When the Apostle Paul met early Christian disciples in the city of Ephesus, his first question to them was, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” After some explanation, Paul laid his hands on the new believers and “the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied” (Acts 19).
In many ways, Aldersgate Renewal Ministries has been asking the same question of fellow United Methodists over the last 40 years and providing a spiritual environment for a similar experience through its popular family conferences on Spirit-filled living (including their youth event called “The Gate”) and local church “Life in the Spirit” seminars, Lay Witness Missions, and “Lord, Teach Us to Pray” weekends.
In mid-July, Aldersgate celebrated its 40th anniversary by holding its first three-day gathering at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina. Three weeks later, it held a second celebration during the first week of August on the campus of Asbury United Methodist Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Aldersgate has become known for its passionate preaching, colorful banners, energetic worship, and focus on prayer. Times of ministry provided opportunities for clergy and lay ministers to pray for individuals in need of physical, relational, or inner healing.
“United Methodists need the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives and churches now more than ever,” Mark Barrow, executive director of Aldersgate Renewal Ministries (ARM), told Good News. “It is only by allowing the Holy Spirit to lead our lives, that we can truly walk, serve, and be the church that bears the name of Jesus Christ.”
The annual Aldersgate gathering attempts to educate the church on the work of the Holy Spirit in the world today, provide an encouraging environment for the use of spiritual gifts outlined in the New Testament, and promote spiritual renewal in the denomination. It seeks to combine Pentecostal power, spiritual gifts, and Wesleyan theology under one roof. It is named for Aldersgate Street in London where Methodism’s founder, John Wesley, felt his heart “strangely warmed” and experienced his own transformational spiritual renewal.
“Birthed in 1978 out of the Lay Witness Movement and the Ecumenical Charismatic Movement, Aldersgate has faithfully taught and led the Church into fresh understanding and experiences of the Holy Spirit,” said the Rev. Gary Moore, retired executive director of Aldersgate. “It has ministered new birth, healing and wholeness, and Spirit-filled living to more than 50,000 persons at the national conferences over the past 40 years.”
Despite its faithful track record, Aldersgate is still a new discovery for many United Methodists. “Aldersgate is the best kept secret in Methodism and best thing happening in the denomination,” said Moore, who led the ministry from 1988 to 2008. “People are looking for something that has life and vitality. Aldersgate encourages a genuine encounter with God without going outside the denomination. It pursues the worship experience with the expectation of God’s real presence and anticipation of the ministry of the Holy Spirit with the worship service.”
The ministry was launched in the historic wake of a massive and multi-denominational conference on charismatic renewal sponsored by mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics held in 1977. The early charismatic movement within the denomination was spearheaded by United Methodist leaders such as the Revs. Ross Whetstone, Robert Tuttle, Robert Stamps, Tommy Tyson, as well as Dr. William Wilson, M.D. Over the years, numerous other theologians, clergy, and laity have been instrumental in the movement.
“Aldersgate Renewal Ministries occupies a crucial place in The United Methodist Church,” contends Dr. David Watson, academic dean of United Theological Seminary. “It provides a space for people who are earnestly seeking the power and work of the Holy Spirit to come together and share with one another about the gifts of the Spirit in their lives.”
United Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, provides a unique academic and spiritual experience for charismatic students by partnering with Aldersgate in offering a Doctor of Ministry group in supernatural ministry, co-sponsoring an annual Holy Spirit seminar, and hosting the Aldersgate-related Methodist School for Supernatural Ministry.
“The theology of the Aldersgate Renewal Movement is thoroughly Wesleyan,” Watson said. “There are places in Wesley’s own writings that describe experiences much like the charismatic experiences that take place at Aldersgate gatherings.”
When the charismatic movement launched within the mainline churches, there was a lack of widespread teaching on the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. “There was a concerted effort of the renewal groups in many mainline denominations to help the church utilize the power of the Real Presence of the Holy Spirit to accomplish its ministry,” recalled the Rev. Larry Eddings, retired evangelist of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference.
“From the time of its inception in 1978, the focus of Aldersgate has been to bring a new level of consciousness into the life of the United Methodist Church of the person, power, and the presence of God’s Holy Spirit,” said Eddings, a long time associate with Aldersgate. “As it was later stated, ‘Bringing the Life of the Spirit into the Life of the Church,” it has been an effort to call upon the church to rely upon the supernatural power of God’s Holy Spirit to accomplish the supernatural ministry to which it has been called by Christ. It cannot be accomplished by human effort alone.”
Prayer for the renewal of the denomination and the spiritual life of United Methodists has been a big part of the behind-the-scene effort of Aldersgate. “ARM has a long history of intercessory prayer for the church,” said Margie Burger, the author of Lord, Teach Us to Pray and retired ARM Director of Prayer. “We place a high priority on saturating the ministry and the church in prayer. Our heart is to see individuals and churches renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit. Fervent prayer for the church remains a priority at this time.”
Aldersgate will meet next July in Springfield, Illinois.