruth.

"Like Wesley, I too travelled here from London – but not on horseback," he said.

A well-known contributor to BBC Radio 4's Daily Service programme, he regularly broadcasts to half a millions of listeners.

"I think Wesley would approve of that, he would embrace modern technology, and I think he would be an avid tweeter."

The service ended with Guide me oh thy great Jehovah. It was followed by the premiere of a play written specially for the occasion by Cornish playwright Tony Jasper. Entitled And John Wesley Came To Cornwall, it was performed by the Jasperian Theatre Company in Lanner Chapel Hall.

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