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Stand at the Wesley monument

November 04, 2019

On a pilgrimage to the Holy Land I found myself seated beside a Jewish rabbi from Philadelphia. When he asked about my group’s itinerary, I explained that when we landed in Tel Aviv we would board a bus and head to Galilee. After several days we would travel south to Jericho, the Dead Sea, and Qumran. Then we would end with several more days exploring Jerusalem.

The rabbi replied “That’s not how we do it.” He continued, “I work with Jewish college students who are not practicing their faith. When we get off the plane we take them straight to Jerusalem and put them off at the Western Wall. Most of the time that experience is so profound that they begin to take their own faith story more seriously.” For the first time in their lives these Jewish college students were getting in touch with the reality of their own faith tradition.

Rather than lecturing to them or scolding them for their lack of faithfulness, the rabbi gave them a sense of place and a connection to their own story. Powerful.

That need for a sense of place and of connectedness to our own story is the motivation behind my recent return visit to the John Wesley monument at Fort Pulaski National Park near Tybee Island. This monument marks the spot where John Wesley came ashore on Feb. 6, 1736. His journal entry for that day notes that he and others set foot on American soil at about 8 o’clock in the morning. The first action they took was to kneel for a prayer of thanksgiving to God for their safe arrival after nearly four months at sea.

As I stood there I remembered the high hopes and ambitious goals Wesley intended to fulfill in Georgia. Do you recall that it did not work out as he had envisioned? First, he came to Georgia to “convert the Indians” but that did not work out as he had planned. Second, he wanted to establish Church of England worship among the colonists, but they were not particularly amenable to this idea. And then there was the Sophy Hopkey debacle. Soon, a dejected John Wesley was on his way back to England. Looking back, however, we now realize that his time in Georgia was not a failure. He planted the seeds of Methodism in America. Just as importantly, his experience in Georgia prepared the way for his heart to be “strangely warmed” at Aldersgate on May 24, 1738.

I encourage each member of the South Georgia Conference to visit Fort Pulaski and stand beside the Wesley monument. Recall how God took John Wesley’s dejection and turned it into the worldwide Methodist movement. Of all people, South Georgia Methodists have reason to be confident both in the present and in the future. Our own story gives us reason for that confidence. When he felt like a complete failure, John Wesley was actually headed to the Aldersgate experience that would change his life and unleash the Methodist movement.

My experience at the Wesley monument reminds me of the motivation behind a statement I wrote to myself last June:
In the South Georgia Conference, we live in the CONFIDENCE, based on
our experience since 1736, that God’s purpose is going to be fulfilled; and is
even now unfolding among us SO THAT we commit ourselves to remain
connected to each other to give space for God to move in us and through us.

Stay calm. Stay connected. Stand at the Wesley monument.

Alive Together in Witness,
R. Lawson Bryan

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