Conferences – grace when we are together and apart
Last weekend saw leaders in the wider All Nations family come together for the Fuel the Fire event. It was inspirational and the input from our own Pastor and from Jossy Chacko was very significant. Perhaps the most powerful thing was that we not only heard and talked about “apostolic alignment” but also demonstrated it.
There was a strong sense of the family together, connected and developing life-giving relationships. Some are close knit family, from the hub and campuses of All Nations Church. Others are sensing links as part of the wider movement, connecting with Ps Steve and his apostolic ministry as a “wise master builder.” Others were there to get a flavour of what All Nations is about and may or may not be part of the movement in the future.
Then on the Saturday, Catherine and I were with family at a different conference. The Methodist Conference has taken place once a year since 1744 when the Methodist revival was in its early years through the ministries of John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield. The Conference is a mix of devotional times, messages to inspire, business reports and decision-making for the denomination. We were privileged to be there as guests, because Catherine’s sister was inaugurated as Vice President, and she spoke movingly on the rhythm of Laughter and Lament (available at http://www.methodist.org.uk/news-and-events/news-releases/new-vice-president-reflects-on-the-importance-of-laughter-and-lament-in-church-life ) – we need both!
As I reflected on why it can be helpful to gather for conferences, I was moved also by the opening of the Methodist Conference: the same powerful hymn, by Charles Wesley, is sung each time. Most of his hymns are masterpieces of worship and good theology combined, even though now the words can seem a little old fashioned and need to be reinterpreted for our context. This hymn speaks of the times in between conferences or other meetings. As God has led His people through various experiences as they are apart, so they can enjoy being together.
The opening is unusual …
And are we yet alive, and see each other’s face?
Glory and thanks to Jesus give for his almighty grace!
In other words, “Are we still alive?” or “Have we made it through opposition?” In those days of revival in England there was strong opposition – John Wesley was often ‘welcomed’ by mobs of troublemakers who sometimes threatened violence or even death. Once, a religious leader was so angry at the revivalists meeting unofficially (and technically illegally) that he positioned a cannon at the entrance to the town to warn Wesley off!
The hymn continues with reflections on how God has been with us while apart and calls us to praise Him. The full text is below – it is worth reading and praying through.
In our All Nations context we owe a deep debt of gratitude to John Wesley for
pioneering the longest running revival in the history of Britain and most parts of the world;
preaching a theology that was based on his reading of Early Church theologians and that became the foundation of the theologies of most Pentecostals and Charismatics;
pointing the way forward in building local church through groups that we call Life Groups and a wider connexion or movement to advance the Kingdom (Methodists talk of their movement and its equivalents in other countries as a “connexion”)
pushing through persecution.
In our context we do not face much persecution, except for Indian Government restrictions on the two parts of the All Nations family in India. But many in Jossy Chacko’s connexion of churches in India have faced violence and political pressure. Perhaps persecution will come to us one day.
One thing is certain: God’s grace sustains us while apart and enables us to praise Him, encourage one another and build church together when we meet.
Charles Wesley’s hymn in full:
1. And are we yet alive,
and see each other’s face?
Glory and thanks to Jesus give
for his almighty grace!
2. Preserved by power divine
to full salvation here,
again in Jesus’ praise we join,
and in his sight appear.
3. What troubles have we seen,
what mighty conflicts past,
fightings without, and fears within,
since we assembled last!
4. Yet out of all the Lord
hath brought us by his love;
and still he doth his help afford,
and hides our life above.
5. Then let us make our boast
of his redeeming power,
which saves us to the uttermost,
till we can sin no more.
6. Let us take up the cross
till we the crown obtain,
and gladly reckon all things loss
so we may Jesus gain.