May 24, 2019

Dear Peachtree Road Family,

I hope this note finds you well. You may not be aware, but today is an important date in the history of the Methodist movement. On this date 281 years ago, John Wesley had his “Aldersgate Street” experience. He had returned to England from his time in the colony of Georgia and, by his own admission, was having a crisis of faith. Then, on the evening of May 24, 1738, Wesley attended a meeting of Moravian Christians that was taking place on Aldersgate Street in London. When he arrived, a layperson was reading from Martin Luther’s preface to his commentary on the New Testament book of Romans. Wesley later wrote these words in his personal journal:

“…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.”

Wesley later looked upon this moment of inspiration as the time in his life when the Holy Spirit gave him both a gift of assurance of God’s love and the courage to live boldly for Christ. It was a defining moment in the life of John Wesley and the reform movement he championed that came to be known as “Methodism.” In recent days, I have been praying for the Holy Spirit to come upon those of us who are Methodists, the spiritual descendants of John Wesley, in a similar way.

Earlier this week I represented Peachtree Road at a gathering in Kansas City called “UMC Next.” Over 600 fellow United Methodists met to continue the critical discussion concerning the future of our denomination. Those gathered at Church of the Resurrection UMC were like us – folks who deeply love Christ, care about the church, and earnestly are seeking God’s preferred future for the people called Methodists. When we arrived, we were given assigned seats at tables (78 tables with 8 persons at each table). I only knew one person at my table and would describe most of the folks at my table as much more progressive socially and theologically than I am. We spent two days in conversation with each other. We listened to one another as we shared our stories.

Honestly, some of the stories were difficult to hear. Several at my table talked about the discrimination they have experienced because of the color of their skin or their gender or their sexual orientation. You could sense their pain in both the words they spoke and in their body language. The compassion of Christ was stirred in us, and we quickly developed a bond with one another – we found ways to empathetically encourage, honestly question, and courageously even push back and challenge each other. I will admit that it was not always easy to “stay at the table,” but I am glad we did. God stretched me this week.

I am still reflecting upon all we discussed this week and the possibilities for the future, but I want you to know that I came away with a sense of hope – a Wesleyan assurance that God is not through with the people called Methodists in general and the United Methodist Church in particular.

Those who attended agreed on four principles that will guide our work in the future:

  • We describe ourselves as passionate followers of Jesus Christ in the Wesleyan tradition
  • We renew our commitment to our baptismal vow “to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they may present themselves.”
  • We reject the Traditional Plan as inconsistent with our Wesleyan tradition and theology and will resist its implementation
  • We intend to create a church (either by reforming the UMC from within or by developing a new Methodism) that will include all people without exception

I look forward to talking with you in the coming days about what these may mean for our future. Certainly, we already are dedicating a significant portion of time this year to strengthening our ministry of hospitality with all people. Wendie and I are taking a few days off this week, but I look forward to seeing you in worship on June 2 as we celebrate “Founder’s Day” at Peachtree Road. On that occasion I will offer a message entitled “Is Your Heart As My Heart?” I look forward to thinking with you about our future on that day. Please pray for our denomination in these days as well as the ministry of Peachtree Road.

Of course, we have reached Memorial Day weekend. In keeping with the reason for this holiday, during Sunday’s worship services, our congregation will pause to remember those who have given their lives in service to our country by placing a wreath at the altar in their memory. Carolyn Stephens will be preaching at the services on Sunday. I hope you are planning to be present.

Memorial Day marks the unofficial beginning of summer, and I know many of you will use this holiday as vacation time. If you are unable to be at church Sunday, I encourage you to do as I will do and participate in the service online at 11:15 a.m. You also may “catch up” by worshiping later in the week when the service is available on the church’s website. Either way, I hope you will keep worship at the forefront of your spiritual life during the summer season and stay connected to your friends at Peachtree Road.

As we move into the days of summer, we find many reasons to remember, give thanks, and celebrate. I hope that when you are in town you will be in your place in worship. When you are traveling, worship online and stay connected to your church family. And, may you be blessed with the assurance of God’s love and grace.

Bill