Susan Harrison is the pastor of Nameoki United Methodist Church and a doctoral candidate at United Theological Seminary in the Randy Clark Scholars focus group. Dwelling Places is the research project event toward her doctoral degree.
Background of the Researcher
Susan grew up in a Christian family, but like many young adults in her generation, she stopped attending church in college and began building a career in accounting. In 1997 God met her in a life-changing way. She left her career as a CPA to attend Duke Divinity School and pursue God’s call to ministry.
Twelve years into ministry as a pastor, Susan’s life and ministry were changed again, as profoundly as when she first turned back to God in 1997, when she attended two Catch the Fire Conferences. A colleague appropriately described her experience in 2016 as being born again-again. Her experience sent her on a search to know the Wesleyan understanding of the Holy Spirit and this “second work of grace.” Her search led her to the Randy Clark Scholars Doctor of Ministry Cohort at United Theological Seminary. Randy Clark was the preacher God worked through to spark the 1994 Toronto Outpouring which eventually became Catch the Fire.
Susan’s doctoral research encompasses Wesley’s understanding of the Way of Salvation, the “second work of grace” of the Holy Spirit, and sanctification. Susan has a passionate heart for revival and longs to lead United Methodists into a deeper relationship with God and fullness of life in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. She is grateful for Catch the Fire’s generous spirit in sharing their passion for the whole church, including denominational churches, to experience God.
Historical Background of the Research
The United Methodist Church traces its roots to John Wesley, an Anglican priest who longed to experience God in the ways he saw and heard others experience and he read in the biblical accounts. Wesley was raised in a Christian home, the son of an Anglican priest family, but as he would say later, his religion was built on doing all the right things. He believed there was more, and on a missionary trip to Georgia, he saw in the faith of the Moravians a deep assurance and peace he was seeking. He wanted to know true peace, to know God’s forgiveness and acceptance, to be free from fear, to see God heal and deliver people, and to experience true freedom from ways that are contrary to God’s ways. Wesley continued to seek this deeper experience of faith.
In the Spring of 1938, John and his brother Charles both experienced the Holy Spirit and the assurance of justification, that Christ had died for them personally, that they were forgiven of their sins and justified by grace alone. Charles encountered God while sick in bed, as he prayed for God to come and dwell in him according to God’s word. John and their friends had just left Charles, after singing hymns of the Holy Spirit in his room. John went down the street to an Anglican church, where he heard a sermon by Anglican Rector John Heylyn on the difference in the disciples’ faith before and after Pentecost. Several days later, after spending the day in prayer, worship, and reading of scripture, John went “reluctantly” to Aldersgate Street. Hearing a reading of Luther’s preface to Romans, Wesley reports:
“while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death. (John Wesley, “May 24, 1738,” Journal and Diaries quoted in Heitzenrater’s Wesley and the People Called Methodists, 80)
The story of Aldersgate is familiar to many Methodists. What many do not know is that after Aldersgate Wesley still wrestled with his faith. He did not find the fullness of peace and joy, freedom from guilt and fear and from the power of sin that he expected to feel, that he saw in the Moravians and read in Acts and letters of the New Testament. He returned to the Moravians at Herrnhut that Summer, continuing to search for answers and the fullness of God he was seeking. There heard from a layman Christian David, who gave Wesley a clearer understanding of the “distinction between justifying faith and being cleansed from all sin (full sanctifying grace)” which “comes through ‘the indwelling of the Spirit’” at Pentecost (from Laurence Wood, “John Wesley’s Mission of Spreading Scriptural Holiness: A Case Study in World Mission and Evangelism.” The Asbury Journal 73: No. 1. 2018, 16, From Journals and Diaries I (1735–38), The Bicentennial Edition of the Works of John Wesley, 18:254, (June 7 – June 13, 1738), 18:270, (August 8, 1738), 18:272, (August 10, 1738)).
John returned and shared what he learned with his brother Charles, and over the next months, the Wesley brothers continued to pursue the experience and faith they now believed was not just a one-time historical experience of the first disciples, but an experience for every believer. On January 1, 1739 as they gathered at Fetter Lane with about sixty of their friends, they experienced what they were longing for, the presence of God in the power of the Holy Spirit fell on the gathered group like at the first Pentecost and as in Acts 4, filling, and empowering the gathering of the Wesley brothers, George Whitfield, and their friends at Fetter Lane. Wesley writes in his journal:
Monday, January 1, 1739. Mr. Hall, Kinchin, Ingham, Whitefield, Hutchins, and my brother Charles, were present at our love-feast in Fetter-Lane, with about sixty of our brethren. About three in the morning, as we were continuing instant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground. As soon as we were recovered a little from that awe and amazement at the presence of his majesty, we broke out with one voice, ‘We praise thee, O God; we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.’ (John Wesley, “Monday, January 1, 1739,” vol. Xix, Journal 3, The Works of John Wesley: The Bicentennial Edition, quoted in Wood, Pentecost & Sanctification, 51.)
Whitefield also reports the experience in his journal:
It was a Pentecost season indeed. . . . Sometimes whole nights were spent in prayer. Often have we been filled as with new wine. And often have I seen them overwhelmed with the Divine Presence, and crying out, ‘Will God, indeed, dwell with men upon earth!—How dreadful is this place!—this is no other than the house of God, and the gate of Heaven!’ (Laurence Wood, Pentecost & Sanctification, 51.)
It was then that Wesley was filled with the love of God, peace, and joy, and freedom from the power of sin and fear that he was seeking. From that point, they began to experience God’s presence and power in their preaching and prayer. Whitfield’s street preaching began growing by the thousands and he called for Wesley to join him, and revival was born in England. Meanwhile, the same was occurring in America with the preaching of Jonathan Edwards. As they preached the gospel and called on God in prayer, God answered their prayer, confirming God’s word, bringing people to faith, freedom from sin, and new life.
Theme and Objective of the Project
Many Methodists know the Holy Spirit is the second person of the Trinity. Many have heard about Pentecost and Aldersgate, gifts and fruit of the Spirit, but the Holy Spirit is often not understood or looked at with suspicion in Methodist circles. Few have heard of Fetter Lane and the events following or of Wesley’s theology and teaching on the Holy Spirit, the “second blessing,” sanctification, and the Wesleyan theology and way of salvation.
The question the project is seeking to answer is how to effectively share a Wesleyan understanding and experience of the Holy Spirit in a way that invites participants to an experience of God’s presence and brings positive results in personal life, relationships, and church.
What is Involved
You are invited to participate in a study of a model for introducing United Methodists to an encounter with God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Participants will attend all sessions of a weekend (Friday-Saturday) event hosted at Nameoki United Methodist Church, designed to invite persons into a deeper experience, understanding, and relationship with God. Sessions will include worship, testimonies from Methodist/Wesleyan leaders, and a message. Messages include the Oneness in Christ (indwelling of John 14), the Father Heart of God, the Price and power of the Cross, Forgiveness, the Holy Spirit, Hearing the Voice of God, and Faith that Moves God.
Participants will be sent pre-event surveys and reflective questions, which will be returned prior to or at the event. During the event, participants will be asked to note any experiences, words, thoughts that stand out to them or make an impression, and insights, feelings, or questions that come to them, and to post questions and comments as they feel led on a private facebook page. For three weeks following the event, participants will be asked to respond to reflective questions and prompts, noting any experiences, insights, thoughts, feelings, questions, or changes they observe or reflections. At the end of three weeks, they will complete a follow-up survey closely mirroring the pre-event survey, in order to assess any changes since the event.
Questions in the pre-survey are oriented toward basic demographic information, religious experiences, understandings, and background, and faith practices. Responses will be confidential except to the extent that the participant chooses to reveal identifying information in their responses.
Table discussion at mealtimes (if allowed with covid) and/or a private Facebook group for participants will be opportunities for participants to ask questions and share what they are experiencing.
Participation in the research project is entirely voluntary and includes the right to withdraw. Each participant will be given a unique number to maintain anonymity of the surveys and journaling responses to the researcher. The number database will be maintained by a third person. Those who volunteer to also participate in any certain interactions that are offered (interviews, testimonies, facebook) will by necessity be known to the researcher. Whether or not you choose to participate in the research will not affect the pastoral relationship, as the researcher will not know who is participating unless it is self-disclosed. If you choose to participate and later change your mind, you may withdraw by requesting that the information provided by you not be used in the research study.
More information is included in the consent form, which will be sent upon registration for the event and can be requested in advance of registration by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.