Back to our Roots: Going to the Market Cross

john_wesley_preaching-264x400In 2016, I took a trip made a pilgrimage that had a major impact on my life and especially my ministry. The Wesley Pilgrimage sponsored by United Methodist Discipleship Ministries took me and my fellow pilgrims around several places where John Wesley and others began what we know today as Methodism. One of those places was Epworth where John and his siblings grew up while their father, Samuel Wesley, served as rector of Saint Andrews Church in Epworth. After touring Saint Andrews and its rectory where the Wesley family lived we went on a walking tour of Epworth on our way to have tea at Wesley Memorial Methodist Church. One of the places we came to was the market cross at High Street. John Wesley used to preach here, in fact preaching at the market cross was a common practice for him. This was because the market cross was a gathering place for the people, where they would come to do their shopping and to meet with one another. With this in mind, it made sense for preachers like Wesley to gather people for worship and proclamation.

In other words, he went to where the people were rather than expecting them to come to him.

In 2019, we find ourselves in challenging times for those of us in ministry. The old ways of “doing church” are still alive but are barely hanging on by a thread. The idea that people will come to the church, while sometimes true, is often not the case anymore. Depending on who you are or what study you look at, there are many reasons for this including distrust of institutions, pain from previous negative experiences, and the church’s (speaking collectively) reputation for being judgmental and unaccepting of those who are different. Really, the reasons don’t matter. Nothing will change the fact that the days of people coming to church “just because” are over and they are not going to come back.

Truthfully, those days should have never been.

I shared with my congregations on Sunday that when Jesus gave the Great Commission in Matthew 28, he did not say anything about making disciples of the people who show up for worship at our campuses. Here’s what the text actually says – read it carefully. “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19 NLT) The keyword is “go.” The Greek language used here is used in an imperative sense, meaning that going is not optional. Further, Jesus did have people come to him but he always went to them first. The people are not going to come to us just because we have a nice building or a reputation for having vibrant worship (though those things are good). We must go to the people and give them the good news.

I say again: We have to get back to our roots.

The American church is in a challenging time but, truthfully, it’s a time that largely of our own making. We have forgotten why we exist. William Temple, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, is quoted as saying that, “the Church is the only institution that exists primarily for the benefit of those who are not its members.”We are more worried about our own survival as an institution and our own comfort rather than bringing those who are outside of our walls into the fold. We must remember our purpose and get back to it.

We must get back to our roots.

In the movie Sister Act, the nuns who Whoopi Goldberg joins as Sister Mary Clarance hide behind their walls because they are afraid of their neighbors. The neighborhood in which their convent is situated is not the best in the world, with adult stores and bars all over, along with homeless and poor people all around.  Finally, they have a wake-up call and start ministering to their neighbors and otherwise being part of the neighborhood. The result was people learning to trust them and the church’s pews were packed during worship. You may be surprised to know that this exact same thing happens in real life everyday when congregations step out of their walls and go to the people.

I say again: It’s time to get back to our roots.

How can we do this? It’s simple, yet difficult: We have to be the church. We have to find our own market crosses and proclaim the gospel to those who are there. But, we don’t have to use a firey sermon like John Wesley. We do this by meeting needs, showing compassion, and accepting people as they are. We have to step out of our comfortable boxes and do some ministry. We have to stop expecting people to come to our buildings simply because they are there and we have to stop expecting people to be just like us, including how they dress and even how they talk. Change occurred because Jesus accepted people as they were without trying to put them into a mold.

I say again: It’s time to get back to our roots.

The Journey to Perfection

92aba00b06181159f052f909ec08e648-john-wesley-gospelI came to Mississippi to have my yearly meeting with the District Committee on Ordained Ministry (DCOM) where my ordination candidacy resides. On my way down from Kentucky, my car started having some trouble and it’s currently undergoing automotive surgery, therefore I have been spending some extra time down south. As I obviously was not going to be preaching at Shiloh today, I decided to worship at First UMC in my hometown of Philadelphia, MS. Their associate pastor, Rev. Ryan McGough, preached on the account of Nicodemus’ journey of faith as described in John’s gospel. One of the points Rev. McGough made was that, like Nicodemus, our faith journey is much more than a moment in time, it’s a life-long process of being perfected in the image of Christ.

When I was in paramedic school I was in the midst of my field internship shifts. I was so ready to be finished and to finally be a medic. I was riding with a crew from a rural service one day and I expressed these sentiments to my preceptor. He said, “Paramedic school gets you ready to pass the written test and to pass the skills check off. Getting through paramedic doesn’t make you a paramedic. When you get your gold patch, you are then a paramedic. But that’s all you are. From there, the real education begins. You will have a choice to make: Do you want to be a paramedic or a good paramedic? One will get you a job but the other will make you a better provider every shift and you will advance. Maybe you will go on to be a critical care medic or maybe even an instructor. But know this: The journey to being a paramedic doesn’t take long. The journey to being a great paramedic is a marathon, not a sprint.”

I’ve said such a few times myself and I will maintain this forever: The process of sanctification is a lifetime process, it does not occur overnight. Salvation is much more than a moment in time in front of an altar rail at a church or tent revival, it’s a journey with Jesus that we all take together as one body of Christ. Salvation is not as simple as punching our fire insurance card, it’s something we have to be invested in for the long haul. It takes faith in God to work in our lives, patience, and persistence.

Perfection in Christ has no express lane.

Persons who are being ordained as Deacons and Elders in the United Methodist Church are asked a series of traditional questions that John Wesley, Francis Asbury, and every bishop since have asked ordinands. One of them is this: “Are you going on to perfection?” Saying that one is “going on” to Christian perfection indicates that this is no one-time thing. This is a process. If you think that one sin too many is going to keep God from loving you, that’s just not true. As Rev. McGough said today, “God loves you and there’s nothing you can do about it!”

Persist! Go on! You can do this through the strength of Christ!

Are We Almost or Altogether Christian?

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” – Brennen Manning

For the last few weeks, we have been doing a sermon series called The Words of Wesley. I am preaching a few of John Wesley’s sermons but they are somewhat shortened and are in modern language as opposed to the “King James” English that Wesley used. Today’s sermon was “The Almost Christian” where Wesley discussed the attributes of one who is an “Almost Christian” and one who is an “Altogether Christian.” Wesley’s message can be boiled down to say that the Almost Christian seems to be doing everything that a Christian ought to do – going to worship, appearing to reject sin, even praying, etc. – but they lack a sincere faith. A sincere faith and desire to truly serve God are what separate the Almost Christian from the Altogether Christian. In other words, Almost Christian looks and even sounds Christian but they are merely going through the motions for nothing because they lack faith.

In preparing for this sermon, I began to think of cultural Christianity. I have written about this before and how I long for the day when cultural Christianity is dead. I still long for that day. It was not that long ago – and somewhat this is still the case – that churches were filled with people who were only there out of expectation or as a means of material or political gain. Using the name of God for personal gain is nothing new but, as I wrote in my previous article, there was a time when one could suffer in business and politics if they did not attend any church or even the right church. If we take a good, hard, and honest look at why so many people attended worship services in the so-called “good old days,” we find that personal gain was a major motivation.

‘Merica.

Wesley’s sermon makes one take a good, hard, and honest look at their spiritual life to decide if they are truly an Altogether Christian. Toward the end, Wesley asked the congregation gathered at St. Mary’s Church in Oxford, England that day a series of questions. For me, this one is the one that really strikes to the heart of whether or not one is an Altogether Christian.

The great question of all, then, still remains. Is the love of God shed abroad in your heart? Can you cry out, “My God, and my All”? Do you desire nothing but him? Are you happy in God? Is he your glory, your delight, your crown of rejoicing?

So much of what certain people who proclaim Christ engage in can be perceived that the answer to the question above is a resounding “no.” There are so many among us who are using the name of Christ as a means to gain political points. We have church choirs singing political propaganda songs under the guise of a worship anthem. We have an extreme end of a certain political party who insist that they are the only ones who are the true Christians in the political realm.

They may say this but the way they treat the poor and the marginalized say otherwise.

I don’t intend to go off on a political tangent but I do want us to think about whether we are truly part of the church and claim the name of Christ strictly as a means of personal or political gain. If we do the right things, say the right words, and have no motivation other than looking good than we are maybe an Almost Christian (if we are anywhere close to Christian at all). But if our motivation is nothing but the glory of God and we desire nothing but Christ, if we can truly ask ourselves the question above and shout a resounding “yes!” then we are an Altogether Christian.

So are you Almost a Christian or are you Altogether a Christian?

What Does Worship Really Mean?

worshiphim“Worship is when all God’s people get caught up in love and wonder and praise of God. It is not the performance of the few for the many.” – Dr. Ben Witherington III

Several times, I have mentioned here that I have had a sense that we, as the wider Christian church, need to get back to our roots. The decline of Christianity in the western world has led to an almost panic-like push to find the best ways for the church to do what it has been doing for about the last 2,000 years. Some say we should get back to using a traditional style of worship service while others say that we should put aside ancient rituals in favor of contemporary styles of worship. Some say that worship means having an organ and a preacher wearing a robe and stole while others say that there should be the feel of a rock concert and that the preacher should be wearing a flannel shirt and skinny jeans. The church is good at a lot of things and having debates such as these seems to be one of them.

Let me go ahead and state that this is not about advocating for traditional or contemporary worship. This is not about robes or skinny jeans or whether any of these things are right or wrong. Instead, this is about us remembering that worship is not about us. Worship is not for the people sitting in pews or chairs. Worship is not to please any person at all.

Worship is about God and is for God.

When we get bogged down in these debates, we lose sight of the real point of why we gather together and sing, pray, hear a message, and depart to serve. Regardless of what music or liturgy is present, the worship service can often take on the feel of a performance meant for the entertainment of the congregation. If this is what worship becomes, we’re doing it wrong.

The quote at the top of this post is from my New Testament Intro professor from a lecture he was giving on the theology of worship. Dr. Witherington was essentially telling us during this lecture that we worry so much about what we get from worship or what others get from worship. The thing we ought to be most worried about, however, is what God receives from our worship. Is God receiving our adoration and praise or is he receiving lip service in favor of self-serving, feel-good acts within the walls of the church?

Church, we have lost our way.

Scripture is filled with instruction on how we are to worship. One of my favorite passages on worship is Psalm 150. “Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heaven!” There and elsewhere is nothing about the style with which we worship or about worship being primarily for us. We need to remember this.

Another source of instruction on worship is courtesy of Methodism founder John Wesley.

“In divine worship, (as in all other actions,) the first thing to be considered is the end, and the next thing is the means conducing to that end. The end is the honour of God, and the edification of the Church; and then God is honoured, when the Church is edified. The means conducing to that end, are to have the service so administered as may inform the mind, engage the affections, and increase devotion.”

— John Wesley, from his commentary on the Roman Catholic catechism

Should the church and those who make it up be built up? Of course. One of the things that worship should do is to draw us closer to God and make us think. Worship should give us the spiritual food that we need to go out and serve God in the world. But first and foremost, worship should be about and for God, directed at him as the primary reason and audience of worship. It’s alright to prefer a certain type of music or a certain preaching style but the first consideration that should be made about worship is whether or not the worship is directed to and dedicated to the glorification of God.

In the end, the how does not really matter as much as the audience. The audience is not us! The audience of worship is God. We need to remember that worship simply is not for us and that our preferences on music, the color of the carpet, and whether or not there are hymnals or projected lyrics should not matter in the end. Unfortunately, we seem to have allowed “worship wars” to take over. We have lost our way.

We need to get back to our roots.

Cancel Christmas?

one-does-not-simply-cancel-christmasPerhaps I’m still somewhat naive and idealistic to this whole ministry thing. I say that because, to me, some things should just not be up for debate. One of those things is having worship on Sundays unless some sort of unusual situation – such as snow emergencies which close the roads, and the return of Christ – occurs which forces the worship service to have to be cancelled. Doing so is something I would never do flippantly and without a very good reason.

Perhaps out of this acknowledged idealism and naivety, I was reading a forum for clergy on Facebook and I was shocked to learn than many of my fellow clergy were planning to cancel worship on Christmas Sunday due to the holiday.

Say, what?

The excuses (note that I did not say “reasons”) given mainly centered around anticipated lack of attendance. And then someone said this:

Guess my priorities are wrong, then. We are not having a Sunday service on Christmas, at my request. If we had one I would be unable to be with my family for Christmas – some of whom I am only able to see every year or so. I’m single and my only family live a distance away.

Again, perhaps I am idealistic but in my opinion those of us who are called to pastoral ministry are also called to make sacrifices in order to answer that call. We are considered set apart for a reason. My parents and siblings and all of my wife’s family live a great distance away and we are sacrificing time with them so that we may worship Word made flesh. I’m sure there are at least a few people in each congregation who would love to cancel worship for any number of reasons but I could not in good conscience do such.

I make no apologies for thinking that canceling worship under the guise of “family time” communicates to the world that we are willing to give in to the whims of the world and celebrate not by worshiping but by celebrating as the world does. In short, many clergy and congregations have forgotten who we are and whose we are.

And yet, these people have the audacity to question why the church in America is dying.

When we cite “family time” as the reason to cancel worship on a holiday, we neglect our calling to gather as the family of Christ to worship and celebrate. Christmas is one of the highest and holiest days in the Christian church. If worship is scheduled on this day, there is absolutely no reason to cancel it so that families can spend an extra few minutes with their trinkets.

A clergy colleague relayed this story:

A couple women chewed out the cashier for saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”…I was sitting next to them as they had many conversations including one about Christmas morning…

“I can’t believe our church is having services on Christmas morning…My husband has to hand out bulletins…Why don’t they just cancel it? I mean really…”

Me (inserting myself into their conversation): “Yeah, I just hate it when Jesus gets in the way of Christmas….Merry Christmas, right?” (they took their things & left, calling me a Christian name on their way out.)

Fellow pastors, such is our fault when we willingly cancel worship so that secular Christmas celebrations can take priority over worship as the body of Christ. The same people in the story above are the ones who scream the loudest about “keeping Christ in Christmas.” If we really mean that, we must put our money where our mouths are, unless we, like the two above, are simply giving lip service to Jesus.

Not to mention that not everyone has family to be with during the holidays and will find comfort with their church family. How dare we cite “family time” as a reason to cancel worship when we have such people in our midst.

Fred Day, the General Secretary of the General Board of Archives and History for the United Methodist Church (who I had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know on the Wesley Pilgrimage in England this past summer), said this about Christmas worship:

Early Methodists in England and America saw [Christmas] as less illicit and more a golden opportunity to save souls. They viewed the increasingly popular, sometimes rowdy feast day as a prime-time for the pulpit: “Always avail yourselves of the great festivals (of the Church of England) by preaching,” says John Wesley in the Large Minutes. The unique opportunity Methodist preachers were to seize, like Christmas, is evident in a 1798 commentary on Wesley’s words: “Shall the men [ sic] of the world have carnal festivals on their birthdays and we not communicate the birth of the Lord.”

Let’s heed the words of Wesley and get back to our roots!

Yes, I’ve been on my soap box about this and very outspoken. Having worship on Christmas Sunday is something that I feel should not even be up for debate – simply, we should have worship even if it’s just the pastor and the pianist. If the church wants the world to remember why we celebrate Christmas, we must practice what we preach. It’s time for us to remember who we are and whose we are. Anything less just means that the culture of the world really is influencing the church rather than the other way around. Let’s not be party to such. We’re called to be better than that.

Sermon: Half Truths – “Everything Happens for a Reason”

mainslide-half-truthsI have been intending to post this sermon for most of the week but life kept getting in the way. This is the first in a five week series of sermons inspired by Half Truths by Rev. Adam Hamilton. During this series at Shiloh, we are taking a look at a “Christian cliche” which sounds biblical but really is not. That is not to say that some of these don’t have at least some element of truth but sometimes these sayings are (1) not biblical and (2) can cause great harm. This one in particular hits home for me so I was glad to do it first. This coming Sunday we are looking at “God Helps Those who Help Themselves.” I will try to post it sooner! I hope you receive a blessing from this sermon. Please feel free to leave any feedback you would like to – Jonathan

Half Truths: Everything Happens for a Reason
A Sermon Preached at Shiloh United Methodist Church – Stanton, KY
Rev. Jonathan K. Tullos
August 14, 2016

GENESIS 50:20 (NLT) – You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.

ROMANS 8:28 (NLT) – And we know that God causes everything to work together[m] for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

Most of you know about my daughter’s death soon after she was born. Among the many things I remember about that day was the outpouring of love and the many text messages and phone calls I got. Most I honestly don’t remember much about but I do remember a couple that stood out because of what they said. The gist of what these messages said was “so sorry to hear of what happened. It must have been God’s will. There must have been some reason why she died. It’s all part of God’s plan.

Let me stop right here for a moment and ask you to do me a favor: Please, never say anything like those statements to anyone who is in the midst of tragedy. Often these words are meant well and the person saying them is simply trying to provide some kind of reminder of God being present. But to me, these words provide no comfort and can do great harm to one’s soul. And not to mention, do we really want to paint God as a celestial bully who would willfully take someone’s child from them or give someone cancer? If we understand that God’s very nature and ways are only of love then we simply can not think that these things are true. Here’s the spoiler for today’s message: God is not in the business of willfully causing pain in order to prove a point or to make some kind of chain of events occur. Simply, bad things just happen. But this is not to say that God can’t or doesn’t redeem that bad thing for a good purpose.

When we use the logic that everything that happens is because God orchestrated it or that he has some purpose, we can then make an argument that everything is God’s will. If a marriage ends in divorce because one of the spouses committed adultery, did that happen because God intended for the marriage to end before it even began? When someone makes the decision to shoot elementary school students, does this mean those kids had to die by the actions of the shooter as part of a grant celestial plan that God came up with? We can even go down the line and say that God willed it for Mississippi State to lose to Ole Miss in football yet again and for UK to not make the Final Four last year.

When we say that everything happens for a reason or we make claims that something happening was simply God’s will, we are essentially passing the buck on any sort of personal responsibility that we have for our actions. Take the above events: If we simply chalk them up to just being God’s will or he having a divine purpose for making these things happen, that means we have no responsibility. That means that the spouse who cheated didn’t actually do anything wrong because they were just acting according to God’s will. This means that the shooter was merely an instrument of God used to continue his plan. This means that Mississippi State and UK have no responsibility for their not playing well enough to win the games I mentioned because God simply did not intend for them to win.

In our scriptures for today we have one from the old testament and one from the new testament which might seem like a night and day difference. These scriptures are sometimes used by people who defend that God has everything planned in advance and that we are all just players in his great drama. The reading out of Genesis 50 of toward the end of the story of Joseph. Perhaps you know the story. Joseph was beloved by his father. His brothers were jealous so they sold him into slavery to the Egyptians In spite of his being a slave he became a trusted advisor of the pharaoh and helped the Egyptians avoid the consequences of a famine which was revealed to Joseph in a dream. Joseph eventually ends up helping his brothers who sold him into slavery and they were reconciled. Hearing all of this, I can see where it would be easy to conclude that Joseph was trapped in a hole in the ground and sold to the Egyptians in order to prevent them and their neighbors from going hungry. There is a strong case to be made for this innocent man being sold into slavery being part of God’s plan. Which brings us to the new testament reading.

Paul wrote Romans when he was on his way to being put on trial in from of the emperor. Paul was no stranger to conflict, in fact his ministry is marked with it time and time again. So Paul is in the midst of one of these conflicts and pens this letter in which he states that God works all things out for the good of Himself and his people. This is another scripture in which people sometimes try to defend the notion that God has somehow planned everything. But note what Paul did not say: He did say that God has arranged everything according to his will. He did not say that God has caused him to be taken into chains and put on trial to face death. He did not say that God made him go to prison. Paul, instead, says that God works it all out in the end. This is an important difference to take note of because Paul is not placing the blame on God for his being under arrest, rather he is acknowledging that God will use it. To say it another way, God doesn’t cause innocent people to go to jail, he doesn’t cause people to die of cancer, and he does not cause people to be killed in senseless tragedies. But when these things do happen, he make the evil thing bring about good for the Kingdom of God.

Part of the reason so many of us have this notion of God is because of a theologian named John Calvin. Calvin was very much against the theology of the Catholic church and the argument could be made that almost everything they were for, he was against. His understanding of protestant theology was outlined in what is considered to be one of the classics of Christians theology called The Institutes of Christian Religion. Calvin was a proponent of a outlook called theological determinism. In a nutshell, Calvin believed that God is sovereign and has dominion over everything in the world, including everything that happens right down to the cells in our body replicating. Calvin’s argument was that if something occurred that was not God’s will then God could not be sovereign and have dominion. Calvin also believed in a principle called predestination, which meant that not only did God know everything that would happen in history but that he actually planned everything. Further, Calvin stated that this included God not knowing but actually choosing who would and would not be saved in in his presence forever. In other words, Calvin felt that God planned every single thing that would ever happen, including the fact that you’re here today at Shiloh and that God has even chosen who will and will not be forgiven of their sins. Calvin’s view is that God has picked and chosen who will go to Heaven and who will go to Hell.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, had similar beliefs to Calvin in several areas. He even made a statement which said, in essence that Methodism was within a breath of Calvinism. However, Wesley disagreed with Calvin in one major area: Predestination. Wesley believed that from the very beginning humankind was given free will, or the ability to make our own choices. Wesley believed that God knows how we will decide but that he does not actually cause us to make certain decisions. While Calvin believed that a person could not choose to trust God – rather that God would in a sense force them to believe through what he called irresistible grace – Methodist belief is that we decide for ourselves to trust Christ. Instead of irresistible grace, Wesley believed that God gives us prevenient grace, or grace which comes before which God uses to reach out to us humans and enable us to say yes to his justifying and sanctifying grace. Wesley believed that we have free will instead of having our will dictated to us.

The Bible lends support to this notion from the very beginning. In Genesis we read that God made the universe, the world, and everything in it and when he had placed Adam and Eve in the garden he gave them dominion over it. This does not sound like a micromanaging, puppet string pulling God to me. Instead it sounds like that God’s intention was to be present but not to interfere in the day to day stuff. God certainly did not intend for Adam and Eve to disobey him. Why would God compel people to disobey him? The logic simply does not stand up to the test. Simply put, God is not in the business of micromanagement and he certainly is not a puppet master. God also does not cause bad things to happen.

We want to believe that everything happens for a reason, that especially when bad things happen it’s all for a greater purpose. This simply just is not true. Bad things happen for a variety of reasons but sometimes they just happen. But they do not happen because God willed it or because he wanted to prove a point. God does not give people cancer. God does not cause children to die. God does not cause any sort of tragedy. But when tragedy does strike, let us remember that God is in the midst of it and he is ready to take that evil, ugly thing and make something beautiful come out of it. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirt – amen.

Following in the Footsteps of the Wesleys

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Salisbury Cathedral

Since last Monday, I have been in the land of England on a Wesleyan pilgrimage. While this might sound like a fancy name for a sightseeing tour while on vacation (or “holiday” as the Brits say), this has been a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn, to study, to grow, and to touch history. So far, this pilgrimage has proven to be just that: A pilgrimage. We have trod where John and Charles Wesley and so many others have trod, touched where they lived, worshiped, shopped, preached, and undoubtedly shed many tears. It is not enough to state that these places have been historical in nature. Indeed, we have been to sacred, holy places.

The trip began, in earnest, when we went up to Oxford (one always “goes up” to Oxford) to explore the place where the Methodist movement was begun. It’s important to remember that John and Charles Wesley were not setting out to start a new church, rather this was a renewal movement within the Church of England. One thing to note is that it was actually Charles who began what would be come the Holy Club at Christchurch College. Later on, they would be called Methodists as a way of poking fun at their methodical style of study and prayer. While in Oxford, we saw St. Mary’s Church where John preached sermons which caused him to be scorned by many within the Church of England power structure. Christ Church Cathedral is the place where John and Charles were both ordained Anglican Priests.

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Commemoration of where the Oxford Martyrs were burned.

Seeing and touching these holy places was an amazing experience but here was the real sobering moment for me: We stood at a spot on Broad Street which commemorated the place where Anglican bishops Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, and Thomas Cranmer were burned at the stake for heresy. These men are who became known as the Oxford Martyrs. To see the place where these men were killed for their faith in Christ rather than their faith to a monarch was inspirational and sobering.

 

In addition to this significant faith history, we also experience another place where our faith was shaped: The Eagle and Child pub. This is where C.S. Lewis would often congregate while he was in Oxford. There was a door marked “Narnia” but I darned not to open it. For the record, the fish and chips are excellent.

Yesterday we spent the day in Epworth where the Wesley boys and

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Me in the pulpit of Wesley Memorial Methodist Church in Epworth.

girls grew up. We toured the Old Rectory where the Wesleys lived while Samuel Wesley was rector of St. Andrew’s Church. At St. Andrews, we were able to see and touch the baptismal font where John, Charles, and their siblings were baptized. We were even able to see and hold the chalice which belonged to Samuel and from which his children received their first Eucharist. We saw some of the places where John Wesley practiced open air preaching, including the market cross and his father’s grave (he climbed on top of the grave to preach after he was denied an invitation to preach at St. Andrew’s).

 

Along the way, we have learned much from our leaders who have been lecturing on Methodist history as well as ways by which we can reclaim some of the Wesleyan fervor. Hopefully by doing this, what began as a renewal movement within the Anglican Church will itself be renewed today. I throw this in mainly because I did not want you to think we have only been sightseeing. This has very much been a learning experience, both by being able to learn from some of the best Wesleyan scholars available as well as being able to experience the places where so much of our Methodist heritage was formed.

Still on tap for us is worshiping at Salisbury Methodist Church tomorrow as well as an excursion to Bath, where there has been much Roman influence preserved. Monday we head to Bristol to see sites such as the New Room and Bristol Cathedral. Tuesday and Wednesday will be spent in London where there is also much Methodist history to be experienced and learned about.

This has been our trip so far. As you can see, we still have much more to go and I can not wait to see what God will do with these final days for us here. As I expressed to a friend of mine earlier today, this has been a learning experience that is helping to shape my future ministry in the United Methodist Church. Even if I were to go back home today, I would come away with much knowledge and the blessings of being able to be in these holy places. I have experienced joy, affirmation, new friendship, and the Holy Spirit speaking to me. May we continue to listen for His small voice as we continue this sojourn.

Jonathan

Going Across the Pond

old-rectory-epworthToday was a day that I thought would be fairly typical. Instead, today turned out to be a day that I received some unexpected good news.

Every year, Discipleship Ministries – an agency within the United Methodist Church – sponsors a pilgrimage to England where pilgrims are immersed in early Methodist history. Places such as the Old Rectory, the New Room, and the Aldersgate Monument are seen. Worship is done at places such as Salisbury Methodist Church, and St. Paul’s Cathedral. Along with all of that are lectures and other opportunities for learning, fellowship, and getting to really soak up the places and faces of the early movement which became Methodism.

If this sounds like the dream trip that should be on every Metho-nerd’s bucket list, that’s because it is.

Ever since I found out about this pilgrimage I have wanted to go. Last year I applied for a scholarship and was turned down. I was disappointed but, truthfully, I also knew that (1) there would be other opportunities to apply again and (2) it probably would not have been a good idea to try and squeeze in this trip just after relocating to a new state. When the applications for year’s pilgrimage opened, I immediately applied. Today I received an email with a response.

This year’s answer was “Congratulations!”

I’m very excited, humbled, and count myself blessed to have this opportunity to experience the sights where John and Charles Wesley, Francis Asbury, Thomas Coke, and many others were instrumental in beginning what would become a movement that continues to impact the world today. I am eager to not only learn about these places but to see and experience them in person.

I am also eager to enjoy some fish and chips.

I have no doubt that this will enhance the education I am currently pursuing and will give me a greater appreciation for the branch of Christianity that I am part of. I pray that this has a positive and lasting impact in my life as a pastor.

Some other things I’m excited about: Experiencing another country and being able to spend time in places such as Stonehenge and London. I am excited to finally have a reason to apply for my passport and I look forward to my first trans-Atlantic airplane ride (which I will hopefully sleep through). I am looking forward to meeting new colleagues and making new friends. To say that I am just overall excited would be an understatement!

So here I come in July, England! Consider yourselves warned.

Jonathan