If the subject of this post surprises you, the reader, then that makes at least two of us who are surprised! I am astonished that I am writing about this. I had no idea even 15 minutes ago that this would be the topic of today’s post.
However, this is a topic that has intrigued me for many years. The term “holy conferencing” is a somewhat nebulous and elusive concept in my experience, and I sense that it is for others as well. It has gained traction in recent years among United Methodists. The founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley, is often referred to as the one who introduced the practice and the term of holy conferencing. However, at least one Wesleyan professor, Kevin M. Watson, has written that Wesley never used the phrase in any of his writings. Instead, he writes that Wesley did use the term “Christian Conference.” I suppose this is an example of what was being referred to in these famous lines from Act II, Scene 2 of Romeo and Juliet:
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
Whether we call the practice “holy conferencing” or “Christian conferencing” is less important than the practice itself. So what is the practice?
I believe that the practice is far more than civility and charity in conversation with one another, which is the emphasis, if not the totality, of how many leaders in United Methodism use the term. Believe me, I am all for more civility and charity in conversation about controversial subjects!
Here is what Kevin M. Watson, Assistant Professor of Historical Theology & Wesleyan Studies at Seattle Pacific University, has written about what John Wesley meant by Christian Conference.
Christian Conference was honest, direct, piercing conversation with other Christians that was intended to help the participants grow in holiness. These conversations were most obviously situated within the weekly class meetings and band meetings. This relates to the first post on the contemporary use of holy conferencing, then, because Christian Conferencing was not generally understood to be having a one-time polite conversation about a controversial subject. Rather, it was focused on the details of individual people’s lives, where they were experiencing God and growing in faith and holiness, and where they were not experiencing God or failing to grow in faith and holiness.
The goal of Christian Conference, then, is to “walk after the Spirit,” and to be “filled with faith and with the Holy Ghost.” The means to this end, then, was through weekly meetings for prayer and “watching over one another in love.”
I recommend reading the entire post by Watson, which you can do by clicking here: John Wesley & Christian Conference.
We need to practice this concept of Christian Conference even more than we need to practice civility and charity in public discourse!
Comments? Questions? Please post them to this blog site, but remember to do so in civility and charity!
Now that I have finished this post, maybe I will find and watch an episode of Batman from the 1960’s, Greg! (Greg is a friend with whom I graduated from high school.). “Bam! Pow!”
Grace Upon Grace,