Methodist Thoughts

The Christmas Conference: 10 days that started a church

posted Dec 19, 2018, 7:54 AM by Bowmansville UMC

A Feature by Joe Iovino

For many of us Christmas morning means lounging in our pajamas, eating delicious food and slowly opening gifts. For those who started the Methodist church in America, their Christmas Eve in 1784 was the first of ten days of serious church business. In the end, their gift to us was the formation of a new denomination that would change history.

The decision to meet

When Thomas Coke bumped into Francis Asbury after a worship service at Barratt’s Chapel in Frederica, Delaware, he shared important news.
John Wesley had sent him to ordain Asbury and appoint him superintendent of a new, Methodist church in the United States.
The Christmas Conference was held at Lovely Lane Chapel in Baltimore, Maryland.
The Christmas Conference at Lovely Lane Chapel in Baltimore, Maryland, began on Christmas Eve 1784. Image courtesy United Methodist General Commission on Archives and History.
This had been a long time in coming. Church of England priests serving in America returned to England during the American Revolutionary War, leaving no one to administer the sacraments to the Methodists. Lay preachers kept the societies going with meetings and love feasts, but they needed ordained clergy.
When the Church of England continued to refuse Wesley’s requests to ordain some of his Methodist preachers and send them across the Atlantic, he took matters into his own hands. Wesley ordained two Methodist lay preachers to serve in the U.S., and appointed Coke a general superintendent.
After worship at Barratt’s Chapel on that November Sunday, Asbury and Coke decided to call a special conference for all the Methodist preachers in the United States. They would meet at Lovely Lane Chapel beginning December 24, 1784, to found and organize a new church. The 10 days they spent together would later become known as the Christmas Conference.
With the conference beginning in just 40 days, they needed to get the word out immediately. Freeborn Garrettson, leader of the society at Barratt’s Chapel, mounted a horse and set out. The Paul Revere of Methodism would later write in his journal, “My dear Master enabled me to ride about twelve hundred miles in about six weeks.”
Freeborn Garrettson is sometimes called the Paul Revere of Methodism.
Freeborn Garrettson is sometimes called "the Paul Revere of Methodism." Image courtesy United Methodist General Commission on Archives and History.

The Conference

Garrettson was effective with this monumental task. According to Coke, 81 people met at Lovely Lane. “Nearly 60 of them” were “American Preachers,” he notes, “most of them young.”
As the conference to found the Methodist Episcopal Church began, only Coke, Richard Whatcoat, and Thomas Vasey—the two Wesley had ordained in England a few weeks earlier—were clergy. All other members of the Christmas Conference, including Asbury, were lay preachers. Coke would soon rectify that.
Beginning on Christmas Day, Francis Asbury was ordained a deacon, ordained an elder, and consecrated as a general superintendent on three consecutive days—a record that will never be broken.
Asbury, who had served as the de facto leader of the Methodists in America for years, refused to accept the role of superintendent solely by Wesley’s appointment. He insisted the preachers elect him to serve in that capacity.
Soon after the Christmas Conference, Methodists began to refer to Coke and Asbury as bishops, despite Wesley’s objections to the term. The United Methodist Church still elects our bishops today.
Asbury’s ordination contained another bit of foreshadowing. Philip Otterbein, a pastor in the German Reformed Church, participated in Asbury’s ordination. Otterbein would later help found the United Brethren, another predecessor denomination of The United Methodist Church.
Philip Otterbein participated in the ordination of Francis Asbury.
Philip Otterbein (2nd from left) participated in the ordination of Francis Asbury. Image courtesy United Methodist General Commission on Archives and History.
No minutes of the Christmas Conference survive, but based on the journals of those present and the Disciplinethey produced, historians can piece together much of what happened. Twelve lay preachers were elected and ordained as elders (clergy). 
The Sunday Service John Wesley sent with Coke was approved for use in the new church—a forerunner of today’s Book of Worship. The conference also talked about forming Cokesbury College, and made a host of other decisions necessary for the formation of the new denomination.

When the conference was concluded and the church born, Asbury journaled about all this activity in his typically understated way. “We spent the whole week in conference, debating freely, and determining all things by a majority of votes,” he explained. “We were in great haste, and did much business in a little time” (The Journal and Letters of Francis Asbury, December 18, 1784, p 939).
That is not the way many of us would choose to spend our Christmas vacation, but as descendants of these forebears in the faith, we’re sure glad they did

Wesley's Take the Web - Episodes 1, 2 and 3

posted Dec 1, 2018, 4:53 PM by Bowmansville UMC   [ updated Dec 2, 2018, 2:09 PM ]

This is the first episode in a series of three short videos that offer a modern animated version of the brothers who founded Methodism talking about how the denomination started.

In this episode, John and Charles test their smartphone on her knowledge of fun facts about The United Methodist Church.

In this episode, John and Charles Wesley view examples of Methodism's core principle of social holiness via smartphone.


posted Sep 24, 2018, 7:30 AM by Bowmansville UMC

Tithing is commonly understood as the giving of one-tenth of one’s income for God. This standard of giving comes from several passages in Scripture (e.g. Genesis 28:10-22).

The founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley, offered an even higher standard for giving, and for our entire approach to living. 
It’s found in Wesley’s sermon, “The Use of Money,” which is among the Standard Sermons included in our doctrinal standards.
Here is Wesley’s own brief summary which is the foundation of our teaching: 
“Gain all you can…. save all you can… give all you can.” 

As he develops each of these points in his sermon, his message is plain. 
We are to seek to earn all we can in ways that are helpful to ourselves and others, never harmful. We are to “save all we can” by being frugal in our expenses. 

And then having earned all we can and spent only what we must to care for our own basic needs and those of our family (which we are never to neglect!), we are to give everything else away. 

Indeed, Wesley says, “Render unto God, not a tenth, not a third, not half, but all that is God’s.” For some of us, after earning and saving all we can, while caring for our family’s basic needs, there may not be much left over. For others, there may be much, indeed. Whatever that is, we say, give it all!

The United Methodist Church, in its Book of Discipline, emphasizes tithing as a “minimum goal of giving” and encourages local churches to find creative ways to become “tithing congregations with an attitude of generosity.”  The church asks all those being ordained to “teach and model generous Christian giving with a focus on tithing as God’s standard of giving.”
United Methodists value the tithe as a benchmark for giving, one we encourage our members to move toward and, once achieved, move beyond. We believe our giving should be both more challenging and more gracious to the whole world than simply trying to give a tithe of our income. We also believe that there is joy in giving, and the greater the generosity the deeper the joy.

Barratt's Chapel: Independence Hall of American Methodism, Frederica, Delaware

posted Jul 5, 2018, 6:45 PM by Bowmansville UMC   [ updated Jul 5, 2018, 6:46 PM ]

Barratt’s Chapel is the oldest Methodist church building in the United States still in use as a place of worship. Historical markers on the property call it the “Cradle of Methodism,” but historians here say “Independence Hall of American Methodism” is a more fitting title. Take a tour, and get a drone's eye view, in this video. 

Motorists along busy Route 1 in Delaware might zoom past the simple brick buildings of Barratt’s Chapel and never realize its significance in the history of The United Methodist Church.

Philip Lawton, Peninsula-Delaware Conference Historian: “This is the place where Methodism became a church.”

Church historian Philip Lawton says not long after the Revolutionary War, Methodists formally split from the Church of England.

Phillip Lawton: “They did that here on November 14, 1784, at least symbolically, by celebrating the sacraments for the very first time in a Methodist meeting without an Anglican priest doing the celebration and that was a symbolic declaration that they were going to be a church. So this is really the Independence Hall of American Methodism."

Barb Duffin, Curator, Barratt's Chapel & Museum: “This is the place where baptisms and the Lord’s Supper were offered for the first time by an ordained Methodist minister.”

On that Sunday in 1784, newly ordained Thomas Coke was in the pulpit preaching when Francis Asbury arrived for an historic meeting. A star marks the place where the two embraced. At the time, the sanctuary had only simple furnishings.

Philip Lawton: “Originally, there would have some split log benches. Probably, a lot of people just stood or brought a stool from home. Structurally, the building is a barn. People come today and they think of this as a quaint little country church. And that’s not at all what Phillip Barratt thought he was building.”

Phillip Barratt was a wealthy Delaware politician, landowner and Methodist.

Philip Lawton: “He was building a major meeting place for the Methodists on the main highway through Delaware. This building seats about 500 people. When he built it in 1780 there were maybe 1000 Methodists on all of the Delmarva Peninsula. By building this on the main highway he was really making a statement. He had a vision that the Methodists were going to grow and were going to become something important. It’s here that a national movement began.”

Methodism became one of the largest Protestant denominations in America. That November day at Barratt’s Chapel, Asbury and Coke prepared to call all the U.S. Methodist preachers together

Philip Lawton: “Then in Baltimore on Christmas Day they organized themselves as the Methodist Episcopal Church, the first truly American-born denomination.”

Joy Gordy-Stith, Wesley United Methodist Church: “I was baptized here. And I’ve just been coming here my whole life for various services. And you know, it’s not Christmas if we don’t come here and sing lessons and carols. It’s a very important part of my life.”

Today, Barratt’s Chapel is a favorite stop for confirmation classes and United Methodists who are writing the next chapter in the living history of this place.

(To watch the YouTube video, copy and past the the following address in your browse:)

Why do United Methodist pastors change churches?

posted Jun 14, 2018, 10:14 AM by Bowmansville UMC

Our unique system of deploying clergy has its roots in the earliest days of Methodism. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, preached up to 40,000 sermons in his lifetime. He was an “itinerant” preacher, traveling from town to town in England, setting up Methodist societies.

“John Wesley believed that itinerant preachers who moved from place to place were more effective than those who settled in, grew comfortable, and wore out what they had to say,” says the Rev. Belton Joyner.

In a letter to the Rev. Samuel Walker in 1756, Wesley wrote, "We have found by long and consistent experience that a frequent exchange of preachers is best. This preacher has one talent, that another; no one whom I ever yet knew has all the talents which are needful for beginning, continuing, and perfecting the work of grace in a whole congregation."

In the early days of Methodism in America, a pastor — most often a circuit rider — might be appointed to half of a state or more. His appointment might be for only three months, after which he moved to another circuit. Thousands of the oldest United Methodist congregations today trace their history to a circuit rider.

This traveling from place to place to begin Methodist societies was adapted for the Methodist congregations many of these early societies would become after the establishment of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1784. It thus became the basis of the itinerant system The United Methodist Church uses today.

United Methodist pastors are sent, not called or hired. “Itinerancy” refers specifically to the commitment by pastors to go and serve wherever their bishops send them. “Appointment” is the action taken by bishops. These are different, yet related.

Clergy in The United Methodist Church commit to serve where their bishop appoints them. Appointments are typically for one year at a time, though the bishop may move any itinerant pastor at any time. The goal of the appointment process is to match as much as possible the gifts and graces of the particular pastor or deacon with the ministry needs of a particular congregation or ministry setting. In this “serial leadership” of consecutive pastors and deacons — no two are alike — over time, the combination of skills blends to form a broad base of developed ministries.

While bishops make appointments, they incorporate a consultative process outlined in The Book of Discipline that includes district superintendents, clergy and pastor/staff parish relations committees. The needs and desires of clergy are considered, but the mission of the church comes first.

Joyner explains, “In a connectional system such as United Methodism, the question from any individual congregation or from any individual [clergy] is not, 'What is best for me?' The question is 'What is best for us, the whole connection?' The one who has oversight, the bishop, makes those decisions. (The New Testament word for bishop is episkopos, which means 'the one who can see the whole picture.')

“The changing of pastors brings different and often-needed gifts to the local church (1 Cor. 12:4). The changing of settings can keep a pastor refreshed. The missionary journeys of Paul are surely a reminder of that (for example, Acts 13:2-14:7; 15:36-18:22; 18:23-21:19).”

Image of a circuit rider, courtesy of the General Commission on Archives and History for The United Methodist Church, Drew University.

Do you have to go to church to be a Christian?

posted Jun 2, 2018, 7:47 PM by Bowmansville UMC

The answer to your question is, of course, determined by the definition of what a Christian is. If a Christian is simply someone who assents to belief in the Triune God, then the answer is no. If a Christian is someone who is kind, caring, and keeps the basic ethical teachings of loving God (without specific practices) and loves one's neighbor, then the answer could be no, one does not have to go to church.

However, if a Christian is someone who has been baptized into the church and professed the faith of the church, then the answer is yes.

At baptism or in confirmation/profession of faith, we make very important promises. We renounce evil, the spiritual forces of wickedness, and repent of our sin. We declare that we accept the freedom God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression. Then we declare we trust in Christ for salvation and promise to serve him in unity with his church.

In those promises we accept God's acceptance of us within the beloved community, we promise to serve WITH THE CHURCH, and the church welcomes us as members of Christ's royal priesthood.

John Wesley taught and practiced accountable discipleship. He knew what we deep down know today--we can't keep on the path with Christ without the help and support of other Christians. Without hearing the Word read and preached, without gathering with other Christians around the table to share and feast upon Christ who is host and sacrifice for us, and without becoming part of the fire of the Spirit, we are like embers of a fire separated from the community of grace. We grow cold and the fire and flame of love grow cold and we die spiritually. We may still believe, but we stand outside the covenant in our practice.

However, it is important to add God does not let us go or give up on us. What God promises, God does not revoke. We are still marked as Christ's disciple and still called to live in and with and for Christ.

So what is the answer? Ask yourself, can you be a Christian--baptized, table sharing, connected to Jesus and one with his body--the body that Paul says we are to discern when we gather to remember (See 1 Cor. 11)?

The plain point is this: without God's grace we cannot live the Christian life. God's grace is everywhere at work and always available. And if we really seek it and must have it, why would we go anywhere but to where Christ has promised, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty." (John 6:35)

--Rev. Dan Benedict
Center for Worship Resourcing
General Board of Discipleship

What does it mean to live by faith?

posted May 3, 2018, 10:13 AM by Dustin Skare

What a great question!  The Upper Room Dictionary of Christian Spiritual Formation describes faith as a “personal, positive, and dynamic relationship with God involving one's whole being and life.

"As the Bible predominantly sees it, faith is trust. Trust is lived, experienced as an assurance, a motivating force.
It is not a theory or an idea.

"Luther called it 'a confidence on which one stakes one's life,' building on the claim in Hebrews 11:1 that 'faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.' "

The article continues, "Faith as trust is complemented and explained by faith as belief: a set of theological propositions arrived at through the use of reason and logic.
Theological belief is intentionally more impersonal, objective and analytical. It explains the experience of trust.

"Belief is knowledge about God.
Trust is knowing God firsthand, made possible through prayerful receptivity and allowing God to live in us and work through us.

Both knowledge and knowing are necessary, and each complements the other.
Otherwise trust can be mindless and irrational, and belief can be empty and irrelevant."

United Methodists understand that faith is about having one’s life transformed by the One in whom we put our trust, not just assenting to some ideas that may comfort us in difficult times and get us into heaven.

John Wesley, one of the founders of Methodism, organized people into small groups (called Class Meetings) whose members could “watch over one another in love.” They helped each other live lives that honored God.

They got together and talked about their struggles with sin and the difficulties of life.
They encouraged one another to pray, to read the Bible, to attend public worship, to fast and to reach out in love toward their neighbors.
They worked side-by-side to offer health care to the poor, to advocate for safe working conditions, and to abolish both slavery and debtor’s prisons.

It was a holistic approach of personal and public piety paired with public and personal service to neighbor.

Today, we continue in this approach. We pray, study and worship with other Christians in order to connect to God and to deepen our knowledge of and love for God.

As we respond with acts of compassion to people’s needs and acts of justice to put right what creates some of those needs, we strengthen our ability to love our neighbor.

We also confess and repent of our sins, ways in which we fall short of God's way, and we recommit ourselves to living a life of faith. In this way, our inner thoughts and motives as well as our outer actions and behavior are made more like Jesus.

So, to live by faith is to live in a trusting, loving and ever-deepening relationship with God and every neighbor in which our own lives are transformed and we become part of the way God’s love transforms the world.

Pastor Jim (from   5-3-18)
Pastor James Brown Bowmansville UMC
KAIROS Prison Ministry

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