The Current, December 2014
Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton
Of late, I have preached a number of Birthday Sermons for local churches. Histories of faith-filled persons who took the initiative to build a church or enhance its ministry touched me deeply.
Sunday, November 16, 2014, Ellsworth UMC celebrated its 125th Anniversary. How was it born? In the spring of 1889, a group of residents “felt the need” to establish a Methodist Episcopal Church. They began holding two Sunday services in Shinkle’s Hall. I interpreted what they “felt” as “the spirit of the Lord.” That same spirit moved Cassius and Jennie Shinkle to sell land to Ellsworth on June 9, 1890 for $125. That same spirit launched Jesus’ public ministry in Nazareth and the birth of the church on the day of Pentecost.
Sunday, October 12, 2014, my shortest drive to preach placed me at the doorstep of Chatham UMC. We celebrated 160 years of ministry. During the service, I praised the Presbyterians. Why? Reading the church history of Chatham UMC revealed another divine initiative. “The land upon which Chatham UMC is situated, was given …by the Presbyterian Church, Mr. and Mrs. Thayer for $225.” Why would you give a religious competitor, especially a non-Presbyterian church, land to build a church that might affect the success of your ministry? Because anything connected with divine initiative rejects the notion that we do church just to take care of ourselves.
Sunday, September 21, 201 4, my eyes beheld Rantoul, Illinois, once a beehive of military personnel but no longer since the mothballing of Chanute Air Force Base in 1993. Without organ, pew, pulpit bulletin or pastoral stole, the need to worship God corporately and build a church led the pioneers of First UMC: Rantoul to hold their first worship service in a train station. Prayer, singing, preaching, teaching resounded within and without that train station. That worship service had more spiritual power than the best coal fueling steam locomotives on the track. So we celebrated their 150 year Anniversary.
1889, 1854, and 1864 provided auspicious examples of God ever about the business of Creating. From dust we were created, enlivened yes by the breath of God. Still creating, God’s spirit conceived and brought to life the church on the rocklike soil of Peter and countless church builders like these Methodists spurred to action ignited by “hearts strangely warmed.”
Soon, we’ll celebrate the best divine initiative of all humankind. Over two thousand years ago, God “felt a need” to help all God’s children have “life and have it more abundantly.” God came to earth in the form of a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger namely Jesus the Christ. Our lives have been radically changed and the hope of the world has been transformed because of that one solitary life. “O Come let us adore Him.” Beverly and I are blessed to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Most of all, we are blessed to celebrate what’s best of all this season of Christmas, Emmanuel or God with us.