A focus on health and wellness was essential to the ministry of Methodism’s founder John Wesley, says the Rev. Randy Maddox, a noted Wesley scholar. He believes the emphasis on integrating the physical and the spiritual is just one of many lessons that Wesley’s writings and thinking on health offer the church today.
Dr. Maddox, the William Kellon Quick Professor of Wesleyan and Methodist Studies at Duke Divinity School, spoke recently with Faith & Leadership; here are excerpts.
People today might be surprised that Wesley was interested in and wrote about health and wellness. Was that unusual in his day?
Of all Wesley’s books, the one that stayed in print the longest and went through the most editions wasn’t his sermons or hymns. It was Primitive Physick, a book on medical advice. It was central to his work. Today, spiritual care is done by pastors in churches, and physical care is done by physicians and nurses in hospitals and clinics. But you would not have had that separation [in Wesley’s time]. In most villages in England, the pastor was the only person with any college education. Anglican clergy were responsible not only for the parish’s spiritual care but also for physical care. Part of their job was to give health advice.
The word physick or physician didn’t describe the person who gave you medicine or did surgery. It was the one who gave you advice about how to maintain health, and then you would go to your local apothecary or to a barber-surgeon or whatever. That was part of the pastor’s duty, and they understood it in the sense that God cared for the whole person and they should too. When John and Charles Wesley trained at Oxford to become Anglican clergy, one of the required subjects they studied was medicine, or physick. We know that John in particular continued to read books on physick. When he came to Georgia to serve as a pastor, one of the books he read to prepare was on plants and herbs that grew in the New World and their medical usages, so that he could give this kind of advice.
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