After two extra years of waiting, The Wesleyan Church family finally gathered again to begin the 14th General Conference. Following a busy day of arrivals, check-ins, registration and visiting the 44 exhibitor booths, attendees closed Sunday with an evening of worship.
General Superintendent Wayne Schmidt began the evening by welcoming everyone to the highly anticipated gathering. Moving into a time of worship through music, songs were sung both in English and in Spanish by the choir from One Church in High Point, North Carolina, to represent the diversity of the church body.
As a member of the team who planned the worship evenings, Church Multiplication and Discipleship Executive Director Anita Eastlack said she had heard One Church’s worship team and felt passionately about their philosophy of singing Black Gospel, singing in Spanish and mixing hymns with contemporary music. Inviting them to lead worship as part of General Conference was “beautiful,” she added.
To intentionally take time to acknowledge the numerous hardships many have faced over the past few years, Sunday evening’s service was centered around forgiveness and an invitation for the Holy Spirit to be present and to speak during this time spent together.
As a way to practice letting go of the past in order to move the mission forward, a portion of time was dedicated toward reflection and evaluation. Sarah Rodriguez of North Carolina’s East District brought attendees into this time by recalling a memory of when the Holy Spirit moved her to ask for forgiveness in order to have a clear conscience, as described in Acts 24:16.
To provide a tangible way to work through this practice of letting go, Sarah allowed for a moment of silence to reflect over any unforgiveness living in anyone’s hearts. Forgiveness cards were also available if individuals wanted to write down who they needed to forgive.
This theme of letting go and inviting God into our lives was painted in other visual ways as well. During the service, testimonial signs were held at the front reading things such as “Broken family relationships, God restored my family,” and “So many restrictions, Unleashed to the mission.” To honor inclusivity and diversity, signs were written in both English and Spanish.
Mick Veach from the Great Lakes Region also spoke, opening with scripture from Romans 10 and referenced that the harvest is ready but the workers are few.
“Church it’s time to rise up and to love our Lord Jesus with everything we have, love those who do not love us … rise up and truly give our lives for the sake of Jesus Christ and to receive the baton of the last lap of the race,” he said. “Are we desperate enough tonight? Do we expect God to do something?”
Mick then asked for everyone who desires the Holy Spirit to speak and move, to come forward and invite the Holy Spirit in, together. Following this invitation, attendees all flooded the front with open arms, inviting the Holy Spirit’s presence and power.
In closing, Johanna Rugh, director of Spanish Ministry Education and Formation, read the benediction from 1 Peter 5:10-11 in Spanish.
Following the service, Anita said that she is thankful for the way everyone worked together to make the service special and meaningful.
“It’s not about us at the end of the day, it’s about seeking God. How does he want to use us as The Wesleyan Church?” she said. “As we gather for these important meetings it’s important for us to realize that he wants us to be sent out to be the answers to those prayers about the harvest … for us to be unified in this mission to reach people for Jesus.”
Dennis Jackson, executive director of Global Partners, also helped plan the worship evenings. He said it’s been a hard couple of years for people, many came in pretty wounded, so he hopes they found healing tonight.
Monday evening will provide opportunities for attendees to participate in various events as well as take time to enjoy being together again.
Heather Auker is the communications supervisor for Global Partners.