Religion in Museums

When museums and religion collide

Museum of Methodism

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A few weeks ago Christian Dettlaff kindly showed me round the revamped Museum of Methodism. The museum is in the crypt of Wesley’s Chapel, in City Road, London. The architects for the scheme are John McAslan (of Kings Cross Station) and the designers Barker Langham (of the Royal Opera House). The overall design is very successful – they’ve won more space, opened the area up and made the low ceiling much less oppressive through clever lighting and colours.

All together it’s a huge improvement on the old display, which was very wordy and clearly aimed at committed Methodists, rather than the much wider market the new scheme is intended for. A small AV theatre tackles head on, and very successfully, the questions about belief and practice that rIMG_6356eligious museums find so difficult. Interviews with Methodists of many different ages and backgrounds give the outsider some idea of what being a Methodist feels like inside.

The displays are now very much object-led, and there is a big, varied and rich collection, including lots of ceramics and pictures. My feeling was that the Click showcases are a bit too dominant and samey – I would have liked a greater variety of display approaches, including perhaps some diorama-style displays.

The new displays are organised by theme:

  • “The Warmed Heart” tells the story of John Wesley’s conversion. His Field Bible is one of the objects on display in a contemplative space.
  • “Mr Wesley’s New Chapel” traces the history of Wesley’s Chapel using a series of maps of Finsbury and Islington, the earliest of which dates to 1746.
  • “Connecting the Connexion” illustrates John’s Wesley’s visionary organisational system of Methodist societies, classes and bands. Exhibits include a range of membership tickets and a print of Francis Asbury, whose enthronement as a bishop in the United States sealed Methodism’s separation from the Church of England.

I missed anything much on politics, and the role of the Methodist churches within English working-class society. And I’m greatly looking forward to the sections which haven’t been finished yet, particularly that on missionary activity.

But all-in-all a great success!

Crispin

 

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