I found Timothy Hawk, or did Timothy Hawk find me—actually, I’m not sure. That’s a common problem Arminians have. We have a hard time sorting out who made the first step. Regardless, I met Timothy Hawk one way or another through his son who happened to be at the same university while my wife worked on her Master’s degree in English. Perhaps much to Tim’s surprise, I’ve heard nothing but good things from his son about him, and found common cause with his work in prison ministry since my in-laws got me hooked on prison ministry for a season of my life. I’m honored to have Tim share what he loves about the Wesleyan denomination in today’s denomination derby post.
In the beginning…
I am a third generation Wesleyan (former Pilgrim Holiness), following my parents and grandparents on both sides of my family. I was raised in the Wesleyan Church, with mandatory attendance at every offered worship service, Sunday School, summer VBS, and every revival series or special services. My Dad was almost always a trustee, so I would even go to the church with him some evenings and Saturdays to work. There were times that I think we were at the church more than at home. I am not complaining, because I loved church, and I loved the people at our church.
I was called to pastoral ministry when I was twelve. There was never a question as to what my course of preparation would be for this journey. I attended United Wesleyan College, a small Bible college in Allentown, PA, and began my ministry as a youth pastor in 1985. Right on schedule, I was ordained in 1987 in the Northwest District of the Wesleyan Church. I pastored my first congregation alone beginning in 1987, as well. I continued pastoring, leading three churches over 14 years until in 2001 I accepted a position as prison chaplain in New York, where I continue to serve. In 1999 I obtained a Master of Arts from Indiana Wesleyan University.
Who are the Wesleyans and why do I love them?
The Wesleyan Church is an evangelical denomination with just under 500,000 members worldwide, with a little less than half of those in North America. The denomination is the result of a merger between the Wesleyan Methodist and Pilgrim Holiness Churches in 1968. Both of these former denominations were formed during the turbulent mid-1800 years of the Methodist Church, when people left over social issues.
I love the Wesleyan Church because of their history regarding social issues. Many ancestors to the current Wesleyan Church were Abolitionists, involved in speaking, writing, and even the Underground Railroad. This action spanned the movement from the highest leadership to the grass root attendees.
Women’s rights are another issue the Wesleyans fought for, blazing a trail leading to some of the first ordained women into the pastoral ministry. An early women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, NY at the Wesleyan Chapel in that town. The Wesleyan Church today maintains a strong support of the ordination of women, and is led by General Superintendent Dr. Joanne Lyon. I am proud to be part of a denomination that supports women.
I love Wesleyan theology!
Dr. Melvin Dieter stated in one of my graduate classes that John Wesley was an eclectic theologian whose theology was a lot like grandma’s cookies, a pinch of this and a dash of that, leading to the difficulty of really grasping his thinking completely. This eclecticism is quite attractive to me, as well as the many liberties allowed by the Wesleyan Church on many topics. The denomination reflects Wesley’s emphasis on holiness with the mission statement, “To spread scriptural holiness throughout every land.” This is the foundation for the Wesleyan-Arminian position of emphasizing the free will of man and an acceptance of the possibility of apostasy. While the denomination has a comprehensive statement of belief, there is a lot of flexibility within it for varying theological positions. I believe that this is a strength of the denomination, embracing diversity while maintaining unity among the essential core beliefs of the Christian faith.
I love the flexibility in worship.
If you traveled around the world visiting Wesleyan Churches, you would experience about every style of worship that you can imagine. Some follow a strict liturgy with much leader and congregational interaction while others practice a very enthusiastic and free worship. Observance of the Eucharist is mandated by the denomination once per month, but some churches partake in the sacrament weekly. Some churches sing only from a hymnal, others only sing contemporary choruses, while many present a mix of the two. The creeds of the church, the doxology, the Gloria Patri, and the Lord’s Prayer are used in some churches, while others might question your reference to them. Cultural influence is as prominent an influence on worship as is theology. All this variety is due to the Wesleyan denomination not prescribing a set style of worship. I love that about the Wesleyans.
Is the Wesleyan Church too good to be true?
Throughout my journey there have been times that I have questioned my loyalty to the Wesleyan Church. While there are some theological statements that I might challenge, the underpinnings of the denomination, rooted in the tradition of John Wesley, resonate with me more than others that I have explored. My greatest disagreements surround social issues and the membership guidelines of the church.
Since the Wesleyan Church has a history of standing for social justice, I hope and pray that they may change course on these issues, and that I might be a part of such a change. Being a small denomination and having spent my entire life within it, I find my roots deep and my connections broad within this body of believers. I married a girl who was also raised in the Wesleyan Church, her father being a Wesleyan pastor, broadening our connections to people around the world. Every time I contemplate pursuing transfer to another denomination I feel like a child preparing to run away from home. I wonder if I would simply find myself circling around the block, knocking on the door, and asking to come back home.
About Today’s Guest Blogger
Timothy Hawk is an ordained minister in the Wesleyan Church. He is currently a chaplain at Elmira Correctional Facility in Elmira, NY. He has been married to his wife, Susan, for almost 31 years, has three children, and three grandchildren. He has often said that everything he learned about God he learned from his children! You can follow him on Twitter @tim_hawk and visit his website at www.timothyhawk.com to find his blogs.
About Denomination Derby
This series invites ministers or ministry volunteers with seminary training to share what they love about their denominations so that readers will have a greater awareness of and appreciation for the good things happening throughout the church. Search for more posts in the series by clicking on the “church” category.
We have several writers lined up to write about their respective denominations, but nominations for guest bloggers or requests for a particular denomination are welcome.
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