Methodist memorabilia is a real spectacle

Rev Prof Robert Gribben

Rev Prof Robert Gribben with the John Wesley’s spectacles.

Appropriately enough for a collection that includes John Wesley’s spectacles, Queen’s College is asking for artefacts that will help see the early Methodists with fresh eyes.

Wesley’s glasses along with commemorative plates and cups, porcelain statues and original letters can be found in a dedicated room under the Queen’s College library in Parkville.

These artefacts, known as ‘Methodistica’, have been donated to the College’s Sugden Heritage Collections by families who have inherited items often bought out to Australia from the UK in the luggage of their ancestors.

Perhaps the collection’s most valuable piece of Methodistica, in monetary terms, is a wooden bust of an aged John Wesley made by his friend Enoch Wood.

The collection also has a huge collection of books, dating back to the 15 century, of Methodist history, theology and mission.

Sugden Heritage Collections Committee chair Rev Prof Robert Gribben said it was a “treasure trove” of items and “probably the principle Methodist collection in the Southern Hemisphere”.

Prof Gribben said the College was always looking to add to the collection and he was going to donate from his own family heirlooms, a statuette of early Methodist theologian John William Fletcher.

“As Methodism fades from memory it is more important than ever that these tangible artefacts are preserved for future generations,” Prof Gribben said.

“With many children not taking up Christianity we think there are many families who will have things of value that will end up in a tip truck.

“So we’re asking if you have Methodist materials, be they statues or cups or plates or documents, and you would like to give them a permanent home where they would be looked after, then Queen’s is a port of call.”

Rev Prof Robert Gribben with the busk of John Wesley.

Rev Prof Robert Gribben with the bust of John Wesley.

Prof Gribben said it was important to preserve Methodist literature and artefacts.

“We don’t want the Methodist legacy lost simply because the times are changing and our next generation is not Christian in the way that their parents and grandparents are,” he said.

Prof Gribben also said there has been a resurgence of Wesley and Methodist scholarship since the formation of the Uniting Church, making most studies from earlier than the 1970s out-of-date and inaccurate.

“We inherited a somewhat sentimental understanding of John and Charles Wesley,” Prof Gribben said.

“We promoted John higher than he should have been because his brother, Charles, did a great deal more than write hymns. They split the missions and he was the organiser of all the other Methodist churches.

“We have slowly collected Charles Wesley’s letters and realise that he was a distinct theologian from his brother, there’s things they differ on.”

The letters and artefacts also reveal a more personal side of the founding Methodist brothers.

“We know a lot more about their lives as two human beings than we did,” Prof Gribben said.

“For instance, John was hopeless with women and had a disastrous marriage in the second half of his life, whereas Charles had one of the happiest marriages that we read about in the 18th century.

“They were extraordinary men both of them.”

Tax-deductible donations can also be made to the fund that supports new purchases and the restoration of our old volumes for the Sugden Heritage Collections.

Those with an artefact or letter they would like to donate can contact archives@queens.unimelb.edu.au or call 93490789

Any items more appropriately housed at the Synod Archives will be passed on to them.

 

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