By Deena Hamilton
Because this conference invested in me, I was able to learn from some of the world’s greatest pastors and theologians. Their influence expanded my understanding of how to implement the Holy Club questions in the local church through a postmodern lens. Once I began to magnify my understanding of bridging theology to ministry in the church, I realized that these Oxford Holy Club questions were golden nuggets.
This article is a thank you letter to the following people: Revs. Charles and John Wesley, Rev. Bob Crossman, Bishop David Max Whitfield, Rev. Ted Campbell, Rev. William J. Abraham, Dr. Roderick Smothers, Rev. David Lowes Watson, and The Arkansas Conference of The United Methodist Church.
I’ve had the most magnificent honor of being a breakout session presenter at this year’s 2019 conference of the Academy of Evangelism in Theological Education (AETE). I was super excited about it because I was representing Philander Smith College as an adjunct religion professor. This conference was an international conference for evangelism professors. Past presidents include Holy Club Expert and Wesleyan historian, Rev. David Lowes Watson Ph.D. and Bishop Scott J. Jones. This year, the conference was hosted by the Theology Department of The University of Notre Dame.
I was one of the presenters for the Theory and Practice of Evangelism. I presented the findings of my seven-year research project. I was able to prove and document 27 different ways the Oxford Holy Club questions could be used in pastoral ministry to evangelize, order the life of the local church, and create a discipleship community. I applied these questions in the local church while I was the pastor of McCabe Chapel, and I continued to apply the questions to a congregational model of evangelism that I developed with my Wesleyan Studies professor, William J. Abraham. This was done in multiple contexts in three conferences (Arkansas, North Texas, and West Texas/New Mexico Episcopacy).
The applications of the Holy Club earned me the National World Communion Leadership Award from Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church, The MLK/Bishop Oscar Romero Scholarship at Perkins School of Theology, an Arkansas Methodist Foundation Scholarship, and the Bert Affleck Award for innovation and creativity in a pastoral internship for the 2017 graduating class of SMU/Perkins School of Theology.
The journey started when I was still the pastor of McCabe Chapel. I was enrolled in course of study, and Bob Crossman was our Evangelism instructor. He gave us the Oxford Holy Club questions of personal reflection in a handout.
John and Charles Wesley used these questions to disciple, evangelize, order the life of the church, and create an environment of self-reflection. This strict systematic catechesis resulted in the first rise of Methodism in 1729.
When I read these questions, I realized something … these questions could be used as children’s sermon topics. It didn’t stop there. Once I read the questions several months later, I realized that these questions could be used to disciple youth, college students, and young adults.
That gave me the idea to invite churches, businesses, and institutions of higher learning into a partnership using hip-hop culture to form discipleship community among the participants of a radio talk show and iTunes podcast. The Method: Real Talk for Real People was based on the 22 questions of personal reflection of the Wesley Brothers when they were students at Oxford. Each show’s topic was something pertaining to these questions. This radio show aired for four years on KABF 88.3 FM in 156 countries and online. This was an evangelism partnership with St. Andrew United Methodist Church, Perkins School of Theology, Denman, Hamilton, and Associates CPAs, Better Community Development, Inc., and Opportunity Knox Productions.
Through circumstances beyond my control, I am not serving in a local church, but another window of opportunity opened up to me, which was becoming an adjunct professor at Philander Smith College. Because of the continuing education requirements and participation in professional organizations associated with our subjects, I had to search for one to be part of. This was the Academy of Evangelism in Theological Education. Because I teach world religions, I knew that qualified me to become a part of the association. I am grateful to Dr. Roderick Smothers, President of Philander Smith College, for requiring that kind of excellence from even adjunct professors.
I submitted my research topic for approval to present at the conference. I didn’t think that it would be accepted, but it was. And then I got even more scared because I knew how to apply the Oxford Holy Club questions in pastoral ministry, but I didn’t have a clue about the detailed history of it. I had to reach out to one of my favorite professors at Perkins, and that was world Methodist history expert, Rev. Ted Campbell, Ph.D. If it weren’t for Dr. Campbell, I would not have a grounded and sound understanding of the history of the Oxford Holy Club and its effectiveness because Dr. Campbell told me The Early Class Meetings by David Lowes Watson was one of the best sources I could have on the subject.
Now that I had my research and theological sources to back up my findings, I wrote my paper and submitted it to my United Methodist Polity and Doctrine and pastoral administration professor, Bishop David Max Whitfield for a peer review. Why did I do that? For three weeks, I felt oppressed. LOL! But Bishop Whitfield warned me. He said, “I’m gonna hurt your feelings. I have to. This has to be perfect because you’re gonna be presenting before professors where some have been teaching evangelism for decades.” Bishop Whitfield got me together and ready, which I deeply appreciated. We worked on that paper together up until it was time for me to present.
Once I got to Indiana after a long overnight 10-hour drive, I didn’t have time to get any sleep. All I could do was check my bags into the hotel, change my clothes and brush my teeth, and go to the conference. When I got there, I saw David Lowes Watson. I knew that it was him because when he talked, I heard a British accent.
I had some deep reservations about showing his research in my presentation because I didn’t want for my interpretation to be incorrect. I was so nervous that I had to stand up to do my presentation … What happened after my presentation was not what I expected …
Going to that conference not only motivated me to be a pastor that will make evangelism accessible to the congregation, but I was able to connect with a mentor that is going to help me with my work.
And that person was none other than the Holy Club Expert himself, Rev. David Lowes Watson, Ph.D. Dr. Watson was the facilitator of the breakout session that I presented. He believed in and understood how I was able to implement those questions of reflection to order the life of the local church.
And together we are going to pray for each other, support each other, and work together to help our denomination get back to our Wesleyan roots.
It’s funny how we agreed to work with each other. A week after the conference, we had the opportunity to speak on the phone. The conversation made me feel like I was a soldier being knighted by a medieval lord. Dr. Watson didn’t ask me if I wanted to work with him. He told me we were going to work together. When he said that, it felt like a divine, sacred honor was bestowed upon me.
So, I just wanted to take pause … and say thank you, to God and the people mentioned because they were part of “the method” that transformed me into a theological scholar.
To God be the glory.