The Free Methodist Church – USA and other streams of the Wesleyan movement are partnering together and attracting other likeminded Christians who share the hope of bringing sustained revival to our world.
This was evident Sept. 25–27 in Hendersonville, Tennessee, as groups of Free Methodists were scattered throughout the crowded megachurch sanctuary hosting the New Room Conference 2019. During a lunch break, the Free Methodists packed into another room in the church to hear from their new Board of Bishops and discuss ways to join in awakening.
Bishop Keith Cowart said he met last spring in Chicago with leaders of both the Wesleyan Holiness Connection, which former Free Methodist Bishop Kevin Mannoia leads, and New Room.
“We had a wonderful time together. We see some real growing connections between the pan-Wesleyan church and the New Room Conference,” Cowart said. “As Free Methodists, we’re really excited about that connection. We love, love, love New Room Conference”
The growing Free Methodist presence at New Room is not an accident.
“New Room really began to reach out intentionally to Free Methodists a few years ago,” said Cowart who added New Room organizers’ message was: “Hey, we don’t want this to just be a United Methodist thing. It’s a pan-Wesleyan thing.”
The New Room Conference is named after the first Methodist meeting house that was established in Bristol, England, where two religious societies asked John Wesley in 1739 to help establish a “new room” for them to meet. At the New Room in 1771, Francis Asbury answered the call to missionary service in America.
Seedbed, the publishing division of Asbury Theological Seminary, sponsors the conference with the hope of encouraging and equipping the Wesleyan/Methodist movement “to recover its roots and extend its reach as an awakening movement, person by person, band by band, church by church.” The bishops noted they are all Asbury alumni.
This year’s conference gathered under the banner word “Uncontainable,” which organizers explained was meant to convey “a sense of the awe and bigness of our God” and “the advance of the gospel and God’s kingdom on the earth” as described in Acts 1:8.
Along with music that included surprise worship leader Chris Tomlin, the conference also focused heavily on prayer with the opening message from Pete Greig, a founder of the 24-7 Prayer Movement, who led a time of prayer the second evening of the conference. Bishop Linda Adams said prayer also is a focus for the three newly elected bishops.
“We had a couple of days in August for just a prayer retreat,” Adams said. “We wanted even our sense of where the Lord might want to draw the boundaries for our responsibilities, both domestically and globally, to come out of a sense of spiritual discernment from the leading of the Lord.”
Bishop Matt Whitehead said Free Methodist are committed to social holiness while simultaneously working to helping people find Jesus and grow in their faith.
“It’s ‘both and.’ It’s not ‘either or,’” Whitehead said. “Social holiness and a commitment to lift up Jesus as the hope of the world is where we’re going, and by God’s grace, we believe the future is bright as we understand what that means and the complexity of that reality.”
Awaken Your City
New Room Executive Director David Thomas expressed appreciation for getting to know Free Methodists better through attending and speaking at the Wabash Annual Conference and the National Prayer Summit, and he explained more about New Room’s conversation with denominational leaders “around a way that we might be able to partner together to just support and encourage prayer for awakening.”
Thomas said New Room isn’t an organization to be joined, but “we really do exist for an awakening in the Free Methodist Church or wherever God may choose to send it, and wherever he does, we’ll celebrate it and ask for more.”
New Room leaders are exploring an effort, tentatively titled Awaken Your City, that would unite different churches in prayer and fasting for the community.
Mannoia, who also serves as Azusa Pacific University’s chaplain, led a workshop on “A Revolution of Holiness” with Miriam Swaffield, the global student mission leader for the United Kingdom-based Fusion Movement. He said the word “holiness” has become a negative word for some people because of negative experiences and legalism in the church, but he believes the word is powerful and can be redeemed.
“Holiness really appears in Scripture more than any other theme in the Bible,” Mannoia said.
Swaffield said holiness “isn’t about taking yourself out of the world but is about that living water so that, as you’re in the world, you’re not drowning anymore.”
Mannoia added that our culture drives us to isolation instead of committing ourselves to each other and the Lord, who created us as interdependent people. The Trinity includes the interdependence of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
“Polarity, compartmentalization and independence pervade our culture. Those are words that seem to drive everything we do,” he said. “Wholeness, integration and interdependence are the words of God to His kingdom. Notice the difference there.”
Go online to fmchr.ch/nr2019 to purchase access to video of this year’s plenary sessions for $24.95. Visit fmchr.ch/nr2020 to register for the next conference that is scheduled for Sept. 23–25, 2020, at a Nashville area location to be determined. Scheduled speakers include Jim Cymbala, Kimberly Dirmann, Danielle Strickland and J.D. Walt.
Jeff Finley is the executive editor of LIGHT + LIFE. He has attended the New Room Conference three times and hopes to return next year.