The Methodist Movement

As I write this I’m in the home stretch of conducting Charge Conferences for the Columbia District. I enjoy hearing the reports of what each church is doing. Each has a success story, a unique personality, a history, and a tragedy or two. I see much of my call as a District Superintendent to get to know as much as I can about the churches. Sure, I spend as much time as I can with my clergy, but I’m a firm believer that clergy exist for churches, not churhes for clergy. Our connectional system isn’t a welfare system for flunky preachers. It’s our special way to help Methodism remain a movement!

I have seen movement in the Columbia District churches. In my way of having townhall-style charge conferences, I give time for people to ask me whatever they want to ask, deal with the “hidden” issues that are beneath the surface, and simply have conversation. Sometimes things get heated. Usually, however, this is an opportunity for catharsis and healing. I even try to get to each church early so I can walk around the facilities, and the cemeteries. You can tell a lot about how a church is doing by how well things are cared for. So far, I can honestly say that things are going well in the Columbia District. Many churches have had significant growth in disciples and disciple-making. Our district is the only one in South Carolina that has gone up this year in apportionment payment to connectional giving. We lead the Annual Conference.

But numbers don’t tell the whole story. The people tell it and retell it every time they live and breathe their faith, and speak of the hope that is within them through Jesus. I have to share why this is important through a piece that I first heard through Bishop John Hopkins of the East Ohio Annual Conference:
“An interesting article was written in a journal called The Public Interest by Roger Starr, a professor at City College in New York. He is a liberal, Jewish Democrat. (Remember that; it is important to the story.)

Starr Concluded that there was only one other period in world history that matches the day in which we live. It was 18th century England. There was a problem of addiction – they had just discovered gin alcohol. Families were falling apart, Children were being abused. Domestic violence was rampant.
There were problems of pollution, crime, and violence – problems very much like our own.

When he discovered this, Roger Starr wanted to know what saved England, or brought them out of their situation. And would you believe? This liberal, Jewish, Democrat argues that the only thing that saved England was someone that he had not really heard much about – someone by the name of John Wesley who started a movement called Methodism.

“Now, I don’t even know any Methodists,” says Starr. “I don’t anything about them. But this Wesley started a movement that literally saved England. It was a movement that had profound social, economic, and political consequences and transformed and indeed saved that nation. Maybe what we need to do is to study those Methodists to find out how they did it, and to duplicate what they did back in the 18th century.”

About a month later, George Will wrote and editorial for The Washington Post. George Will is a conservative, Roman Catholic Republican. (Remember that; it is important to the story.)

· Will wrote, “I never thought I’d agree with anything Roger Starr has ever written. But you know, this liberal has actually got a point. It is that in the 18th century you have the German and French revolutions, and other revolutions around the world; but you don’t have an English Revolution. But they did, you see. It was called the ‘Methodist Revolution,’ because these Methodists turned their world upside down. Maybe what we need to do is to take Roger Starr seriously and look at what was the secret of those Methodists.”
· Then he added, “I know this is going to sound strange for me, saying that we need some more Methodists to save the world; and I hate to end the column this way, but does anybody out there have a better idea?”

About a month later, Fred Barnes, editor of The New Republic, wrote an article. Fred Barnes is an evangelical Episcopalian moderate. (Remember that; it is important to the story.)
He writes, “Can you believe this? We have George Will and Roger Starr agreeing on something. I can’t believe it! But the more you think about it, they are exactly right. But they forgot one thing. What they forgot was that basically the Methodist Movement was at heart, a spiritual awakening.”

Barnes continues, “Yes, it had tremendous economic, social, and political consequences, but it began as a spiritual revival – a spiritual awakening. And unless we get in this nation a spiritual awakening and a spiritual revival that will create these kinds of economic and political implication…in our day, it won’t work. It’s got to have a new generation of Methodists who will do for this day what they did in the 18th century.”

Other people see and say about us what we can’t see, or are too bashful to say about ourselves: The world needs a new generation of United Methodists to lead the way to change the world. Are we ready to go?”

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