Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Institute History has its Ups & Downs, Sometimes even Repeats Itself;
Is God Doing a New Thing at Epworth?

The lowest points both in Institute history and in our own lives, often turn out to be the birth of a new chapter of opportunity in our lives. We are at that time of year when the winter has left behind very few signs of evident life; just look at the barren trees, spent leaves on the ground, and the once green elements that a couple of seasons ago radiated great natural beauty.

But look more closely ... some trees are dripping sap, some leaves have retained their shape and color, and even among the gray leaves--if you look carefully enough--you will recognize the budding of new life popping up through what had at first appeared only as spent beauty and death.

Every Spring, Mother Nature gets to demonstrate over and over that a part of the meaning of life is somewhat like the old saying--The Night is the darkest just before the Dawn! We often feel our worst not too long before the healing brings a feeling close to our best.

My daffodil buds have indeed pushed up through the leaves and they were rewarded for their efforts by the neighbor clearing the leaves away from them today so the fullness of the sunshine for which they long can penetrate their eager chlorophyll cells. Yet, I must be patient with anticipation for their delicious yellow beauty not quite ready for their time to bring joy to the hearts of humans.

This year, Spring lines up a little more perfectly with the Christian accounts of Jesus' last days on earth. Next week is what we call Holy Week because it is a "unique" week. A week that examines Jesus' highest of highs, and also his lowest of lows resulting in his winter of death. Even the most skeptical of believers will at least pause to consider the meaning and definition of "his rising" to even richer and fuller opportunities for ministry, understanding, and compassion to and for others.

The Institute was as near to death as it could be once upon a time and hope seemed dim. But at the very depth of despair, the spirit of one raised up hope and opportunity for many and the Institute was "risen" to a new life, beginning with the renewed youth program in 1908.


When the renewed program was only 10 years old (1918), the principal building used for worship, choirs, concerts, and guest speakers lay in burnt rubble and the hearts of many were broken from the profound signs of death wrapped up in the first building with which everyone had fallen in love. In relatively short order, the fate of developing a smaller program was accepted and the 1920s boomed with the New York Sunday School conventions and classes in Epworth Hall and the Epworth Inn.

Let me jump forward a few decades and come to the days of fear and uncertainty brought about by the Institute's newly merged UNYAC UMC turning us away from continued relationship, offering to kick us to the curb if we didn't give in to their demands. I remember the fear of loosing much, if not all of what we held dear and wondering daily what our fate might be. That all began in 2013 and made those days some our lowest. But it was far from an end ... it was a beginning.

God seemed to raise up people to rejuvenate the Institute once again, as people came forth both to lead and to work for the brand new "Silver Lake Experience" which was the new chapter in the life of the Institute. The first Silver Lake Experience was an instant success in 2015. Our new "high" or new chapter had fully begun! The response was huge from through out not only the Institute but also from through out Asbury Retreat Center. That's right, a joint effort with friends of our "plaintiffs." Who would want to say that the Spirit of God was not in that one! 

Perhaps because of our willingness to serve others in the midst of our own struggles, we were blessed and our re-stated charter with our very same name, came about in the NYS court room in Warsaw, NY, on February 2, 2016. The new chapter, sometimes referred to as our renaissance, continued with Silver Lake Experiences in 2017 and a new one planned for 2019 (registration now open: www.silverlakeexperience.org). Let's all pause this Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter to give thanks to God and to one another for the gift(s) of life and renewal which have been and continue to be ours and those who come and search us out!

P.S.1--How many generations past wondered who would keep the Institute going after their generation had departed? We are not called to be faithful residents after death, only to be faithful, caring residents while living in our present lives. Gather the harvests of today and let tomorrow fend for itself ... with God's help because God has promised it.

P.S.2--It strikes me that we may be at the start of yet a new chapter while still living in the successful past chapter of Epworth Hall. Consider the possibility that God may be saying to the Institute, as God does in the Scripture, "Behold, I am doing a new thing!" Some places hate new things and prefer the old and familiar. Let us be open to all the newness of life that God will deliver for us!
Prayerfully Submitted by G. Franklin

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