Adam Hockenberry

I’m on a Methodist history kick these days, writing posts on Strawbridge Shrine, Lovely Lane UMC, as well as posts on the 1784 Discipline (yesterday’s post: Visiting From House to House). I’ve also been re-reading Rev. Dr. W. Lee Spottswood’s book, published in 1888. Spottswood was one of my predecessors here in Clearfield (1858-1860) (see my previous post on Spottswood).

The Centre Grove United Methodist traces its history to 1815 as the first Methodist presence in Clearfield County. By my count, 114 pastors have gone before me (89 in the first 100 years and 25 in the last 97 years). One pastor, Adam Hockenberry, died while serving here.

I recently read about Hockenberry in a book called Crowned Victors: The Memoirs of Over Four Hundred Methodist Preachers (1878). The same obituary appears in The Minutes of the Annual Conferences of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1852-1855. Ironically, the obituary was written by W. Lee Spottswood, who came to Clearfield four years after Hockenberry died in 1854.

At age 16, Hockenberry found Christ at a camp meeting in Huntingdon County. Around 23, he began preaching; his appointments included Trough Creek (1849), Alleghany (1850), Sinnamahoning (1851), Warriors Mark (1852), and Clearfield (1853-1854). His obituary states …

In all these appointments the name of Adam Hockenberry is embalmed in the hearts of the people; everywhere he was a noble type of a Methodist preacher, and all bear testimony to his ability and success in the gospel ministry. (368)

Hockenberry was only 30 years old when he died. During his brief time in Clearfield, he married Elizabeth Shafer and had a child. Then, in 1854, “he was arrested by disease.” Hockenberry’s “brief but triumphant career in the work of the Christian ministry” receives the following description …

With deep piety, a burning zeal for God—a man of great amiability and retiring modesty, of sound common sense, of more than ordinary intellect, of superior preaching abilities, and a hard student, it is not strange that Adam Hockenberry was a hero in the strife. (368)

In Brief Annals, Spottswood adds …

He was six-feet tall, spare, raw-boned—something of the physique of Mr. Lincoln. He was one of the most mighty men in prayer, and an eloquent and powerful preacher, swaying his congregation and at times carrying his hearers away as by storm. He was thoroughly versed in the scriptures. He had a wonderfully bright future before him. He died however at the early age of 37 [obituary says 30]. (124)

According to the obituary, Hockenberry’s “sick room was, indeed, quite on the verge of heaven.” As he faced death, he was described as “meek, and patient, and brave.”

Here’s the extraordinary description of his final hours …

About three hours before he died he summoned his friends around his bed, and bidding them an affectionate farewell, he exhorted them to meet him in heaven. He called for his child, and invoked upon it the blessing of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. He then prayed God to bless the widow and the orphan. He requested his friends to sing. They sang the first three verses of the hymn beginning, ‘I would not live alway.’ They stopped. He told them there was yet another verse. They sang it. He exclaimed, ‘What music is that I hear!—don’t you hear it? Why, it is the angels who are singing!’ He said to his wife, ‘I am going home.’ He then clapped his hands, shouting, ‘I have the victory—all is well!’ and in a little while he slept in Jesus.

May God find those of us who follow Adam Hockenberry in Clearfield faithful, as well!

Visiting From House to House

One of the historic questions candidates for ordination in The United Methodist Church are asked prior to ordination is, “Will you visit from house to house?”

This question was also one of the questions from the 1784 Discipline, the first discipline of the Methodist church in America (see my post with the 1784 version of the questions).

My sense is most people think of this question as being related to pastoral care (e.g., visiting the sick). However, the view in the 1784 Discipline is quite different. In fact, the section on visiting from house to house is the longest (six pages). The complete title of the section, “On visiting from House to House; guarding against those Sins that are so common to Professors, and enforcing Practical Religion” (32), gives you an idea of what early Methodists meant by visiting from house to house. It was about discipleship and accountability, not pastoral care.

The section centers around four questions with most of the space given to the first question, which specifically deals with visiting from house to house. To answer the question, “How can we further assist those under our Care?” the Discipline suggests, “By instructing them at their own houses” (32). The Discipline goes on to say, “every Travelling-Preacher must instruct them from House to House” (33), indicating that “public preaching alone” won’t cut it.

The end of the answer to the first question summarizes the point …

The Sum is, Go into every House in course, and teach every one therein, young and old, if they belong to us, to be Christians inwardly and outwardly. Make every Particular plain to their Understandings, fix it in their Minds; write it on their Hearts. (36)

The fourth question provides a glimpse of the level of accountability early Methodists practiced. The final question asks, “What shall we do to prevent Scandal, when any of our Members fail in business, or contract Debts which they are not able to pay?”

The 1784 Discipline offers this reply …

Let the Elder or Deacon desire two or three judicious Members of the Society to inspect the Accounts of the supposed Delinquents; and if they have behaved Dishonestly, or borrowed Money without a Probability of paying, let them be suspended till their Credit is restored. (38)

Clearly, we don’t practice accountability, including visiting from house to house, in the way or to the degree to which early Methodists did. But I wonder (because it is hard to imagine), what does the twenty-first century version of visiting from house to house look like?

Moved by the Spirit

Today, I found myself expressing to God a desire to be “moved by the Spirit” to preach and lead (etc.). I recalled this language from the 1784 Discipline that I reviewed over the weekend (and wrote about yesterday).

In the 1784 Discipline, Section XII is called, “Of the Trial of those who think they are moved by the Holy Ghost to preach.” It asks the question, “How shall we try those who profess to be moved by the Holy Ghost to preach?” The answer is supplied in three parts …

1. Let them be asked the following Questions, viz. Do they know God as a pardoning God? Have they the Love of God abiding in them? Do they desire nothing but God? And are they holy in all Manner of Conversation?

2. Have they Gifts (as well as Grace) for the Work? Have they (in some tolerable Degree) a clear, sound Understanding, a right judgment in the Things of God, a just Conception of Salvation by Faith? And has God given them any degree of Utterance? Do they speak justly, readily, clearly?

3. Have they Fruit? Are any truly convinced of Sin, and converted to God by their preaching?

The section concludes with the following …

As long as these three Marks concur in any one, we believe he is called of God to preach. These we receive as sufficient Proof that he is moved by the Holy Ghost.

From the beginning, Methodists have had a process of “trying,” or examining, men (and now women) who sense God calling them “to preach” (the language “call to preach” has been replaced as a call to serve in a specific capacity, such as ordained ministry, etc.). Until four years ago, this trial period was called “probationary” (now “provisional”).

The examination process has evolved, of course, but I like the language of being “moved by the Holy (Spirit) to preach”; not just called, but moved by the Holy Spirit to preach.

Methodist Preachers Watching Over One Another

Recently, I re-read the first Discipline of the Methodist church in America States (1784). I read it a little more than a year ago, in preparation for ordination, and wrote several posts, including: The Historic Questions, Rules for Early Methodist Preachers, Smaller Advices for Early Methodist Preachers, Early Methodist View on Use of Time.

One thing that struck me this time was the section, “On the Duty of Preachers, to God, themselves and one another.” One question is, “Do we sufficiently watch over each other?”

Today, in The United Methodist Church, pastors may belong to various fellowships or orders—the Order of Elders, the Order of Deacons, the Fellowship of Local Pastors, etc. Pastors in districts and/or smaller “clusters” may meet periodically for fellowship and personal growth. They can be helpful. But as I read this section in the 1784 Discipline, I realized how high a value was placed on “watching over one another.”

Here’s how the 1784 Discipline answers the question of whether or not we watch over each another?

We do not. Should we not frequently ask each other, Do you walk closely with God? Have you now Fellowship with the Father and the Son? At what hour do you rise? Do you punctually observe the Morning and Evening Hour of Retirement, viz. Five O’Clock? Do you spend the Day in the Manner which the Conference advises? Do you converse seriously, usefully and closely? To be more particular: Do you use all the Means of Grace yourself, and inforce [sic] the Use of them on all other Persons?

My post, Early Methodist View on Use of Time, deals with a couple of these questions.

After these questions, the Discipline goes on to detail list the “instituted” and “prudential” means of grace, but the point is, these are pretty intense questions preachers might use ask to watch over one another. We are a bit more laid back today!

Lovely Lane

Our local United Methodist churches sponsored a two-day confirmation bus trip, hitting some prominent regional sites and ministries within our tradition. Yesterday, I wrote about our visit to Strawbridge Shrine in Maryland. From Strawbridge Shrine, we visited the historic Lovely Lane United Methodist Church and Lovely Lane Museum in Baltimore.

Lovely Lane UMC, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is called the “Mother Church of American Methodism.” The current structure was designed in 1884, one hundred years after the Christmas Conference where the Methodist Episcopal Church was organized and where Francis Asbury, one of the most prominent early Methodist leaders in America, was ordained.

As I noted yesterday, our hosts at Strawbridge Shrine were very hospitable and youth group friendly. Unfortunately, our experience at Lovely Lane was altogether different. On the trip home later that evening, our bus driver/tour coordinator reviewed the two-day trip. When he got to Lovely Lane, he said, “You all got yelled at, at Lovely Lane.” It was an experience to remember!

But, from a historical viewpoint, it was a good place to visit. Here are some photos.

Strawbridge Shrine

Earlier this month, the Clearfield Cluster of United Methodist Churches (churches from the Clearfield area) conducted a two-day confirmation bus trip for youth who are either preparing for confirmation, or have been confirmed since the last bus trip a few years ago.

The trip, with 30-something people, included stops in the Harrisburg area (the Pennsylvania State Museum, The United Methodist Home for Children, the offices of the Susquehanna Conference, and Mission Central), the Galleria Mall in York, and an overnight stay at a church in York. On the second day, we went to Maryland and visited the Strawbridge Shrine, Lovely Lane UMC, and the Inner Harbor in Baltimore, before returning home. Ethan and Sarah, who were with us, did very well on the long, busy, two-day trip.

One of the highlights of the trip was our visit to Strawbridge Shrine. The tour guides were very hospitable and youth group friendly (especially compared to the subsequent visit to Lovely Lane, which I’ll write about tomorrow). Strawbridge Shrine is called “home of American Methodism” because it is arguably the first Methodist societies in America (there are a couple of other possibilities). Interestingly, the first Discipline of the Methodist church in America, states …

About twenty Years ago, Philip Embury, a local Preacher from Ireland, began to preach in the City of New York, and formed a Society of his own Countrymen and the Citizens. About that same Time, Robert Strawbridge, a local Preacher from Ireland, settled in Frederick County, in the State of Maryland, and preaching there formed some Societies. (3-4)

Robert Strawbridge was an early Methodist who arrived in Maryland around 1760 and later began the first Methodist class in America. You can learn more about him at

I am also enjoying reading about Strawbridge and other early Methodists in American Saint by John Wigger (I’ll blog more about the book when I finish reading it). Perhaps the biggest controversy with Strawbridge is that he was performing the sacraments even though he was not ordained, a practiced he continued even after being confronted by Francis Asbury, I believe.

Finally, as I said, the tour guides were great hosts. Marian was particularly fond of Ethan and Sarah. Just before we boarded the bus, she asked to have her photo taken with the kids (see below). A few days after our visit, we received a letter from her along with two copies of the photo, one for each of the kids. The kids still know her name!

If it’s to Be, it Takes More Than Me!

At the United Methodist Church’s recent General Conference in Tampa, Florida, one of the focuses of the first morning’s worship service was, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.”

While I did not watch the entire service, which was live-streamed (I saw only Bishop Weaver’s Episcopal Address, which I wrote about), this phrase came from the laity address by Amory Peck (transcript on this page). My purpose here is not to critique the laity address, but to talk about the phrase, itself (which both Kevin Watson and Tom Berlin, mentioned in posts, as well).

I have trouble imagining Jesus, the Son of God, saying anything like, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me!” On the contrary, Jesus said, “I assure you that the Son can’t do anything by himself except what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise” (John 5.19, Common English Bible). And Jesus passed this principle on to his followers, saying, “Without me, you can’t do anything” (John 15.5, CEB).

I don’t see the Apostle Paul saying, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me!” But he did say, “no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12.3, CEB).

The dead, dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision wouldn’t say, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me!” God said, however, “I am about to put breath in you, and you will live again” (Ezekiel 37.5, CEB).

I can imagine some people in the Bible saying, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me!” Adam and Eve sinned by eating the forbidden fruit when they were tempted to “see clearly and … be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3.5, CEB). They took matters into their own hands.

In Genesis 11, the people on earth said, “Come, let’s build for ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and let’s make a name for ourselves so that we won’t be dispersed over all the earth.”

Then there’s King Saul, who served as Israel’s first king for 42 years. One time, Saul got tired of waiting for Samuel to arrive and offer the sacrifice, so he took care of it himself. When confronted by Samuel, Saul said, “I saw that my troops were deserting. … You hadn’t arrived by the appointed time, and the Philistines were gathering at Michmash. I thought, The Philistines are about to march against me at Gilgal and I haven’t yet sought the Lord’s favor. So I took control of myself and offered the entirely burned offering” (1 Samuel 13.11-13, CEB).

While we certainly have a responsibility to act, the phrase, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me!” expresses too much self-reliance. The focus is on what we do. While I am all for action (I never preach without a call to action!), I’m not comfortable saying it’s up to us. Yes, we are the hands and feet of Jesus, but without Jesus’ life flowing through us, nothing we do will be worth anything!

To be fair, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me!” was a call at the outset of General Conference to seize the opportunity to transform The United Methodist Church. Since that did not happen at General Conference, it’s easy to see now there has to be a better way!

If it’s to be, it takes more than me!

Jesus said …

I tell you that you are Peter. And I’ll build my church on this rock. The gates of the underworld won’t be able to stand against it. I’ll give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Anything you fasten on earth will be fastened in heaven. Anything you loosen on earth will be loosened in heaven.

Yes, we have a responsibility. And authority. But it’s authority that comes from Jesus. We have a great responsibility. But if it’s going to be, it takes more than me and you. It takes God working in and through us!

Our job is not to make things happen. Our job is to make ourselves available, to say, “Here I am, send me.” Not because it’s up to me and you, but because God chooses to work in and through us!

God’s word to Zerubbabel is a good word for us: “Neither by power, nor by strength, but by my spirit” (Zechariah 4.6, CEB).

If it’s to be, it takes more than me!

Going on to Perfection Or Settling for Good Enough?

Since General Conference 2012, I’ve been reflecting on what needs to happen for The United Methodist Church to experience transformation (see “The Recovery of a Contagious Methodist Movement”, a review of George Hunter’s book, and 4 Strategies to Transform The United Methodist Church). One thing that must happen is a recovery of Wesleyan theology!

Over a year ago, I wrote about Wesley’s Historic Questions (incidentally, it’s the second most popular post on the blog from the past year and fifth most popular of all time). The list includes nineteen questions bishops ask candidates prior to ordination at annual conference. After the first question (“Have you faith in Christ?”), the next three deal with Christian perfection

  • Are you going on to perfection?
  • Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?
  • Are you earnestly striving after it?

Knowing the right answers make the first two questions possible to answer without much thought. But the final question in this series of question puts you on the spot: Are you earnestly striving after it? (see my post, Earnestly Striving After Perfection).

Going on to perfection is a belief, an expectation, and an attitude that ought to lead to action (“earnestly striving”). I’ve long believed the biggest hindrance in the church is apathy. Apathy is an attitude that essentially believes the present condition is good enough or that growing in Christ isn’t necessary or worth the effort.

If United Methodists were earnestly striving after perfection, there would be much less decline and much more vitality in the UMC! The attitude of going on to perfection challenges us to grow and to keep moving forward!

Are we going on to perfection or settling for good enough?

Our First Job Is to Make Ourselves Available to God

Both in churches and in denominations, such as The United Methodist Church, in need of transformation and turnaround, it’s easy to focus on fixing the church. Our job is not to fix the church but simply to make ourselves available to God!

We place too much emphasis on gifts, skills, and abilities, and not enough on faith, surrender, and a heart for God. We act as if the church depends on us.

While we are the body of Christ—the hands and feet of Jesus—the truth is, we can accomplish nothing by ourselves. Jesus said, “Without me, you can’t do anything” (John 15.5, CEB). Unless God works through us, our gifts, skills, and abilities accomplish nothing of eternal significance.

We must never forget that building the church is Jesus’ job. Jesus said, “I’ll build my church on this rock. The gates of the underworld won’t be able to stand against it” (Matthew 16.18, CEB).

As a pastor, my job is not to fix the church, or even to build it. My job is to make myself available to God, follow Jesus, and stay in tune with the Holy Spirit, so that God can use me to accomplish his will!