By Rick Wolcott*
The Sermons of Wesley was birthed to teach Wesleyan theology to clergy and laity of East Ohio.
“In talking with others I thought this is a piece that is really missing in the black church,” East Ohio Conference Director of Racial-Ethnic Ministries Dr. Gloria Brown said. “In order for us to be real Methodists we really need to understand the story, we need to understand the history.”
What began in the East Ohio Conference in 2010 with seven small group studies blossomed into an online opportunity in 2013 open to anyone in the North Central Jurisdiction interested in becoming a Wesley scholar.
“The impetus was her (Dr. Brown) invitation to come and speak at the smaller iteration of this when it first began in East Ohio,” Dr. Diane Lobody, professor of church history at Methodist Theological School in Ohio (MTSO), said. “After doing so I thought this could be bigger. Many churches need this. Many leaders need this. I invited her to come to the school and talk with me and with the dean.”
Dr. Lobody and the Rev. Dr. Lisa Withrow created a format that enabled people to meet face to face but that also employed the technical capacities of MTSO to make resources available to people no matter where they were.
“They could simply get online, go through a study presentation, read the sermon online, engage in conversations on Facebook and then meet face to face to talk in depth about the sermon,” Lobody said. “It is really exciting to be part of this.”
Dr. Brown submitted a proposal to and received a grant from General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR) to support facilitating the sessions – such as supplies and a small stipend for those leading the study.
“What they were learning having to prepare to teach the sermons were things that they had not learned in seminary,” Brown said. “Most of them said that to me, ‘why didn’t we get this in seminary?’”
More than 80 individuals, representing all but one conference in the North Central Jurisdiction, registered to participate in the eight-sermon series.
“I think the format is fantastic,” Lobody said. “It blends our need to be with one another bodily in the same room but it also makes available resources to which most people don’t have ready access 24-hours a day, seven-days a week – especially for smaller churches or small clusters of laity or clergy who are brought together by a common interest.”
“It took a phenomenal amount of work to create every one of these presentations – approximately 30 hours per lesson – but what came out of it is a tremendous amount of relevant information for people in The United Methodist Church today, and also information that translates around the world.”
The eight-sermon series culminated with a Sermons of Wesley Retreat May 30-31 at MTSO. The retreat – an opportunity for some participants to meet face-to-face with their study partners for the first time – prompted one person to tell Dr. Brown, “I don’t want today to be a period to this work, we need it to be a comma.”
Dr. Lobody has big aspirations for the next chapter in the Sermons of Wesley.
“My dream is can we take this global?”
View the GCORR video about the Sermons of Wesley.
*Rick Wolcott is director of communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.