Agreeing to disagree
As we head into the Lenten season, we realize that it is a time of reflection and repentance. We generally practice these spiritual disciplines as a personal exercise. This year however will bring about many changes for Methodists, and I am going to encourage you to do this work on not only a personal level but also on a communal level as well.
I am not writing this to you to increase anxiety or sadness, but rather to keep you informed of what is happening within our denomination globally. What this denomination will look like in the coming year remains in the hands of God. A separation or schism within the people called Methodists will occur. And, this division is not just separating us into two camps but rather into numerous offshoots due to differing doctrinal understandings. In the future, each church, and each church member, will be asked to look into their hearts and make a prayerful decision on what they believe, and on where they want to assemble for worship based on those beliefs.
All of this is challenging and even gut-wrenching. As of this writing, we still do not know if General Conference will be able to meet in May due to Covid travel restrictions. United Methodism is a global denomination and General conference is the governing body that will have the ultimate authority to determine the details of how the pending separation will occur. There are many financial decisions to be made about pensions, property, land ownership, past due ministry shares, and so forth. As a result, many questions remain unanswered until this governing body meets.
Until that happens, please consider the following: labeling others who disagree with our own personal understanding and interpretation of scripture does not help the healing process. Bitterness and fear is not representative of Christ’s teachings; and insults are damaging. We need to prayerfully be above such worldly tactics during times of conflict. I agree with Rev. Khary Bridgewater, senior program officer at Gatherings of Hope, who wrote: "The church needs to give the world a better example, a better way to have an argument, a different model to respond to. We don't want to have the debate how the world has the debate, and often we do."
Disaffiliation and separation is inevitable, however there is hope for a peaceful future where we can find common ground with others and move the work of the Kingdom forward. It is my belief that we can learn from the past on how to model better ways in which to disagree than anger, name calling, denigration or hatred. Our Founder John Wesley coined the phrase “agree to disagree” after a ten-year estrangement from fellow pastor George Whitefield. There is much we can glean from this split within the beginning of the Methodist movement, prior to it becoming a denomination, and how it was eventually resolved.
George Whitefield was a student at Pembroke College in Oxford and while there, he was mentored by brothers John and Charles Wesley. He looked to the Wesley’s, especially John, as his spiritual guides and what today we would call accountability partners.
Whitefield was a powerful and charismatic preacher. Working as a team together with the Wesley’s, the Methodist movement grew rapidly. Whitefield was a visionary and began preaching to the masses out of doors which moved Methodism from an inward focused small church of respectable Anglican society, to including those who were the “unchurched” - the factory workers, coal miners, bar keepers, prostitutes, farmers… the uneducated and unrefined part of the social fabric of the time.
Reluctantly, the Wesley brothers had to follow Whitefield outside of the church walls and into the “field” to preach. Even though John preferred the church setting, he realized the wisdom of Whitefield’s going outside of the brick and mortar and meeting the people where they were most comfortable and likely to respond to the invitation of the Gospel. Most would never darken the doors of the church. There is a famous picture of the diminutive Wesley standing on a tombstone facing an eclectic group of listeners as he preached salvation, grace, and the forgiveness of sin. This was not a comfortable setting for John who preferred his pulpit and congregation inside the church, but he went where the people were and he had to admit the wisdom of Whitefield’s move.
Whitefield and the Wesley’s differing gifts and graces complemented each other, and initially they worked together as equals. George Whitefield’s gift was in the power of this preaching, reaching the people on an emotional level, while John Wesley’s was in the methodical way in which he organized the people for continued study. Wesley knew the emotional would fade away and people would then need a firm foundation and solid instruction for continued spiritual growth. New Christians needed a way to stay connected to God and each other.
John’s gift of organization allowed leaders of the classes he put in place to raise up new leaders from within the laity. These small groups functioned to hold one another accountable. They also gave instruction on scripture and taught how to dig deeper into the Word of God. Sanctification, grace, and moving on to perfection in love became the hallmark of his legacy.
Much as today’s issues within the denomination, a split over theological doctrine and scriptural interpretation and gifted men of faith became estranged. Whitefield and Wesley disagreed on the doctrine of predestination and the role of grace in salvation. And because of their passion on these subjects, a separation into two movements occurred. There was a lot of animosity with each side blaming the other for the separation. The argument spilled over to the people they were trying to lead and mentor as John and George wrote passionately and preached passionately about their differing views. The argument became so vitriolic that rival churches were established on the same street in towns in open competition with each other for members. It became quite messy.
But here is where we can learn from these two pillars of the faith and their estrangement as friends and Christians. First, both openly loved the Lord. Also, both recognized the value of each other’s contribution to the Kingdom of God. After ten years of passionate arguing, they put their theological differences into perspective and “agreed to disagree.” Healing took root and friendships that had been strained and perhaps broken were once again strengthened as God’s love became paramount in their lives. Churches that were fractured began to work together for the common goal of making disciples of Jesus Christ. Neither man changed their minds on their theology, they simply found ways to appreciate the strengths found in each other and work together.
George Whitefield became ill, and much to the surprise of many, he asked John Wesley to preach his funeral sermon. It was a true show of friendship in spite of their difference in judgment about points of doctrine. It was in Wesley’s 1770 funeral sermon that we get the famous phrase, “agree to disagree.” The following is part of Wesley’s Sermon 53, On the Death of Rev. Mr. George Whitefield:
“And, first, let us keep close to the grand scriptural doctrines which he everywhere delivered. There are many doctrines of a less essential nature, with regard to which even the sincere children of God (such is the present weakness of human understanding) are and have been divided for many ages. In these we may think and let think; we may ‘agree to disagree.’ But, meantime, let us hold fast the essentials of ‘the faith which was once delivered to the saints;’ and which this champion of God so strongly insisted on, at all times, and in all places!”
Wesley was right, we must not lose our focus on what being a Christian is all about. Friends, throughout the coming storm remember the one who calms the waters will guide us through them. We need to look for, and appreciate, the gifts found in others without malice and with Christian love. Indeed let us “think and let think” and may we “agree to disagree” all the while holding fast to the essentials of ‘the faith which was once delivered to the saints.’ Look for the common ground, work towards the common good, and remember the strength found in respectful dialogue as together we reach towards the goal of helping plant seeds for the next generation of disciples of Jesus Christ. Let it be so…
In peace and gentleness,
The Conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus is a story that will be covered in worship in the near future. It’s a remarkable story of grace, conversion, healing, and much more. Ananias, a disciple of Jesus in the city is sent to Saul, now called Paul to minister to him but… Ananias has misgivings and we read in Acts 9: 13-19:
13 Ananias replied, “Lord, a lot of people have told me about the terrible things this man has done to your followers in Jerusalem. 14 Now the chief priests have given him the power to come here and arrest anyone who worships in your name.”
15 The Lord said to Ananias, “Go! I have chosen him to tell foreigners, kings, and the people of Israel about me. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for worshiping in my name.”
17 Ananias left and went into the house where Saul was staying. Ananias placed his hands on him and said, “Saul, the Lord Jesus has sent me. He is the same one who appeared to you along the road. He wants you to be able to see and to be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
18 Suddenly something like fish scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see. He got up and was baptized. 19 Then he ate and felt much better.
As you know, we have been blessed with the beginning of a Lenten study on the topic of Imagine No Racism (INR). Beginning March 2nd, Ash Wednesday, at 3:30 on Zoom we will be led through this thought provoking and enlightening journey of discovery together. All are welcome, you do not have to be members of Christ First to take this class, it is open to all. Most of these classes are for several churches at a time, Christ First is blessed to have been offered this opportunity for individual sessions. I hope for a good crowd of people to take advantage of this class.
We have been pro-active within this monthly publication with articles, suggested readings, and background on the topic to be prepared for the actual work ahead of us. When I read verse 18 of Acts 9 I could not help but wonder, “what are the ‘fish scales’ that are keeping me from seeing clearly on these issues?” Is it the family I grew up in and their world view, my social circles and community background, or perhaps hidden privileges that I was not even aware that I had? Honest self-assessment is needed for the remediation of this sin.
This study is about more than just race issues, it also includes gender issues, sexual orientation concerns, and historical background. It is my hope that whatever “scales” we have that cloud our sense of justice and righteousness will fall from our spiritual eyes, allowing us to see as Jesus needs for us to see. May God bless our work.
In gentleness and peace,
Pastor Sue Hadley
Thanks for the Memories
It has been a wonderful three years at Christ First despite a Pandemic and all of the changes that it brought to how we have worshipped together. As a church, I am happy to say we have continued to grow and thrive and heal. Just a few highlights of what has been accomplished are that our numbers have steadily increased in worship, we are averaging 14 youth in Sunday School, have created Jump for Joy (our liturgical dance team) and have been in mission with our Veterans by supporting the Dwyer Group every Monday. We have created a visioning group and followed their recommendation to begin a Wednesday night worship service, one that is friendly to children and includes a meal and craft. We are currently working on finding a counselor who will work with our congregation, our veterans, and the community at large with issues such as Post Traumatic Stress, Grief counseling, family needs and individual therapy. The Holy Spirit is actively blowing through Christ First and we just need to hold on and not let go!
As I have reviewed our successes, I am filled with peace and gratitude to the Lord for supporting us, allowing us to be fruitful. However, it is with a heavy heart that I have had to make a difficult decision, the decision to step away from the pulpit and open it to another minister who will be poised to take this congregation to even higher goals. God has been gracious and supportive of my work throughout my career in spite of health concerns that have been part of my life over the past 6 years. For God’s amazing grace, I am thankful. The decision to retire has been a difficult one fueled and guided by prayer. I honestly believe that I was placed with you by God to help you prepare for a healthy future, but it is time for me to retire and move into another phase of life.
And so my friends, July 1,2022 I will be handing over my role as your spiritual leader to another. I am grateful to God for the opportunity to have been your pastor. Tim and I thank you for your support, prayers and acceptance of us while we have been with you. We love you all and want only the best for each of you. It is with humility and a smile that allows me to say… “Thanks for the memories friends.” May God bless you all.
In gentleness and peace,
We are reminded in a newer hymn to:
Give thanks with a grateful heart,
Give thanks to the Holy One,
Give thanks because He’s given Jesus Christ His son.
Ephesians 5:20 and I Thessalonians 5:18 reminds us to:
Giving thanks and having gratitude. Friends, gratitude is a word that we frequently hear bandied about. Often it is used with frustration because we believe the world is experiencing a lack of it, but when w fall prey to that type of thinking, we lose the meaning of the word. Gratitude is a term used to express thankfulness and praise, There is power in having a grateful heart, especially during times of sorrow, illness or other trials. The apostle Paul explains in Scripture that we are to give thanks for all things, in all circumstances, even when we are suffering and experiencing what is unpleasant in this world. This doesn’t mean we are to be “happy” all the time, that would be disingenuous, but rather to seek a deeper understanding of what it means to be Christian and in relationship with Jesus. As Christians, we are to show gratitude to God both in times of trial and in times of blessings, it is what distinguishes us from those who are unbelievers. As a follower of the Savior, there is peace given to us through all things, and we should respond in gratitude.
My heart is full of thanksgiving to God for having placed each of you in my life “for such a time as this.” The cards, well wishes, gifts and most importantly prayers you have lavished upon Tim and I during my surgery and recovery period sustained us and strengthened us. Prayer is such a powerful thing, for when we pray and give thanks to God in all circumstances, even when it’s hard to do so, we are promised grace and strength to get through whatever is before us.
Our family has gone through some difficult circumstances over the last 6 weeks, not only with my surgery and cancer, but also for our children and grandchildren. Throughout it all you have stood by us as prayer warriors and intercessors with God. We give thanks for your support and the love shown to each of us during this period. It’s been a long haul and it’s not over yet, but we are certain that our faith sustains us and your prayers of intercession have helped in the healing process for us all. We have gratitude in our hearts for the Savior’s love and also for each of you. God has given you to us as a gift. Thanks be to God.
In Peace and Gentleness,
I invite you to read this scripture from James 3:1-12. This version is from “The Message” but I encourage you to read this section from other translations as well.
CF Pastor’s Pen July2021
Prayer Beads and the Art of Listening
Recently a fellow Pastor gave me a set of prayer beads she had made for me to give away as a gift. I have made these simple symbols and reminders for prayer for myself, but my friend uses beads made from wood from the holy land, and they are beautiful. The protestant prayer beads are separated into four sets of seven to help the one praying remember to give thanks, ask for intercession, dwell on the attributes of God, and then to simply listen for God to speak to them. Sometimes we forget to just be in silence and let God do the talking! Its an age-old problem and one that plagues us still. Having the beads in my hands reminds me to be still and know that God is in communion with me in the silence.
Hebrews 4:16 reminds us that we are to “…approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Knowing we can always approach God is a blessing, however, I have found that sometimes when we approach God we do so in a rather casual manner. Although God wants us to spend time with him, we need to be cognizant that we are approaching the Lord of the universe when we go to God in prayer. As a reminder of this fact, I found that the use of prayer beads can help me to organize my thoughts and come before the throne humble and in an attitude of awe knowing the power found within prayer.
Communication is always a two-way street, it is not a monologue. God wants to hear from us, but God also has important information to share with us. And so we are to listen and not just speak. A wise woman once told me we only have one mouth with which to speak but we have two ears so we can listen twice as much as we talk! Both are important, but I urge you to be in silence during part of your prayer life and let the Lord speak to your spirit. If you have an opportunity to use prayer beads try them and be open to seeking the Lord in a more guided way, hearing his voice. God’s blessings be with you.
In gentleness and peace,
John Wesley was a complicated person who periodically struggled with his faith. Wesley had focused his life for thirteen years on trying to have a pure heart before the Lord. On one hand, he intellectually knew that he was a child of God, and yet he seemed to be trying to earn his salvation through acts of piety and social justice. He gave to the poor, visited those in prison, lived on very little, prayed and studied continually, preached with conviction and wrote copious letters and lessons. But even while recording everything he did in fifteen-minute intervals in his journals to justify his stewardship of his time and talents, Wesley came to realize that the void in his life was because he lacked a personal assurance of salvation. In spite of all of his efforts, he never could reconcile how a sinner such as himself could ever “measure up” before a holy and righteous God. All of this changed at a religious meeting on Aldersgate Street, London in 1738. At that time John realized his Salvation was a free gift from God, and that his sins were forgiven. He was no longer captive to sin. On May 24th,1738 Wesley found what he longed for:
“In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s ‘Preface to the Epistle to the Romans’. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
Whenever we have something good happen to us, we want to share it, its human nature to do so. And so, immediately after finding his heart strangely warmed, Wesley confidently shared his newfound faith with those around him. Later that same evening he visited his brother Charles and it was said that he triumphantly exclaimed “I believe.” Grace freely given was the message that John Wesley shared with his congregations. Prior to the Aldersgate experience, John had confessed his unbelief and his need for saving faith. He wrote to a friend that:
“I feel what you say for I am under the same condemnation…God is holy; I am unholy. God is a consuming fire; I am altogether a sinner, meet to be consumed. Yet I hear a voice saying, ‘Believe, and thou shalt be saved’…O let no one deceive us by vain words, as if we had already attained this faith!”
Following his conversion on that London street, he was now freed of doubts and fears of salvation, sin had no more dominion over him. And so as United Methodists, we celebrate May 24th as a milestone in our founders’ life and his desire to share what he now knew as truth. John Wesley was a focused man, and that focus was not on the past and how things use to be, but rather on the future and how to reach out to those who needed the assurance of salvation that he himself had lacked for so long. Wesley was passionate when it came to the Anglican church, the denomination that he was ordained as a priest into. He loved the church, the hymns, the liturgy, the traditions. But, even though those were things he loved dearly, he clearly saw that change was needed. The church was failing in its mission to spread the gospel to the “un-churched.” Changes had to be made if Christianity was to survive. That vision is still alive and well. We need to look forward here at Christ First just as John Wesley did.
This Pentecost Sunday was an extra special day for our church for it was our 25th Anniversary of becoming Christ First as two churches united and melded into one. Pastor Doug’s message was right on point, there is indeed no sense remaining in the past, there is no future in it! Our heritage is important and it was good to look back and enjoy seeing saints once again who have gone on, to enjoy the music of a large choir, and watch how the children have become adults. Our own celebration will hopefully be enjoyed 25 years into the future, and rather than having VCR Tapes it will be captured on a thumb drive and labeled for future generations to share. We have changed as a church over 25 years. We need to celebrate our past, but then much as John Wesley and Charles Wesley did, we need to meet the people we serve where they are. I know you are up to the task. Change is never easy, but if we are to not just survive but grow and thrive, we will need to embrace doing things not as we have always done them, but in ways which will reach a whole new generation.
The need to share the saving grace of Jesus Christ and leave people with the peace that only our Lord and Savior can give is essential to who we are as Christians. We must allow the winds of the Holy Sprit to blow through our church into the homes surrounding us. Change is in the air, never underestimate the Spirit! Hold on tight, buckle your seat belts, because we are on the move through the Holy Spirit’s living breath. God bless each of you as we move into the future as the church together.
Grace and Peace,
Pastor Sue Hadley
An informed way to view hidden racism.
As promised, I will be posting articles and suggestions for reading in an effort to prepare ourselves to meet in person to discuss a topic that is both sensitive and inflammatory, the topic of racism. Our denomination has been on the cutting edge of working for dismantling this sin, for that is what it is.
I have been blessed with some of the conversations we have had after reading the books and articles I have suggested. It is difficult reading and I applaud the efforts made to perhaps see things from a different perspective. What follows is a lengthy article posted by the Upper New York Conference. I encourage you to read it with an open mind and a prayer that the Holy Spirit guide and direct your thoughts. God’s blessings on your work.
In Gentleness and peace,
Systemic vs Institutional Racism