This blog has been a long time brewing. Even before blogging was a thing, it was brewing. Ut Unum Sint is the title of my blog. The first pressing issue is to explain what that means. To be fair it’s Latin, and until about two years ago I had never heard the phrase.
“That they might be one,” is the translation of Ut Unum sint. These are words from the prayer of Jesus the night before He gave His life on the Cross. “…that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me” (John 17:21).
My first encounter with this prayer was in June 1968–almost 48 years ago! I was 11 years old, living in Suriname (South America), where my parents were missionaries with the Pilgrim Holiness Church. In my small ecclesiastical world there were big doings going on. The Pilgrim Holiness Church was getting ready to merge with another small conservative holiness denomination called the Wesleyan Methodist Church in America. The merging conference theme was One-That the World May Believe. My pre-adolescent heart puffed with pride! I was going to be part of something that would help people know Jesus and make us one!
The pride I felt then continued with me. I took student leadership in our local Wesleyan Youth at Westview Wesleyan Church (Jonesboro, IN). I attended two Wesleyan colleges: Bartlesville Wesleyan College (now Oklahoma Wesleyan University) and Marion College (now Indiana Wesleyan University). I met my future wife in my senior year at IWU and we were married while I was working at Wesleyan World Headquarters in my hometown. After Charlotte graduated we left Marion with our baby girl so that I could attend Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. This was in response to God’s call to serve as a missionary with Wesleyan World Missions. Charlotte had a similar call to serve overseas.
During the three years I spent in seminary my world opened to students from other Methodist and Wesleyan-in-theology denominations. I discovered liturgy, the Church calendar, including Advent, and I realized that church history went beyond my boyhood heroes of The Wesleyan Church. I learned of John and Charles Wesley, Francis Asbury and began to hear about another John–John Calvin.
Upon graduation in 1983 I accepted the pastorate of a new-planted church in Michigan. For four years we served with the people of Middleville Wesleyan Church (now Cornerstone Wesleyan). Then in 1986 Charlotte and I sensed that it was time to take that important step to go overseas. We were appointed by The General Department of World Missions (now Global Partners) of The Wesleyan Church to serve as career missionaries in Peru (South America). In August 1987 we left the United States with our two young daughters (7 and 4) for the country of Costa Rica to learn Spanish.
The year in Costa Rica opened my world to other Christians: Southern Baptists, C&MA, Assemblies of God, Charismatics, Oneness Pentecostals and non-denominational. Many conversations tended to focus on the things that made us distinctive, but in spite of this, we found commonality in our love for Jesus.
A year later we arrived in Lima, Peru. Our denomination in Peru had a history back to the early 1900s. It had been a growing, thriving church until 1968 when that merger that was to bring “oneness” had the opposite effect in Peru. A nasty split ensued in part because the Pilgrims of Peru felt that they were being forced to take on the name of a man by adopting the name Wesleyan. The rupture was permanent and the effects carried down to the succeeding generations for more than 40 years. Unfortunately the debates and struggles and fights over the name of the denomination consumed an inordinate amount of our time and energy. The denomination had three names in the 13 years we were there. We seemed so far away from Christ’s prayer that we would be one so that the world could believe.
Our central mission in the city of Lima was to plant a new congregation in the district called Santiago de Surco. By implication we were there to win those who would self-identify as Roman Catholics, and we were convinced were at best only culturally Catholic. Most of those we attracted were Catholics who had a desire for community and to learn more about the Bible. The church that we planted just observed its 24th anniversary.
The next chapter of our lives brought us to New York City. Our initial mission was to plant a new congregation in Manhattan under the auspicies of The Wesleyan Church. While that project did not flourish Charlotte and I did not feel released from NYC. In God’s providence we discovered a young church plant called Origins Church that later became Trinity Grace Church. Over the course of the next eight years we found a home and were able to contribute to the mission of Trinity Grace to impact the city.
My next entry will pick up with the Trinity Grace chapter of our lives in New York City.