by Rod Groom
The first gathering of the Wesleyan Covenant Network was an inspiring, encouraging and very hopeful event that I greatly enjoyed. It occurred last week on January 13th and 14th at the Hilton Garden Inn – Atlanta Airport North. Worship was deeply moving and enjoyed by all. Rev. Maxie Dunnam gave us the keynote address about difficulties maintaining our covenant within the United Methodist Church. There are increasing numbers of incidents where revisionists are attempting to forcefully change our theology and practice within the church, in violation of our Book of Discipline, our commitment to the authority of Scripture, and our observance of Wesleyan theology, doctrine and practice. Many have broken covenant with us, and seem to be strongly working to chase Wesleyan evangelicals out of our church. We keep hearing that conservatives are somehow responsible for an impending schism. In reality, schism has already happened! We have sadly become, as Rev. Dunnam put it, “two churches within one denomination.”
While many clergy are progressive, not all are so. This was particularly evident at the gathering, where perhaps two-thirds of the attendees were pastors. Additionally, the great majority of laity are evangelical or conservative. We need not be overly concerned about being chased away from our own church. In fact, numbers of evangelicals are increasing, especially considering the increasingly growing impact of the African church on our denomination.
Rev. Dunnam and other organizers emphasized from the start, though, that the Wesleyan Covenant Network (WCN) was not to be another caucus group within the United Methodist Church. While we may individually decide to support particular political actions groups or initiatives, the WCN exists to help encourage and support evangelicals within the movement we have come to know as Methodism. While at present we are all United Methodists, we wish to support all churches and movements within the larger movement that started with the Methodist revival.
Rev. Dunnam noted that in his study of the two Great Awakenings and of the Methodist Revivals that followed, emphasis could be found in two areas: preaching and teaching of theology and doctrine, as well as a resurgent dependence on the practice of prayer. That is what we should be doing, learning, teaching and preaching on theology and doctrine, and praying, praying, praying in the Holy Spirit! Revitalization of our theology and our prayer life are sources of revival. Feeling and relying on the power of the Holy Spirit puts off some, but we must remember that the church is charismatic by its very nature and origin (see Acts 2)!
Finally, we are sometimes accused of moving against something, when we are really moving towards something – the revival of our movement in the power of the Spirit!
Other leaders that touched me over the two days of meetings included Brian Collier of The Orchard United Methodist Church in Tupelo, Mississippi, Carolyn Moore of Mosaic UMC, Augusta, Georgia, Shane Stanford of Christ UMC, Memphis, Tennessee, Rev. Kim Reismann, editor of Wesleyan Accent, and director of a new project called DWW – Discipleship in the Wesleyan Way, and Rusty Hudson of Cornerstone UMC, Auburn, Alabama. Rev. Hudson seemed to be a true man of God, but was also inordinately dedicated to All Things Auburn, when in truth we know that Florida State University is truly more blessed and highly favored!
Seriously though, these are all great leaders, preachers and pastors. We will provide more links as they become available, and the DWW project may be of particular interest, as it will offer subscription access for churches and individuals to a great variety of small group materials and studies.