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Signs of

Hope for UMC Renewal at Aldersgate

Reflections on an Aldersgate Experience
by Joe McManus OSMA, Austin, TX

As a dedicated lay member of the United Methodist Church, and one who fully believes in the statements of the Confessing Movement within the United Methodist Church and the need to see the church return to it's apostolic and Wesleyan roots, I was invited to attend the 1998 Aldersgate Annual National Conference on the Holy Spirit (or Aldersgate '98) in Dallas from July 15th through the 19th. I had no real idea what to expect, but knew that there was something for me to find.

In this article, I want to share some of my reflections, both during the Conference, and after it was over. To say that I found something there is to express it mildly! The one thing I want to make clear is that I saw the United Methodist Church, and more importantly, God's people, alive and well, and filled with a desire for Renewal and Revival within the United Methodist Church and beyond.

The activities of this week included a set of Pre-Conference workshops and worship experiences from Wednesday afternoon through a luncheon on Thursday. There were more than 15 choices of workshops to go to just on those two day sessions. So, each of us had to choose those that most appealed to him or her. (There were about seven of us from the various Confessing Movement Discussion lists that have found each other at the Conference, together with families and friends making up a little instant community of about 35 people!) Each of the sessions lasts for about an hour and a half, and cover subjects such as "Enhancing Worship through Prophetic Praise and Intercession", "Pentecost and Evangelism", "Prayer for Pentecost", "How to teach adults in the local church about the person and work of the Holy Spirit", and "Touching the Spirits of Nursery and Pre-school children". The common denominator that was expressed by everyone after the sessions they chose was that they came away invigorated, encouraged and renewed in their belief and trust in the Holy Spirit to do that which we ourselves can not.

This last perception has come to mean very real changes for a number of us. Often, we have relied on our OWN wills and agendas when trying to bring about a return of our church to its roots. We, at least I, have forgotten the face of our Father, have turned away to our own devices.

The evening general session on Wednesday night was effectively a praise and worship service, with the leaders demonstrating very clearly how to bring personal testimonies into worship in a way that is effective and brings the congregation closer to the workings of the Holy Spirit. It was glorious!

And so ended the first day and the second morning.

On Thursday afternoon, the actual Conference itself began. Over the course of the next few days, there would be more than 1,500 Christians attending some of more than 60 workshops being offered, as well as six Worship Celebrations, and other events! There will be no way to describe everything, but the following are some of my reflections.

This was a day the Lord seems to have made expressly to convict me of my ways! And what a blessed event that was! I do not want to languish in wrong action, ignorance or fear. And the Lord lifted those things up to me this day.

I haven't spoken with one of my brothers from our discussion lists since he had the realization of the repentance that was needed for him. But, I know that God seems indeed to be working in this place in a special way to purify and make clean His people.

Again today, there were powerful worship celebrations, with banners, dancing, praise songs and those outward signs of "charismatic" or "Pentecostal" services. There were workshops on everything from the "lofty" topics that probably only pastors were interested in, to a forum on some churches began a prayer ministry. God found a way to use these experiences to convict me - not once, not even twice, but FOUR times for actions I have taken, attitudes I have held, and actions I have avoided! I do praise God for the clearing out of my soul, my heart and my spirit is an ongoing process that I pray never ceases! I want to share these with everyone, because I think I am not alone in some of these, and this may serve to help lead a brother or sister out of the place in which they may have found themselves.

First, after starting the day as part of an early morning prayer team, specifically praying for the leadership of this conference on the Holy Spirit, I went to an innocent sounding workshop that was to be a Forum discussing the prayer ministry at three churches. The first one of these described using Prayer Walking to lay claim to every part of their church facility and activities - making it God's place. And I realized that I had NOT done this type of serious "prayer warfare" to save the church in Austin that I had attended and that I left in disgust because of the heresy and apostasy being practiced there. I had fought the good fight of one human against a multitude, but I had not used God's power to even seriously and in a concerted effort effect a change. Such was the first conviction of the day....which was followed by the reassuring knowledge that, as I gave up that failure to the Lord, He wiped away the punishment that I deserved.

Next, we had the morning worship celebration. This was led by the youth of Aldersgate. It was "all right" to have the youth leading the music, leading the praise and worship. Very powerful messages brought forth of what the youth of our church CAN be and do. And then, Gary Moore (Executive Director of Aldersgate Renewal Ministries) gave a call to repentance. He spoke of the need to look at what we are doing when we judge others and focus on their wrongs. He spoke of how we often find the very things that upset us so to be true of ourselves as well. And I was convicted the second time. I have been attacking PEOPLE - Creech, Talbert, Sprague and others of THEIR heresies, THEIR apostasy, THEIR turning away from the righteousness of God. (And I firmly believe this is the sad, dark place in which they are living) And yet in what horrible dark hole of the evil one had I lived for almost half of my life? And did Christians attack me? And did Jesus? NO! He, and they, allowed me to be where I was and SHOWED me a better way. They offered me a way OUT of my darkness. And Jesus never gave up on me. Now, I don't think that means that I should accept what these people DO. Nor should their actions, particularly when they have specifically accepted a "call" to word, sacrament and order, be allowed to continue to infect the body of the church. BUT, I PERSONALLY, must continue to focus on the actions, not the actors. And, for me, this is without exception. The ACTIONS are heresy, I am not the one to declare that of the person. Thus, within a couple hours, the second conviction. (AND, I want to reiterate and emphasize that the statements I just made I hear as God's message for ME, not for anyone else. I am not now His prophet on what "all" should do!)

So, I went to lunch with some of my brothers and sisters from these discussion lists, and we talked about our mornings. Each of us had a morning that made significant impacts on us. And, after lunch, I went to another "safe" workshop - this one by Terry Tekyl - entitled My House Shall be Called a House of Prayer. Should be simple, just talking about why and how to bring prayer back as the central focus of our churches. And he IMMEDIATELY called all of us Methodist Men to task to become prayer advocates in our local churches. I tried to just enjoy his message (his style is very comfortable to me). But I kept being faced with the reality that I have been avoiding taking an active role in impacting the local church ever since my wife started seminary! Somehow, against my conscious wishes, I had allowed that internal voice to come in saying "I can't really do that sort of thing, I'm going to be the pastor's spouse, and that "won't be my place". Oh, Lord, how sorry I am that I let this message infect me! I had talked about how I can stand up and do what I believe, I had spoken to new spouses at the seminary about how "we have to find our own place in ministry, just as we always have - not relying on being just "The Pastor's Wife". And yet, insidiously, I had allowed that limitation to creep in and take over. It is easy for me to do things like get active in the ways we have start up a discussion list for the annual even write the Bishop and confront him. Yet, I was unwilling to take my place as a leader and advocate for prayer - something that I HAD been doing at the church from which we came! And thus, by 4:00 p.m., I had again been convicted - like Peter, thrice. And, yet again, Like Peter, I have been given the gift all of us received of a Crucified and Risen Savior - Jesus Christ, who can wipe away these sins.

And so on to Friday evening. The Worship Celebration that evening was one I hope I do not soon forget. The minister leading it was Pat McInstry, pastor of an unbelievable miracle church in Toledo. Sometime, I hope you can get the opportunity to hear the tape of the workshop she presented on Wednesday and Thursday about that church and the power of prayer. At any rate, she is VERY dynamic. And, I was being blessed by the service. I was in agreement with her messages, and not falling under any conviction for my life. THEN, she admitted to holding back on her giving. She confessed that she had money to give to support the A.R.M. ministry in more powerful ways, but had held back. And she called us all to look at what we were holding back and to come forward for prayer and to give what we had not. AND, convicted again. I have been under a recurring spirit of fear regarding finances. As most can guess, having a spouse in seminary means not having the options right up front for as much financial independence as might be "nice". And, after making a decision to attend this conference, my working world finances took a nose dive. My job has been wonderful for some time. God is greatly to be praised for the blessings with which he showers me. And yet, suddenly I had only about ten days of income producing work last month, and I have only a total of five days scheduled for this month. Somehow, consulting jobs have temporarily dried up. I had to give up an opportunity for a $1000 job to attend this conference. And I was scared. Yes, we have some savings, but "WHAT IF..." And, I am very sorry to say, I took the worst path to "fix it" myself. I withheld my tithe this month. Not some sort of useful redirection, or escrowing, but rather just allowed it to be lumped in with the remaining funds to pay bills. And there I was - face to face with the Lord - having again to say "I failed you, even though you never have failed me - I have once again failed you! And I had to go before His altar and repent. I had to give that which I withheld.

Thus, in ONE day, this poor Christian was blessed with the Lord God Almighty clearing away FOUR different areas in which I had separated myself from His love!

But there's more... still a Saturday and a Sunday morning!

For the 4th day in a row, I experienced the Holy Spirit move over me in a special way. And I know I will NOT be able to express it in a way that will fill everyone's desire for understanding, nor satisfy everyone. But here goes...

In the mornings, a number of us who consider ourselves called for Intercessory Prayer meet at 6:30 - 7:30 to pray for specific items. This morning, I awakened at 3:50, decided it was just my bladder calling and tried then to return to sleep. Well, every 10 minutes, I was awakened anew. Finally, about 4:30, I decided I needed to get up early and go ahead down to the prayer room. Arriving there a few minutes after 5, I was of course alone. I began to take prayer requests from the basket and pray over them. And, of course, the first several all referred to areas in which I was having to look at my own life, or had recently done so. God definitely wanted me to spend some time on my knees searching the scriptures for answers to needs. And I praise Him for that.

Then, the rest of the morning warriors began to arrive. And our task for this morning was to pray for the following: First for the Bishops, by name, with specific scripture references to guide our prayers toward the Holy Spirit's actions in our lives. I'm not sure how to describe looking at the bishop's as simply people in need of prayer rather than targets. I know I had felt the target metaphor was much more useful. But God isn't through with me yet on this. Next, we were to pray for the Seminaries. Again, with specific references to aid us. And we prayed for SPECIFIC Seminaries, as the members of each small group felt called to do. Next we were to pray for District Superintendents and then Pastors. Of course, there was no time in the allotted hour to complete this. It will become an ongoing part of my plan for prayer. I will be posting the scripture references used for this prayer shortly.

Next we had a morning praise and worship celebration. It was WONDERFUL. It was led by a Roman Catholic nun, Sister Nancy Kellar. She is one of the leaders of the charismatic movement within the Catholic church. And she can PREACH! Her scripture references were right on target, and she was not the least uncomfortable with this group of rather charismatic Methodists. And her descriptions of her first introductions to the Gifts of the Spirit, especially speaking in tongues was something not to be missed. She was teaching at an inner city high school in New York City at the time (during the early stages of the Vietnam War) and her changes there were dramatic. The altar call at the end of this service gave a number of former Catholics who had not reconciled themselves with their former church an opportunity to do so.

Lunch followed, and I had the opportunity to attend a luncheon reunion of Emmaus folks from around the country. It was dynamite! And what a reassurance that the Emmaus Renewal efforts were not in direct conflict with the efforts of the A.R.M. (Although, to be quite honest, many people from the Emmaus communities across the country do NOT feel comfortable with the more charismatic leanings of those involved in Aldersgate.)

After lunch, I had the opportunity to serve on the Upper Room live prayer line, taking calls from all over the country for an hour. This was a blessing and an opportunity I hope many can get to receive in the future. It is very powerful to feel yourself being used by the Holy Spirit as you lead the caller into prayer before God Almighty.

After this, I went to another workshop on a call to prayer within the United Methodist Church. And it was during this workshop that one of my beloved friends had a magnificent experience that I will allow to be shared by the individual in the future, not by me. Suffice it to say, God worked mightily and rapidly!

The final service tonight was a Worship and Healing service. It felt a little strange to have a Baptist preacher leading the service at a definitely charismatic event! However, if you have ever heard of NuVoice Ministries, or of Rev. Duane Miller, then you understand something of the power of healing that was present.

On this day, throughout the day, I visited with several friends, as we began to realize a call more strongly for PRAYER as the vital, central ACTION to which we are called. And so went another day at Aldersgate.

Sunday's activities were limited to a single, final Worship Celebration and Celebration of Holy Communion. It was WONDROUS. There are times when going to Church and "celebrating" Holy Communion have felt a little dry and routine (although I do praise God that this is almost never the case for me. My Roman Catholic heritage ensures that I never forget the significance of sharing in this wonderful opportunity to come close to God). Well, I think there were few, if any, dry eyes during that service as we came to the Lord's Table. Even the call to Offering was met with glorious praise and excitement!

And then the weekend experience was effectively over. We packed up, departed (although about 20 of us met for one last time to share lunch and remind each other of our love one for the other).

Now comes the two most important parts of this entire weekend. First, we who were there, just as we who, in general, want revival and renewal within our church, who want our church to return to its apostolic, Wesleyan heritage MUST be committed to fearlessly, unceasingly take into our local churches and our communities the gifts that we have received from God. We must SHARE the desire for renewal in a way that encourages others to desire the same. We must not isolate, "hole up" and try to "wait out the storm". because, it is my FIRM conviction that a "storm" is coming. And much will be swept aside. The question is whether we will be part of the storm, or torn asunder by it.

In a response to a wonderful prayer that a friend posted in a discussion list in which I am a member, I posted these final reflections:

During this past week as I attended Aldersgate '98, I was repeatedly convicted to stay to the task for which I have been called. And then reminded over and over again that my calling is to PRAYER, PRAYER and more PRAYER.

What I finally came to realize and accept for MYSELF is that I am called to one thing, and others may well be called to another. It is like the situation where my wife readily acknowledges her call to pastoral ministry, or "word sacrament and order". Thus she is pursuing Elder's Orders within the church. I, on the other hand, continually feel God calling me to SHARE HIS WORD, especially with the unchurched, and the downtrodden. So I spend a LOT of time with alcoholics, drug addicts, and prisoners (preferably maximum-security prison inmates). They are the ones with whom my spirit seems most frequently to resonate. I seldom if ever attempt to convince any of these folks that they should" become a Methodist, rather, I let them know, clearly, what God has done for me, and offer that same loving savior for them to have as Lord. Thus, I am not called to Elder's Orders. AND, I am coming to realize more and more clearly that I am NOT called to any actions against individuals other than to PRAY. If I am fully believing in the Lord's word that He hears the prayers of the faithful, then I MUST not stop praying! I, personally, must not "charge" people, or attack, whether inside or outside of this community of ours, other Christians, NO MATTER HOW MISLED I THINK THEY ARE. This was the message for ME, not necessarily for anyone else. I also firmly believe that each of us CAN know what God's Will is for him or her, by searching the Scriptures, by prayer, and in Worship of the Lord God Almighty.

As far as "organizations" go, I see a threefold purpose or function emerging. I may well be wrong, and stand ready to accept correction.

  • First, organizations like the Confessing Movement are, I believe, called to provide a standard and a statement to which I and others who agree can "sign-off" on, stating boldly our beliefs and our "bottom lines".

  • Then, Organizations like IRD, Good News, Concerned Methodists and others appear called to investigate, interpret and report to all what is happening, and how it affects us connectionally. Without their work, much of what has called us across the church to alert and action may well have gone unnoticed, swept under a carpet, while our church diminishes. And I use the term CHURCH to include all our Christian churches. It is much more important to me that those who have never come to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior do so than to be concerned about whether they do so within the expression of Christianity that so moves me - Methodism. If they come to accept Christ in a Baptist expression, or a Lutheran, Episcopal, Assembly of God, Roman Catholic, non-denominational, charismatic, fundamental, or any other expression of the Christian faith, then I believe the task of the faithful is being fulfilled.

  • Finally, there are organizations such as the Aldersgate Renewal Ministries, Walk to Emmaus, United Methodist Men and others that are calling us back to our roots of PRAYER. And that, I think, is the task of those groups. Not to "lobby", not to attempt to "persuade", but to PRAY unceasingly, so that the Lord God Jehovah is glorified and brings order and revival into our churches.

As far as individuals go, I am going to try with the Lord's help, to allow everyone who tries to hold to the Apostolic Faith the dignity of responding to the call that God places upon their life. I have dear friends who feel called to press charges, to consider civil suits, and to act "offensively" (as in offense rather than defense) on an organizational or legal basis. I believe they are responding to the weighty call that God has placed on their hearts, and I support them in that, and pray that God's guidance and leadership is ever before them as they act. For me, when I attempt to act in that manner, I, PERSONALLY, tend to get God out of the way, and let Chief Mac, the old Navy Chief Petty Officer, take over. Not cute! Even if I were to convince someone via those means that they must change, two problems emerge. First, they will have been convinced by ME, not GOD, and second, I will have done nothing to change any underlying, spiritual, issues. And it is those spiritual issues that are at the heart of what grieves me so about our church today.

I stand firmly, militantly, for the Apostolic Faith, and I take to heart the words of Ephesians 6:12-18, which read:

"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints." (NIV translation).

Additionally, I take to heart the words of James 4:11-12, which read:

"Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you-- who are you to judge your neighbor?" (NIV translation)

And finally, part of which I have been using in my signature line in e-mail for the past month or so, I am called to Jude 1:17-20, which reads:

" But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, "In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires." These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit. But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit." (NIV translation)

I pray that you find some of use in these reflections.

Joe McManus OSMA - Austin, TX

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