John Wesley vs. Edith Cavell

In the last battle of a full week, John Wesley takes on Edith Cavell. Will the Methodists among us rally the troops for the de facto founder of their denomination? Or will the compelling story of an English martyr carry the day?

In Thursday's action, upstart Maria Skobtsova soundly defeated Thomas à Kempis 74% to 26% to advance to the Saintly Sixteen where she'll face Quiteria. Thursday was also a big day for Lent Madness fans in Hannibal, Missouri, as an article titled Churchgoers Participate in Lent Madness Activity made the front page of the local paper, the Herald-Whig. Kudos to all the Lent Madness fans at Trinity Episcopal Church in Hannibal!

As we prepare to take a deep weekend breath, please do try to survive without voting on Saturday and Sunday. Symptoms of Lent Madness Withdrawal (LMW) are real and we encourage you to reach out to Lent Madness-playing friends and family to see you through this two-day wilderness. LMW support groups are forming in church basements everywhere. And fear not! We'll return bright and early Monday morning as Esther takes on Lazarus. Now go read and vote!

John Wesley

John WesleyThe impact on the religious landscape made by John Wesley is undeniable and far-reaching. John was an Anglican priest and theologian and the founder of the Methodist movement.

Born in 1703 in England, John was the son of a clergyman and the youngest of fifteen children, including his brother Charles, a well-known hymn writer and Anglican priest. At five years old, John survived near-death in a rectory fire—he was saved thanks to parishioners who formed a human ladder to rescue him. This event marked him for life.

He was highly educated and a graduate of Christ College, Oxford. At school, he prayed and studied scripture with his brother, Charles; their friend, George Whitefield, also a priest; and others in a group deemed “Methodists” because of their method of spiritual disciplines.

Ordained in 1728, he and Charles were sent in 1735 to Savannah, in what was then the British colony of Georgia. John did not fare well—there were personal issues and ineffective ministry. After two years, he returned to England in defeat. While onboard, through stormy waters, he befriended Moravians and took to their ways, which he found calming and Spirit-filled. John underwent a religious experience in 1738, in which he said his “heart strangely warmed.” He believed that God charged him with initiating a revival in the church. He parted ways with the Moravians and embarked on his own ministry. Along with Charles and George, John traveled the country, forming Christian groups and worshiping communities. The Methodist movement flourished.

He became a prolific preacher and writer, delivering an estimated 40,000 sermons in his life. John wrote or edited more than 400 publications on issues such as theology, music, prison reform, marriage, medicine, slavery, and politics. Some of his more famous works include Forty-Four Sermons, Notes on the New Testament, Thoughts Upon Slavery, and Collection of Psalms and Hymns, the first Anglican hymnal published in America.

Wesley died on March 2, 1791, at the age of eighty-seven. In 2002, John Wesley ranked number 50 in the BBC’s poll of the 100 Greatest Britons.

Collect for John Wesley
I am no longer my own, but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you, exalted for you, or brought low for you; let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing: I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal. And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours. So be it. And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

-Neva Rae Fox

Edith Cavell

Edith CavellWhen Edith was a young girl in the late 1800s, she informed the bishop that her father’s church in Swardeston, near Norfolk, England, needed a room for the growing Sunday School. The bishop offered help—so long as Edith raised money as well. Edith and her sister began painting cards and raised some 300 pounds (about $30,000 in today’s funds), and she contacted the bishop. St. Mary’s, Swardeston, built the addition, and Sunday School classes thrived.

As an adult, Edith continued her life of service. Her early work as a governess in Belgium was interrupted when she returned home to Swardeston to nurse her father back to health. This experience led Edith to explore nursing, and she was eventually placed in charge of L’Ecole Belge d’Infirmieres Diplomees, a nursing school for women in Brussels.

World War I began, and Brussels was invaded. Edith was visiting family in England, but she immediately returned to Brussels. Realizing the danger for citizens and soldiers alike, Edith helped provide an underground escape route for those fleeing to the Netherlands. More than 200 soldiers escaped to safety. German military authorities discovered her acts. Edith confessed—which likely saved the lives of others who assisted her—and was sentenced to death.

As she awaited execution, the Germans allowed an Anglican priest to visit her. He recalls that in their final meeting, Edith received communion and prayed, expressing forgiveness toward her executioners. She said, “I thank God for this ten weeks’ quiet before the end. Life has always been hurried and full of difficulty. This time of rest has been a great mercy. But this I would say, standing as I do in view of God and eternity, I realize that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness toward anyone.”

Edith’s execution on October 12, 1915, horrified the world. Her grace stunned even her captors. After the war ended, Edith’s remains were exhumed, and she was reburied with great ceremony in a cemetery near her childhood home in Swardeston.

Edith believed that patriotism must be examined through love for our fellow humans and through the commandment of Christ to love and forgive without regard to nationality, ethnicity, or our own bitterness.

Collect for Edith Cavell
Holy God, in grace and mercy your Son asks us to love our enemies and forgive those who persecute us: Grant us the desire to follow the example of your servant Edith Cavell who, in your name, healed the wounded, guided those in danger to safety, and forgave those who persecuted her as she was sustained by your word and sacrament; through the name of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

-Laurie Brock

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John Wesley: William Hamilton [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Edith Cavell: By Bain (Library of Congress) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


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251 comments on “John Wesley vs. Edith Cavell”

      1. Don't know for sure but I'm fairly certain the SEC knew what/why/when to pair saints for their intended reasons. Pretty sure they weren't exactly out to be rational/equal in the eye of we who are the LMVP ( Lent Madness Voting Public). Go SEC — I like your twisted and perverse logic.

      2. I appreciate this knowlegeable support for John Wesley whose life and works bettered many many lives. Martyrdom is always compelling because of the courage demonstrated. However, Wesley also gave his life for his faith and to spread God's word.

    1. I had never heard of this woman before. She's truly an inspiration. Thanks Lent Madness people !

    2. Like some of the previous comments, I was deeply moved by Edith's devotion to God and humanity and her courage! It is very hard for me to feel loving toward some in our government who (to my thinking) wish to destroy all that is good in our country. However, Edith's humility reminded me that love and mercy are our highest callings!

  1. Tough one. Thomas Wesley had a great influence on the church as we know it today and the author of the first hymnal published in America. But in the end, I had to vote for Edith. The Collect for Edith Cavell says it all.

    Now what am I going to do over the weekend without Lent Madness?

  2. Mine too, for these words:
    "But this I would say, standing as I do in view of God and eternity, I realize that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness toward anyone.”

  3. I think John Wesley's impact on religion was far greater than Edith's and he is well-known but after reading about Edith's stance for peace and forgiveness, I voted for her. I think her example of putting faith first before nationalism is much needed today.

  4. I learned about Edith on a visit to the Canadian Rocky Mountains. The Ice Field Highway near the north end has a Monnt Edith Caval with a great hike up to a large glacier. After the visit I did some reading and it turned out that as noted during WWI Edith was a nurse to many wounded soldiers on both sides of the war. This is one reason that I was compelled to vote for Edith.

    1. Exactly my way of learning about Edith Cavell. Happened upon the plaque in her memory while hiking in the Canadian Rockies and sought it out when I returned with my children 15 years later as I had told them about this brave woman.

      1. You Bet, coming from Lake Woebegone we are reserved and not too outragious. My adventure included entering a cave in the Angel Glacier. Upon exiting, saw the warning sign not to do so. I sined and survived.

    2. On the side of Mt. Edith Cavell, there is a glacier that is, at least locally, known as Angel Glacier, because it has the outline of an angel with wings spread. Given that, how could I not vote for her?

  5. Very few saints in the history of LM come close to the depth and breadth of John Wesley's impact on the world. The wide scope of his writings, reveal not just his intellectual interests but his commitment to the poor. In his day, the poor did not have access to education or healthcare. He wanted to put useful books in their hands. As a devoted Anglican priest to his deathbed, his words were not exaggeration: "the world truly was his parish."

    1. I was so taken by Edith. Yet John made such a huge impact on so many and on the Church. John got my vote today.

  6. Tough decision. I went with Wesley. However, I am thankful for being exposed to a person whom I never encountered before. (Cavel)

  7. While I have great respect for Wesley, I was stunned by the story of Edith's life. What an amazing woman. Strong and true to the end. Great example for us all.

  8. I'm surprised that people haven't heard of Edith until today; I first read about her as a child, in one of those biographies (I don't remember the series title) published to inspire young girls. I've admired her ever since, and she got my vote today. It was a tough choice though.

  9. I voted for Edith Cavell, as I believe that forgiveness is a foundation of living a Christian life, and something I continually work on for Christ's sake.

  10. I wish these two had not been matched, as both are so worthy. Hatred of my political opposites is my besetting sin in this time of tumult. I was moved by Cavell’s ability to forgive and her bravery to lay down her life for others. She died on my birthday to be. I voted for her, in grateful praise.

    1. "Hatred of my political opposites" is what I thought of, too, Karen, when I read about Edith. And that's why I'm voting for her.

      1. Me too, Susan. Sunday's sermon will talk about the problem of violence, and how two sides (no guns vs. gun rights) just hating each other is not the answer. Staying divided and making no progress is the way of the Adversary (Satan). Edith inspires me.

  11. While we often think of the "practical" purposes of Wesley's methods of organizing us Anglican church folk in classes--getting us practicing our faith during the week in acts of social justice--he also of course cared about our interior spiritual life. Wesley, for example was a great reader and promoter of the Catholic mystics like Madam Marie de Guyon. And he was an avid sacramentalist consistently advocating regular Eucharist when that was falling out of practice in the Church of England.

  12. How timely to learn about Edith Cavell, her message is so needed in the US right now. I love John Wesley but he is well know. My vote is for the message of Edith Cavell.

  13. This is the first time I have heard of Edith. What a brave and godly woman following Christ’s example of forgiving her enemies even as she faced death by them! What courage and humility. John Wesley has certainly earned his halo already, so I will go with Edith and pray her example helps me forgive those with whom I am so politically opposed, even while lawfully fighting for more Christian, love filled laws.

  14. I had to vote for Edith. I heard about her for the first time when I attended a session at the Brewster Library where an author talked about her biography of Edith. It was fascinating and very moving. She has been forgotten by many for her courage and bravery and faith.

  15. Edith Cavell. Who knew?
    Not enough of us, it seems.
    Grateful to Lent Madness for presenting us with these lesser known heroes of the faith.

  16. I was prepared to vote for Wesley, but as I read Edith's story, I found my heart "strangely warmed." Her commitment to saving other's lives, and her ability to forgive her persecutors, is amazing. Indeed, "patriotism must be examined through the love of our fellow human beings."

  17. A tough choice, but I voted for Edith because of her commitment to forgiveness with no bitterness or hatred. I am not patriotic to any one nation, having lived in three, and her words regarding patriotism not being enough resonated with me. We are citizens of a greater Kingdom - may we each live in that reality!

  18. My husband and I lived in Norwich, England for two years and the Norwich Cathedral was our home church during that time. Every Sunday, we would walk through the gates to the cathedral close and pass by the monument to Edith Cavell. Her story is one of grace and courage and was recently detailed in a great biography by Diana Souhami. In addition there is a an amazing piece of artwork in the Cathedral library entitled "The Passion of Edith Cavell" -- link here:

    1. I'd forgotten about that statue! I can see it clearly now. Norwich is a great place to go for touchstones to saintly women!

  19. As a good Methodist, I voted for John Wesley. Lent Madness followers also note that Charles Wesley, his brother and prolific Hymn writer extraordinaire, won the Golden Halo. So surely brother John has a chance!

    1. Thank you for mentioning Charles Wesley. In 1957 at age 16, I had the honor of singing on the recording, "O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing" celebrating the 250th anniversary of Charles' birth. Both John and Charles greatly influenced the development and strengthening of my faith and continue to do so today.

    2. Agree with this. Wesley was major Sunday school promoter too - perhaps influencing her efforts later in one of God's holy connections.

  20. The Collect for John Wesley had me, so beautiful, so holy. Then I read of Edith's grace and love as she awaited her execution. I had to vote for her.

    1. The Collect for John Wesley is known as the Wesley Covenant Prayer. He encouraged people to pray it often and created a Covenant worship service for New Year's Day. My daily devotionals include the option of praying the Covenant Prayer.