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    United Methodists of Upper New YorkLiving the Gospel. Being God's Love.

    news article

    Dr. Ashley Boggan offers lessons in history at Annual Conference 2024

    June 4, 2024 / By Tara Barnes / .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    For the Friday afternoon learning session United Methodists of Upper New York heard from “full-blown Wesleyan Metho-nerd” Dr. Ashley Boggan, General Secretary of the General Commission on Archives and History, during the conference’s 2024 annual meeting.  

    But first she took issue with the gathering’s scriptural focus, Philippians 3:13-14. 

    “Here, we are encouraged to forget the past and strive forward to what is before us,” she said. “Yes, forgetting would be nice. But I’m a historian by trade, and I often dwell in the past. But I want to point out the difference between being historically informed and being nostalgic. For me, and hopefully for The United Methodist Church, we can all agree to move forward, knowing that we will hold ourselves accountable to our past, and seek to never repeat it.” 

    She named disaffiliation, the racist jurisdictional structure that segregated Black Methodists for over 30 years, denying women’s calls to ministry until 1956, and harm done to our LGBTQ+ United Methodists as some history we may like to forget. 

    “But if we are going to move on as a new United Methodist Church then, good Lord, we need to reclaim some bits of our past and hold ourselves accountable to other bits,” she said. “If we fail to do this, then we’ll repeat history and continue to not claim our Wesleyan identity and continue to repeat past harms in new ways.” 

    Dr. Boggan is the author of the books Entangled: A History of American Methodism, Politics and Sexuality and Nevertheless: American Methodists and Women’s Rights. 

    Becoming Methodist 

    Dr. Boggan took attendees back to the 1730s, when a newly graduated John Wesley, founder of Methodism, still hung around his alma mater, unsure of what do with his life. His younger brother Charles was still enrolled at Oxford University in England and had started a Bible group on campus.  

    “They rose early, they studied Scripture intently, they prayed incessantly, they fasted, they talked openly about their spirituality, they visited the sick, they held each other accountable to it,” she said. “In other words, they centered their lives on faith as love acted out. And this was weird.” 

    English Christians at the time practiced their faith by sitting quietly in church, listening to a sermon, and going home. The idea of Christianity outside of a church challenged the status quo. 

    John and his friends went outside the city to minister with and learn from the poor, the outcast, the imprisoned. This too challenged the status quo. The group was derisively called “Bible Moths,” “Sacramentarians,” and “Holy Club.” The term “Methodist,” she said, was coined in 1732, in an Oxford newspaper article that also called them “superstitious prophets, shameless diviners, or madmen, or those whom poverty compels.” 

    The Methodists were ridiculed for their weekly prayers and monthly religious services held with those imprisoned, taking food, drink, medicine, and reading material, Dr. Boggan explained.  

    “When they saw inhumane treatment directed at those who had no other options before them, the Holy Club took it upon themselves to hold the authorities accountable.” 

    She told the story of Thomas Blair, an inmate sentenced to death for the alleged crime of having a relationship with a man. John Wesley worked to “convince any reasonable man of his innocence” and then paid the 20 marks—an equivalent of more than 6,000 pounds today—to free Blair after he was found guilty.  

    “I’m not saying that Wesley was defending the actions of Mr. Blair, but he also was not condemning him for them,” Dr. Boggan said. “But in order to ensure that Mr. Blair felt worthy of God’s love, of the love of a neighbor, and love of himself, Wesley was willing to risk all. 

    “Y’all, this is how we got our name. This is what it means to be Methodist. And this is the message of hope that we need to reclaim.” 

    Wesleyan “viletality” 

    John Wesley went to Bristol, England at the request of his “longtime frenemy” George Whitefield in 1739. Wesley was appalled to see Whitefield preaching in a field. Wesley believed a church building was the proper location for soul-saving. However, two days after arriving in Bristol, Wesley wrote in his journal: 

    “At four in the afternoon, I submitted to be more vile and proclaimed in the highways the glad tidings of salvation, speaking from a little eminence in a ground adjoining to the city, to about three thousand people.” 

    Wesley not only chose to be more vile by preaching in a field, Dr. Boggan explained, but by also preaching without permission of the bishop of the parish. When castigated by the bishop, Wesley replied, “Sir, I look upon the world as my parish.” 

    “‘While John Wesley’s heart may have been strangely warmed in London, it was set afire in Bristol,’” she said, quoting historian David Worthington. “Within three days of being in Bristol, Wesley’s entire framework of how to preach, where to preach, and what is missionally prophetic was wholly overthrown.” 

    Wesley’s decision to be more vile wasn’t for the sake of being vile but to follow God’s call outside of his comfort zone, outside the standards and rules of church and society, to dare to be “reprehensible” if it meant making disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.  

    Happy in God 

    The early Methodists “preached God’s unconditional love of all persons and the worthiness of those on the outskirts. For this, they were harassed, beaten, jailed, and disowned from their families,” Dr. Boggan said, yet John Wesley also described them as “Happy in God,” for their understanding of “perfect love [has] now cast our Fear [and so they] rejoice evermore.” 

    “How do we as United Methodists carry forward these characteristics into a new version of ourselves?” Dr. Boggan asked, naming the opportunity of this new time in the church in which we no longer no longer identify a category of persons “as separate from the love of God within our writings.” 

    “There are many ways that 2024 is looking more and more like 1740s England. Our national laws are getting more and more strict about what can be said, what can be taught, whose lives matter, and who can have full authority over their own lives and bodies. When Wesley preached against ALL of this in the 1740s, he was ridiculed,” she said. “This is not an easy task.” 

    Learning history is necessary for moving forward, said Dr. Boggan. “We have before us now, a moment to be hope-filled. To rethink who we want to be in the future. We have a chance to be proactive. To be prophetic. To be vile. The question is: Are we brave enough to do it?” 

    Click here to view and/or download Dr. Boggan’s learning session from annual conference.  

    Tara Barnes is director of denominational relations for United Women in Faith.  

    TAGGED / Communications / 2024 Annual Conference

    With more than 100,000 members, United Methodists of Upper New York comprises of more than 675 local churches and New Faith Communities in 12 districts, covering 48,000 square miles in 49 of the 62 counties in New York state. Our vision is to “live the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to be God’s love with our neighbors in all places."