I have just returned home from 9 days on the road with my Garrett classmates in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania studying United Methodist History. This course is the last required course in the program I began in 2010 to become professionally certified in the field of Spiritual Formation through the United Methodist Church.
Part of my final for this course was to create a series of journal entries with thoughts and reflections from during and after our time together studying this topic of church history. I am going to share some of those posts and insights here as well to share and log this portion of the journey. Plus, it just makes homework more fun!
Upon arriving in Philadelphia, our class settled quickly into our new temporary home at the Holiday Inn. We then walked the few blocks to Historic St. George's United Methodist Church to meet our Chaplain and jump right in to learning together. As we walked into the church, it became overwhelmingly real that our experience was to be authentic as we were truly immersed in the history (and heat) of this special church. You see, this church is the oldest Methodist Church building in continual use since 1769.
You may or may not know that John Wesley came to America to encourage people in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, not to start a new church. He organized society or class meetings (small groups) and encouraged accountability in these groups, something many of our churches are trying to rejuvenate and re-emphasize the importance of today.
St. George's was and is an important part of church history, not just for those of us who identify as Methodists, but for many denominations. This church was a meeting place for early Christians who wanted "church" to be different (sound familiar to any of you?). My classmates and I worked together studying and learning - in the very same room that the first Methodist Preachers in America gathered in 1773.
And, it was an authentic experience because not only did we sit in the very room where some of these early Christian leaders sat in these meetings, but there was no air conditioning. I must admit. I am a lightweight when it comes to the heat. I do not like to sweat or glisten or glow unless there are rewards involved like crossing a finish line or hiking atop a beautiful mountain. Summer in Philadelphia in an un-air conditioned 200+ year old church while sitting on very hard pews does not surface to the front of my mind as pleasant or fun. And, yet surprisingly, it was.
You can label me a nerd if you wish. But, if you ask anyone who knows me well, I am far from a church history nerd. If I am being honest, I was not looking forward to this class because history has always been a weakness. But, this course turned out to be more than just history. Our experience was authentic. It was living history. It was real life. We were different from our forefathers in many ways. For instance, we had our smart phones, cameras, laptops and tablets. We were also wearing lightweight fibers and fabrics that wicked us dry rather than the heavy clothes of the days of the 1700s (I can't even imagine!). Oh, and the deodorant, who can forget deodorant!? We have much to be thankful for in 2012!
Our professor, Dr. Mark Fowler, shared knowledge and experience with us in a place that has great history. I gained far more in those 9 (mostly hot) days than an air conditioned room stacked with books could have ever taught me or the rest of my classmates. And, knowledge is powerful for our spirits. Even if we think it is a weakness.
Our chaplain, Fred Day, the pastor of St. George's, preached the morning after our arrival on embracing our weaknesses. The sermon was based on 2 Corinthians and Paul's thorn in his flesh. We have all had or currently have a thorn in our flesh. We have that weakness, memory, pain, burden or life situation that just doesn't go away. Sometimes we let those thorns break us down, bring us down or bury us in this life. But, Pastor Day's message was a message and reminder of embracing that thorn. We must grab hold of the wound and allow it to shape us because it will if we let it. This is a message that resonated with me the remainder of our time in Philly. This message is one that is much broader than my perceived weakness in history. This message is one of freedom if we choose to live into the freedom. Whether or not you are embracing it, Spiritual Formation is taking place in your life. Do you see it as a thorn or as an experience?
Whitney R. Simpson
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