Longtime Free Methodists may note a bit of irony in the new Free Methodist Timeline card game from Just Games and the Marston Memorial Historical Center.
As David L. McKenna explained in “A Future With a History: The Wesleyan Witness of the Free Methodist Church” (fmchr.ch/dmfuture), many Christians considered “card-playing” to be a sin until the societal changes of the 1960s led to a shift in evangelical focus. Earlier generations of Free Methodists might be shocked to see today’s denominational leaders gathered around a deck of cards pulled from a box with the denomination’s name and logo.
Perhaps these card opponents might accept the game, however, if they noticed the absence of jokers, jacks, kings and queens and the presence of Methodist heroes like Barbara Heck (who encouraged the establishment of America’s first Methodist church in 1768), Francis Asbury (evangelist and bishop) and Phyllis Sortor (a Free Methodist missionary whose kidnapping and release made international news in 2015). The game’s timeline stretches from the Epworth rectory fire of 1709 (which nearly claimed the life of 5-year-old John Wesley) to Flat B.T. (a traveling illustration of Free Methodist founder B.T. Roberts inspired by Flat Stanley of children’s literature) in 2018.
Larry Winckles, Free Methodist World Missions’ Hungary mission team leader and Europe area administrator, said that he and Mark VanValin, the director of Mission Igniter’s Detroit Initiative, founded Just Games to develop “games that we would enjoy playing, but that would also have a purpose.” They brainstormed with New Hope FMC (Grand Rapids, Michigan) Pastor Eric Perry and former SEED Livelihood Co-Director David Brewer (now the director of Anderson University’s MBA programs) to develop two card games, the Justice Deck (which explores issues of social justice) and the Free Methodist Timeline.
Perry told Light + Life that he became involved while visiting Hungary last October and discussing Methodist history with Winckles.
“My hope is to celebrate and remember these ‘precious jewels,’ as John Wesley would call them, so that they won’t be forgotten,” Perry said. “Their love for Jesus has given us a living heritage that deserves to be talked about often, sung about during worship, and passed on to our children. I went to London in 2017 and visited the John Wesley historical sites, and was reminded how gratefully indebted I am to this movement started by a ‘heart strangely warmed.’”
To make its first two games a reality, Just Games needed sponsors to help cover the cost of the games’ development and printing. Brewer found sponsors for the Justice Deck, and Winckles found a donor (whose identity has not been disclosed) to help cover the history game’s cost. Free Methodist historians put aside any lingering misgivings about cards games and embraced the project.
Historical Center Director Cathy Robling said Marston leaders are “grateful for the creative efforts of Larry Winckles, Mark VanValin and crew on the FM Timeline game as well as being thankful to the generous donor. The history of the FMC can be learned in a fun setting. I’ve already heard of pastors who want to use it in their membership classes, children’s church and other avenues of learning.”
Robling served as a consultant for the game along with Mindi Grieser Cromwell, the chair of the Committee on Free Methodist History and Archives.
“It has been a joy to be a part of the process with Larry Winckles to mine the riches of our Free Methodist story to enrich our present,” said Grieser Cromwell, who added that the game will be a valuable tool for Free Methodist history and polity classes. “I can’t wait for folks to see friendly faces from the past and make new friends with men and women long gone.”
Winckles said the game requires players to put people, places and events from early Methodist and Free Methodist history in chronological order. The back of a card reveals the correct year and a brief historical summary. An incorrectly placed card is discarded, and the player then draws another card.
“The person who is first to successfully place all their cards is the winner,” Winckles said. “The game scales well according to the number of players, age of the players, and familiarity with the Free Methodist Church.”
Winckles hopes that the Free Methodist Timeline game will spark interest in denominational history and bring exposure to the Marston Memorial Historical Center and Free Methodist Archive in Indianapolis while generating additional funding for the center’s ongoing renovation.
Dan Runyon, an English professor at Spring Arbor University and former editor for Free Methodist World Missions, recently enjoyed playing the game for the first time. He called “it superbly made, fun and easy to play, and painlessly educational.”
The Free Methodist Timeline game can be ordered for $15 from the Light + Life Bookstore (freemethodistbooks.com). Visit fmchr.ch/fmtgame to go directly to the webpage for the game.
Jeff Finley is this magazine’s executive editor. He joined Light + Life in 2011 after a dozen years of reporting and editing for Sun-Times Media. He serves as a delegate for John Wesley Free Methodist Church in Indianapolis and a board member for Friends of Immanuel University.2