The theme for Heritage Sunday in 2014 as set by the General Commission on Archives and History is “The Church’s Heritage in Mission: Remembering the 200th Anniversary of the Death of Thomas Coke.” The May 18 date is set by action of the General Conference and noted in The Book of Discipline as being Aldersgate Day or the Sunday preceding that day. Certainly a local church is free to observe it on another date. The Discipline states, “Heritage Sunday calls the Church to remember the past by committing itself to the continuing call of God” (par. 264.1).
Internationally, the 200th Anniversary of the death of Thomas Coke will be commemorated by a weekend of addresses and worship at Brecon Cathedral, Anglican, in Wales, the birthplace of Thomas Coke. Robert Williams, General Secretary of the Commission on Archives and History, will deliver an address. Preaching on Sunday morning, May 4, will be Bishop Thomas Bickerton, Pittsburgh Area; and a Saturday afternoon sermon will be delivered by Lord Leslie Griffiths, Superintendent Minister of Wesley’s Chapel, London.
In 1782 Thomas Coke became the head of the Methodist movement in Ireland. To conclude the celebrations in the British Isles, General Secretary Williams will travel to Belfast for a reception hosted by the UK Embassy in that city. At that time he will present to Robin Rodie, archivist of the Methodist Historical Society of Ireland, a gift from the Susquehanna Conference: the original “Preaching Diary and Hymnbook of David Gordon.”
David Gordon (1757-1799) was an early itinerant under John Wesley who personally introduced Wesley into the city of Londonderry and was instrumental in the spread of early Irish Methodism. A 1799 letter from Thomas Coke to Gordon urges him to “labour to kindle the same glorious flame in Birr as the Lord blessed us with in Dublin.” This valuable manuscript, presented to the Susquehanna Conference archives by descendants of David Gordon who had lovingly preserved them for generations, will be treasured in Ireland as one of the earliest known records of Irish Methodism.
The following text can be reprinted in church bulletins & web sites:
The Church’s Heritage in Mission: Remembering the 200th Anniversary of the Death of Thomas Coke.
Thomas Coke (1747-1814), primarily remembered as the “Father of Methodist Missions” was also a key figure in the development of Methodism on both sides of the Atlantic. As John Wesley’s right hand man, he became President of the Methodist Church in Ireland in 1782 and was sent to North America in 1784 to organize American Methodism and ordain Francis Asbury as its first bishop.
During his ministry Coke visited America nine times, the last being in 1803, and he and Asbury are the namesakes of United Methodism’s Cokesbury publishing enterprise.
Always deeply interested in missionary work at home and abroad, he established Methodism in the West Indies. Hoping to open Methodist missions in the East Indies, he set sail for Ceylon in 1814 but died on the way.
In addition to being an effective preacher, Coke was an author of considerable importance. His writings include a multi-volume commentary on the Bible and a history of the West Indies. The conference archives at Lycoming College contain four different biographies of Thomas Coke, one dating from 1853, and a rare 1803 volume of his Bible commentary.