May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

The work of God in the church is to thoroughly sanctify us or make us holy. Other ways of describing this are to be made whole, made new or restored to full health. This year, I have emphasized the importance of leading our churches toward health. In our monthly pastors’ meetings, we studied the book, “A Church Called Tov: Forming a Goodness Culture that Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing.” Tov is the Hebrew word used for goodness and points us to a biblical understanding of healthy culture.

I have met monthly with a handful of pastors and district leaders to have informal discussions on ways that racism is still affecting our churches. The meetings were robust and fascinating. As I dialogue with people of color, I realize the numerous ways in which the enduring sin of racism still impacts their lives. I would recommend that you provide opportunities for these discussions in your church. The impact of race will vary widely from rural, suburban or urban churches. A few of our pastors are intentionally creating partnerships with district churches with diverse ethnic experiences. Not having these discussions would be to assume incorrectly that race is no longer a problem.

Our history as Wesleyans instructs us on the importance of race as we emerged as a denomination out of solid opposition to slavery. John Wesley preached boldly against slavery. One of his last writings was to William Wilberforce, encouraging him in his efforts to outlaw slavery in England. The first Methodist Discipline in America strongly condemned slavery and prohibited any member from owning another human being. However, this was quickly criticized, and a practical call for a more gradual elimination of slavery caused the Methodist leaders to soften the outright prohibition.

One Methodist superintendent named Orange Scott became convinced that the practice was wicked and needed to be ended immediately. He purchased subscriptions to William Lloyd Garrison’s newsletter, “The Liberator,” for every pastor in his district. He spoke forcefully against slavery at the 1836 General Conference but was largely ridiculed. Instead, the conference passed a resolution condemning the abolitionists. After the meeting, the bishop gave Scott an ultimatum — stop preaching against slavery or lose his position as superintendent. He refused and was immediately sent to one of the smallest churches in the conference.

Scott and a few other Methodist pastors, including Fillmore Wesleyan’s Luther Lee, decided to leave the Methodist Episcopal Church and start the Wesleyan Methodist Connection. They believed it would be a sin to remain in a church that betrayed its antislavery heritage. The Wesleyan Methodists worked for 20 years to change the nation’s conscience.

On January 1, 1963, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that everyone in Confederate territory would immediately be free. But as long as parts of the nation were under Confederate control, this proclamation could not be enforced. It was not until June 19, 1865, that Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas. The army announced that the more than 250,000 enslaved black people in the state were free by executive decree. This day came to be known as “Juneteenth” by the newly freed people in Texas. This is a relatively new holiday for most of us, but I imagine early Wesleyans here in Western New York were part of this original celebration.

As Wesleyans, we must aim to continue to develop a Christlike culture that encourages grace, justice, and service. As we cultivate this healthy (tov, goodness) culture, we will have a more significant long-term impact for the kingdom. Health will lead to producing fruit. Healthy fruit will reproduce.

Rev. Dr. Joey Jennings is the district superintendent of the Western New York District of The Wesleyan Church.


*This article is adapted from Dr. Jennings’ 2023 “Report of the District Superintendent” given to the Western New York District Conference delegation on June 17, 2023.