Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of Facebook posts about Halloween and Christianity. The subtle theme of many of these posts are along the lines of “If You Celebrate Halloween, You Are Basically In League With Satan And Your Children Are All Going to Hell.” One of these posts referred to a website by Donny Osmond where a fan from Australia reminded him of the origins of Halloween and thought that trick-or-treating was “the devil’s work.”
I loved Donny’s response. In part, he said, “To make anything more of Halloween, than to call it an evening where children go from house to house accompanied by their parents to show their neighbors their little costumes, and to receive a treat, would be too much.”
Yes, it’s all about the treats, folks.
But this also reminds me of how many raised eyebrows I’ve received when I talk about ghosts. Have you experienced that too?
So, it was a delightful surprise to learn that the founding member of the Methodist Church, not only believed in angels, demons, and other supernatural beings, but he was also quite open-minded regarding the existence of witchcraft, ghosts, and apparitions. And the most likely reason for his belief was that he experienced firsthand what it was like to have a ghost around the house.
Shane Raynor, the editor at Ministry Matters wrote a wonderful article about John Wesley and his experiences. The ghost was known as “Old Jeffrey” and haunted the Epworth Rectory and the Wesley family from December 1716 through January 1717. (And might still be hanging around the famous rectory.)
The first people in the household to encounter the spirit were two servants who heard Jeffrey’s groanings and knockings in the dining room. The sounds then continued up in the servants’ quarters, but their tales were dismissed as rubbish. Soon, however, the younger girls in the family began hearing the racket too. There were sounds of footsteps, rattling chains, horns being blown and wood being sawed. There were also accounts of moving furniture, including a levitating bed that was occupied at the time by John’s older sister, Nancy. (That would have been terrifying!)
Soon, the entire family was experiencing some kind of paranormal phenomena. Well, everyone except for the dad. (Isn’t that always the way?) The Reverend Samuel Wesley actually rebuked his family and the servants for telling such lies. But then he had a humbling experience of his own.
This is from Shane’s article – “Then Samuel Wesley began having his own encounters with Old Jeffrey. One night, after being awakened by knocking, Rev. Wesley, after trying to figure out where the noises were coming from, issued the spirit a challenge: “Thou deaf and dumb devil,” he shouted, “why dost thou frighten these children!? Come to me, come to my study… I am a man!””
(How could any spirit in their right mind ignore a challenge like that?)
Shane continued – “Old Jeffrey responded that evening with knocking, and the following evening by slamming the door of Samuel’s study forcefully just as the reverend was opening it. Samuel also claimed to feel someone pressing on his chest later while he was lying in bed.”
I love how the Wesleys decided to fix their problem. They bought a dog. A big, scary, mastiff who, they were sure, would frighten the spirit away. Um, wrong!
Back to Shane – “The dog, however, was terrified. It whimpered and hid under the table whenever Jeffrey manifested.”
Now, we get to see how the mom in the household reacted to the whole situation.
“John’s mother, Susanna, was so concerned that the poltergeist was going to disturb her evening prayer time that she told Old Jeffrey she didn’t want to be interrupted between 5 and 6 p.m. — and she never was!”
What a brilliant spirit, he knew who to listen to. 😊
And that was that, right?
No, the tales of Epworth Rectory live on until today. In the website Haunted History of Lincolnshire a group of paranormal investigators went on a tour at the old rectory. This is their experience: “The main attic room was artificially lit by spotlights and display cabinets. This is where our tour guide told us the story of ‘Old Jeffrey.’ This room was, predictably, the coldest in the house and we stood shivering, but not just from the cold. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw first one of the spotlights dim and then brighten again. By the time I turned to find out what had happened the light was back to normal and I put it down to my, admittedly, over-active imagination. The guide carried on speaking and I tried to put it out of my mind. As I was looking at the tour guide the same thing happened again. And again. Quite soon more of the lights were flickering too and adding to the atmosphere. The culmination of this incident happened when most of the lights in the room, whether in the display cabinets, spotlights or ceiling lights were flickering wildly, until they stopped as suddenly as they had started.
We asked our tour guide if this was just for effect. She told us she didn’t know what was happening. We left the room pretty quickly and exited the building into the warmth and safety of the sunshine soon after!
Whether this was an electrical fault, someone playing games or just Old Jeffrey, we never found out but it certainly spooked me enough to make sure I won’t be going there again any time soon.
If you have the opportunity, you should visit the Old Rectory and bring one of your friends. It made a believer out of John Wesley and it could make a believer out of your friend, too.