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How Pure in Heart

January 17, 2021

On Saturday, January 17, 1736, John Wesley wrote in his journal, “Many people were very impatient at the contrary wind. At seven in the evening they were quieted by a storm. It rose higher and higher till nine. About nine the sea broke over us from stem to stern; burst through the windows of the state cabin, where three or four of us were, and covered us all over, though a bureau sheltered me from the main shock. About eleven I lay down in the great cabin and in a short time fell asleep, though very uncertain whether I should wake alive and much ashamed of my unwillingness to die. Oh, how pure in heart must he be, who would rejoice to appear before God at a moment’s warning! Toward morning, ‘He rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.’” (Matt. 8:26)

Two hundred eighty-five years ago, John Wesley sailed to the colony of Georgia to minister to the colonists and convert the Native Americans to Christianity. He had been called by God, sought and received the approval of friends and family, and gathered loyal companions to accompany him on the journey, thus beginning a lifelong ministry which created an entirely new denomination bringing millions of people to the love of God. But, first, he must survive the storm which hit at night, in the dark, and the cold, breaking the windows to their cabin soaking its occupants and their belongings. John fell asleep, uncertain he would see the morning light and ashamed he didn’t want to die remembering another time in Christian history when faithful disciples were scared by a storm and needed faith.

I’d like to say that John’s survival of this storm paved the way to smooth sailing, but knowing the history of the Methodist movement, I know this is untrue. After the storm, the ship landed at Cockspur Island and, while the officers went into Savannah, the remaining crew drank all of the liquor left on board. After that, John wasn’t allowed to leave Savannah to find the Native Americans to whom he wanted to preach. The people at Fort Frederica were unkind to Charles and he returned to England at the end of that summer. John realized he had feelings for a student he tutored but decided to devote his life to God instead of marrying. To avoid incarceration, John returned to England and preached out of doors, something to which he was quite opposed in the beginning. While preaching, some people threw rotten food at him and there were rainy days and some new members were more emotional than need be.

Despite what some good books and movies suggest, there is usually not just one obstacle in our way even when we are living a Christian life. Our path can have one obstacle after another with bits of faith, hope, and love tucked in between. As we put 2020 into the Ministry of Memory, our hopes are high for the New Year and all of its wonderful blessings, but may I remember that with the blessings will come obstacles that cause fear and require abundant faith. Like the bread at communion, we too must be broken open to fulfill God’s plan. So, my 2021 New Year’s resolution is to see the obstacles that are put before me as simply a means to a blessed end. The storm, and many other problems, will need to be endured so that I too can experience a lifelong ministry bringing people to God.

Anne Packard serves as Conference Historian and director of the Arthur J. Moore Methodist Museum on St. Simons Island. Contact her at director@mooremuseum.org.

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