Being God’s love in downtown Syracuse
To many people leaving work in downtown Syracuse, it may have seemed like an ordinary, hot and humid late May Wednesday—until they heard a Christian rock band jamming out with a crowd around them.
Wednesday May 30, 2018 marked the second annual Celebrating Christ in the City, an outdoor worship event held in Syracuse’s Columbus Circle. The event, open to the public, was sponsored by the Syracuse United Methodist Ministries (a collaboration of seven United Methodist churches in Syracuse).
The late afternoon event began with praise and worship led by local contemporary Christian rock band, A Beautiful Mess. Tim Ehrhart, the lead singer of the band, invited God’s spirit to join the attendees, reminding everyone that “When (God’s) spirit is here, we have perfect peace, perfect joy, and answers to problems are revealed.” Tim recognized that Syracuse is a city that needs prayer and God’s healing.
After a few upbeat songs celebrating Christ’s love for all, the Rev. Andy Anderson introduced the seven churches that make up the Syracuse United Methodist Ministries: Bellevue Heights UMC, University UMC, Brown Memorial UMC, Erwin First UMC, Hope Korean UMC, Gethsemane UMC, and St. Paul’s UMC. Rev. Anderson passionately asked for everyone to “open your hearts to receive what God has in store for us.”
Three members of the Syracuse United Methodist Churches shared their faith journeys. Each testimony was different, yet all poignantly showcased God’s love.
Charlie, a member of Bellevue UMC, shared how he had an ordinary life—he grew up in a faith-based family, married a wonderful woman, had three children, a successful career, and good health. Recently, this changed when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Initially he thought, “no big deal—it’s not a bad cancer—it can be treated easily.” The doctors informed Charlie otherwise; they told him it was aggressive. Charlie went through surgery that removed the cancer, yet shortly after, it came back. Charlie then went through nearly 50 rounds of radiation and enjoyed good health for a few months, but the cancer came back. Doctors informed Charlie that he would always have cancer.
Despite the knowledge that he has a terminal illness, Charlie wakes up every day asking what he can do for God that given day. He said. “Everyday, God gives me something to do—not Mother Theresa or Billy Graham stuff, but still important stuff. Today, he asked me to let you all know that God blesses you all and the good things you do.”
Sylvia, a member of St. Paul’s UMC, explained how she grew up going to church—she learned about how God loved her, but she didn’t believe it. She always wondered, “How could God possibly love me, after all I have done?” She lived with shame, as many people do.
As Sylvia grew older and had children of her own, she became familiar with a love so strong that no matter what her children did, no matter how rebellious they were at times, she still loved them. It occurred to her that that is how God loved her. Sylvia said, “I didn’t have to deserve God’s love. It was a gift…I know even when I waver, no matter what, God loves me!”
Tina, a member of University UMC, shared how God called her to change churches, when she was just 14 years old in Africa. She had told her mother about this calling, about God’s message for her to change from a local church to a church that was a 4-hour walk each way to spread his love. Tina is still spreading God’s love today.
After the powerful testimonies, the Rev. B.J. Norrix, leader of the Syracuse United Methodist Ministries, delivered a message about hope. He shared, “You can go three weeks without food, three days without water, three minutes without air, but you can’t last three seconds without hope.”
Rev. Norrix explained how hope is what gets us moving even if we don’t feel like it. He said, “Hope is always there no matter what struggles you face. In Jesus, you can have hope to rise again.”
The Rev. Andy Anderson closed the event with a benediction. He said, “In despite hopelessness you may be experiencing, we are here to walk with you toward hope.” People were invited to meet with one of the pastors to be introduced to Jesus or to receive laying of the hands and prayer.
The Syracuse United Methodist Ministries intends on hosting this event every year. It’s a true expression of the Upper New York Conference’s mission “to be God’s love to our neighbors in all places.”