I (Nathan) have never known much about John Wesley. I’ve picked up a few of his quotes here and there but that’s about it. I’ve never been very interested enough in his story to pick up a biography on him…well, until now. Yesterday, a few of us in Knoxville took a field trip to the neighborhood Methodist church. Why? Well, here’s the back story. This has been a long time in coming for me.
Two years ago, I was on a prayer walk around neighborhood of the Banks House, when I stumbled upon this beautiful old Methodist church. It was only two blocks away from the house, but somehow I never saw it. Ambushed by the Spirit, i felt compelled to knock on their door. It was winter, and bundled up in my hat, worn leather jacked, and long hair, I must have been a shock to the white-haired ladies gathered around a collage of southern casserole dishes. But once they realized I wasn’t out to mug them or their food, they warmed right up, and promptly took me on a tour of their church.
ONE HOUR later, and I was still being shown photos of their old pastors. But I was in love. Love with these old saints who have faithfully served the Lord over their whole life.
“That’s Pastor John. What a fella. He knew the word with the best of em’. He’s not with us no more.
That’s Betty Sue. She cooked the best greens this side of the Mississippi.”
When I stepped into their sanctuary, I immediately felt God’s presence, but wasn’t sure why at all. I just knew I needed to be here at this moment, and maybe there was something for the future. The dark wooded paneled walls, broken up with stained-glass windows, reflected the sunset light. A lone piano set on the alter. The acoustics were great. I closed my eyes, and imagined the place full of young people, hands and hearts lifted up to Jesus as pure worship.
Then it was over. I left the church, thankful of my tour, and scratching my head at what to do next. The following day, I told Michael and Ivey, our good friends here in Knoxville, and they both jumped with excitement, quickly telling me they both have had dreams of revival breaking out in old sanctuary type buildings. This got me excited, about nothing much came out of this conversation at the time.
Its been two years since that church tour, but the image of worship coming from that building never left me. I think my friend were tired of me pestering them about this idea, so we finally decided to do something about it. Yesterday, we put on our Sunday best, and showed up at the neighborhood Methodist for their 10:30am service. Talk about stepping back in time. We made our way into the sanctuary, and to the obvious shock on everyone’s faces, took a seat on the third row. It was HOT. No AC. But that felt appropriate somehow.
A lady named Mary was quick to greet us. She was full of energy and life, and her southern twang was just about perfect. Oh, and she all gave us fans to keep cool. About 30 people were scattered out over the pews. Next, the choir entered–a choir of five. The hymn book’s opened, and the old classic’s started.
I grew up in a southern baptist church, so some of the songs were faintly familiar. Michael was there too, and his dad used to be a baptist music minister, so he knew them all.
During announcements, we were warmly greeted as visitors, and we’re asked to stand up and introduce ourselves. Everyone was still in shock I think that they had real life visitors. The service continued, with the local itinerant Methodist preacher making his way up the front. (He preaches at two other small Methodist churches each Sunday morning) He shared a simple sermon, with just the right amount of “southernness” to bring his points across. The service ended quicker than i expected (maybe because of the heat…90 degree on the thermostat), and we were greeted by everyone, and invited to Sunday potluck.
We couldn’t turn that down, and went downstairs to the feast of all southern feasts. You have to understand that all these people have literally been going to church together for 40+ years, and they were like a big family. It was great. Desert was glorious…
During lunch, we got to share our hearts for this neighborhood, and our ministry with highschool and college age students in town. We asked them what they thought about us using their sanctuary for a worship night, and they beamed. And then i said 200+ young people might show up, and their eyes go big. After lunch, we went back up into the sanctuary to check out the acoustics more and the piano, and a few of them joined. We sang hymns together on the stage, and I’m pretty sure they asked us to come back and join the choir next week.
This fall, we are going to host at least one, maybe more, worship nights in the old Methodist building. I’ve heard people refer to “re-digging the wells of revival” and that’s exactly what comes to mind. John Wesley was a radical man of faith and passion. Ever heard this quote? “When you set yourself on fire, people love to come and see you burn.” That was Mr. Wesley. He understood what a heart on fire meant. Back in the 1730′s, John and his brother met with a group of Oxford college students, and they committed to living out the bible practically. They visited the sick and the poor, those in prison. The gospel became a lifestyle, not a static religion, which was the norm back in England. Their practical faith helped sparked the Great Awakening in America through fellow peer George Whitefield, and helped inspire William Wilberforce take a stand against slavery, eventually winning.
Just a couple of college students who weren’t afraid to stand up against the status quo and follow God with all their hearts helped shape history.
That’s worth paying attention to.