In July of 1888 the Sanctuary of Rome First was completed and consecrated. 130 Years as a Beacon of Hope from our location on the hill at the corner of Second Street and Third Avenue. So much has changed in 130 years! And yet the purpose and reason for the existence remain constant - To Glorify God and fulfill the mission of the church. The mission of the church is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world."
In a sermon called "The New Creation" given in 1785, Methodism's founder, John Wesley, considered the promises made in the Book of Revelation: no more death and no more pain, sickness, or grieving for or parting with friends. Wesley envisioned "an intimate, an uninterrupted union with God; a constant communion with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ, through the Spirit; a continual enjoyment of the Three in One God, and of all the creatures in Him!" As Disciples of Christ, we are called to work to transform the world into a new creation.
Rome First is working to transform the world! Consider the illustrious past of Rome First. Dennis Nordeman recently shared a page from the Tribune of Rome dated July 12, 1888. The headline read – “Opening exercises of the First Methodist Church”. The article began:
Sunday was great day in Rome. There was rejoicing among Methodists over the completion of the First Methodist Church and the opening exercises held there. The other churches of the city were closed, and all Christians rejoiced with the Methodist denomination. …At the morning services the people began to gather two hours before time for the exercises to begin. At 10:30 o’clock, a half an hour before the time for service, there was not a single seat vacant. Chairs were then used and the aisles on either side lined with them from pulpit to entrance. The scene from the gallery of the vast audience was a pretty one, indeed, with its bright colors and ceaseless waving of fans. The Music was an especial feature of the great occasion. The programme, as published in the Tribune Sunday morning, was fully carried out at both services. Its rendition by the choir was thought by many to be the finest church music ever heard in Rome. Prof. Snow, the organist and director, is to be congratulated on the success… At 11 o’clock precisely, under the skillful touch of Professor Snow, the ‘Andante in C’ by Mendelssohn, pealed from the handsome organ. The choir sang superbly, ‘O Sing unto the Lord,’ by Worke, as a voluntary. The soprano, tenor and basso solos were especially fine…At the close of the service Dr. Lee spoke of the church, which he said he believed was the best built church he had ever seen. It is a monument to those who contributed to its building and, unless fire burned it down, he believed it would last for 500 years.”
Now some 130 years after the opening “exercises were celebrated”, then as now, the beautiful sanctuary, the magnificent pipe organ, and the wonderful music provided by faithful members of a superb choir and contemporary band are hallmarks of the tradition that is synonymous with Rome First.
In the same newspaper article from 1888 the section that is entitled “Description and History” begins – “The First Methodist Church of Rome, Ga., is a magnificent structure costing $40,000.00”. I am certain that there were many sacrifices made by folks who purposed to establish the people called Methodists in this fine city. I can scarcely imagine that anyone in the congregation on that hot day in July 1888 ever imagined the diversity of ministries that are now associated with Rome First. As we who gather to worship each Sunday, we can scarcely imagine what the folks 130 years ago sacrificed to make a space for us to gather to worship, study, and serve the community that surrounds us.
Just as the faithful who gathered in 1888 made sacrifices so we can worship and serve today, we are invited to make sacrifices to create new spaces for those who will assemble in these same spaces 130 years hence! As we journey into “unchartered territory” with our new venture SERVE ROME, we are pioneering for the future to offer the Gospel of Hope that Jesus Christ proclaims. What do we have to offer people? What are people searching for? To answer those questions, we can once again take our cue from John Wesley. Toward the end of his life John Wesley commissioned Thomas Coke to go to America and ordain Francis Asbury and others into the ministry. As Coke boarded the ship headed to America, he is reported to have turned back to the pier where John Wesley stood and called back to Wesley, saying – “Sir, What shall I offer them?” Wesley responded, “Offer them Christ, Thomas. Offer them Christ.” These words were the final instructions from John Wesley as Thomas Coke boarded a ship bound for the colonies for unchartered territory in “birth of a denomination”.
“Offer them Christ…that is still our goal and focus today, Offering Christ. Jesus “meets people where they are and John Wesley went to where the people were…Our shared opportunity is to do the same. Consider this – John Wesley recorded in his Journal on April 2, 1739, “At four in the afternoon, I submitted to be more vile, and proclaimed in the highways the glad tidings of salvation, speaking from a little eminence in a ground adjoining to the city, to about three thousand people.” - Wesley was a conservative high churchman in the Church of England, and therefore the idea of preaching outside was repulsive to him. Yet, his friend George Whitefield had invited him to Bristol to see the great throngs of people who were eager to hear the Gospel, and was convinced that he needed to set propriety aside, becoming “more vile” in order to reach people where they were. He saw that people were not coming to the sanctuaries, churches and cathedrals, so he went where the people were, “outside the walls”, and preached the Gospel of Hope sharing the Love of Jesus and God’s great Love.
Wesley was amazed at the “throngs” who gathered to hear the preaching of George Whitefield and noted that while the oration of Whitefield was convincing, the message of the Gospel, or Good News of Jesus Christ, provided Hope for those who heard it proclaimed.
Field preaching became a key part of Wesley's ministry. John Wesley’s Love of God and of God’s People convinced him to move beyond the walls of the church to “offer them Christ.”
Wesley’s example and zeal serves as the inspiration for our willingness to pioneer into “uncharted territory” and discover new expressions of “offering Christ” in our community. We will continue to invite and welcome all to experience the wonderful grace of Jesus’ Love manifest in the community of Faith known as Rome First.
For those who come through any of the doors at Rome First, we seek to offer a welcoming space for all to gather for worship, study and fellowship, all to the glory of God. We seek to SERVE ROME by welcoming and inviting all as partners in transformation. As folks enter any of the doors on the Rome First campus, we strive to communicate to all that we are all held in God’s hands!
For those individuals who have yet to walk through the doors at Rome First, we seek to bring hope for the future, as we continue reaching out our hands to the people of Rome who are seeking a community of Grace, and a place to connect with the Body of Christ. We will continue to open new doors of Hope through the collaborative efforts of SERVE ROME – meeting people where they are and sharing the message of Hope that is available to all!
For those individuals who have yet to be born, we look to the future and seek to grow the ministries and missional impact of Rome First that will strategically impact the shape and direction of our city and community by offering Hope for the future and seeking to help transform hearts by the power of God’s great Love made real and manifest in the multitude of existing ministries and the new ministries and expressions of faithfulness that are yet to begin. The doors that have yet to open in the future will require funding by the forward-looking faithful generosity of the folks at Rome First today! What will the citizens of Rome in the year 2148 remember about Rome from 2018? I pray they will remember the forward looking faith of the people called Methodists at Rome First and will continue in the pursuit offering Christ’s Love.
Scripture shows us over and over again how God works through ordinary people, who have Faith in God, to do the extraordinary. God uses ordinary people to accomplish great things, and usually the extraordinary occurs when people are willing to move beyond the “safety of what they know” and “trust God” to lead them to new places with new possibilities and opportunities. The founding members of Rome First sought to glorify God and establish a place where the message of Hope could resound throughout the city, as they cited the present sanctuary at its strategic location, they were willing to venture into “uncharted territory and with pioneering spirits they sought to establish a beacon of hope on the hill of 3rd Avenue and 2nd Street.
This July, Rome First will celebrate 130 years of ministry from our current location on the Third Avenue Hill. In the coming weeks you should receive more information about the Rome First Heritage Celebration. The month long celebration planned for July will highlight the illustrious past and celebrate the wonderful faith-filled journey into the future. We will worship together at 10 AM in the historic Sanctuary and gather in the Wilder Center at 9 and 11 for hands on Mission and Service to, with and for our community and beyond.
I’ll see you in worship and in a small group this Sunday!