As we gather to hear Scripture read and proclaimed, to sing, to pray, to listen to one another, and to sit in silence, the Holy Spirit speaks and we as the church have a chance to respond.
And yet, in most of the presbytery gatherings we attend, we do very little discerning of God’s will for us and the church. At presbytery meetings we hear reports about the good work and ministry of various presbytery committees and churches. Sometimes we debate and vote on issues that everyone made up their mind about before they even left home. At presbytery educational events we find inspiration and skills for the practical aspects of ministry. At presbytery summer camp our kids have fun and learn a little too. But rarely do we collectively listen for God’s word to us and seek to respond to God’s call at this moment in history.
In her ministry as mission coordinator for 69 of the 188 churches in the Presbytery of Coastal Carolina, Hazel Wilson listened to the voices of pastors and church members who longed for something more. She asked what more the presbytery could do to support the churches she served.
And she prayed. She prayed and prayed for God’s guidance. And God placed upon her heart that our presbytery needed a revival.
Presbytery, revival — two words rarely, if ever, heard together.
And yet, moved by the Holy Spirit, Hazel began to ask other pastors if they’d help her plan a revival. Eight pastors and Commissioned Lay Pastors and one elder said yes.
And they prayed.
They prayed about if it was the right time for the presbytery to hold a revival and if so, who God was leading them to invite to preach. They heard God say yes it was time for a revival. They heard God say, “Ask J. Herbert Nelson to come.”
The Rev. Nelson, who had just moved to Washington, D.C., from Memphis, Tenn., said he would come.
So they prayed.
It wasn’t always easy. Some churches weren’t interested in participating at all. Others expressed interest but backed out at the last minute. Even the pastors on the planning team struggled to get members of their own congregations to attend.
But they kept praying.
Finally, for three nights in October pastors and members from across the Central Community of the presbytery gathered for a revival. Small churches and large churches. Young and old. Black and white. Men and women. Never overflowing crowds, but those whom God had called to be there. They were reminded that a revival doesn’t begin until the Great Revivalist, the Holy Spirit, comes. Songs and spontaneous words of witness moved them.
Each night, with faithful scriptural exegesis and personal testimony, J. Herbert Nelson preached. He challenged those who gathered not to focus on what we need to do to change ourselves, our churches, and our communities, but to examine who we are. For revival comes not when we do more, but when we become more and join our lives with the work God is already doing. Revival comes when God transforms the same things we’ve always done into a new way for God’s new day.
A member and elder at First Church, Lumberton said after the first night of the revival, “Wow!!!!! I am still blown away. The service was dynamic and one of the greatest experiences I have been a part of in many years. I look forward to being there for the next two nights and I continue to pray that we may be able to bring a part of the passion felt back to our church.”
Evan Harrison, pastor of the Sunnyside Church, which hosted the revival each night, remarked, “If I get any more excited and revived, you’re going to have to chain me down!”
When was the last time you left a stated presbytery meeting and heard comments like that?
So we’re still praying. God moved us and we do not think that God is finished with us yet. Oh, what great things we know God will do among us.
Is it time for your presbytery to have a revival?
MATTHEW A. RICH is the pastor of First Church, Lumberton, N.C. HAZEL WILSON is the mission coordinator for the Central Community of the Presbytery of Coastal Carolina.