The Rev. Gordon Hendrickson has found a new, willing and able partner in his crusade to get more lay people to: 1) pray one-on-one with others; 2) anoint others with oil; 3) serve Communion wherever and whenever people need it; and 4) help those in search of “newness of life” in Christ to affirm their baptism.
It’s called the Four Stations of the Holy Spirit., a new Eastern PA Conference Congregational Development Team (CDT) emphasis. The Rev. Elena Ortiz, pastor of New Birth (Nuevo Naciamento) UMC in Lebanon, joined Hendrickson, the conference’s Coordinator of Congregational Development, in conducting a second training event August 11 at Bethany UMC Wescosville.
Ortiz caught the vision at the first training in January, held in Lancaster, and soon she had her entire, already deeply spiritual and celebrative congregation praying for and anointing one another with oil during worship each month on Communion Sunday. They started doing it with family and friends, then with others.
‘I love it when I see the Holy Spirit moving around the church, kids anointing their parents and parents anointing their children,” she said. Some are already taking it to the streets, offering prayer with anointing and pre-consecrated Communion elements during hospital visits and in other neighborhood places.
At the August training, Ortiz taught the Four Stations concept, background and protocols in Spanish to about 20 lay members, and a few clergy, from Latino churches. Like her, many of them wore New Birth UMC’s new red t-shirts imprinted with prayerful expressions in Spanish. While they gathered in Bethany’s upstairs sanctuary, Hendrickson, the church’s interim lead pastor, taught about 20 more attendees in English in the fellowship hall downstairs.
The teachings were rooted mostly in the Bible and Wesleyan theology. How and why we pray, how God answers prayers, how sacraments can affect those who receive them—much of the lively discussion was about prayer, scriptural interpretation, sacraments and the freedom and responsibility of laity to faithfully minister to one another.
Amid patient listening, there was open, candid sharing of questions, concerns, opinions, suggestions and testimonies. Participants in both venues also engaged in one-on-one practice sessions, anointing and sharing Communion with each other.
“Come with an open heart, not a hardened heart,” Hendrickson admonished his class members from Bethany and several other churches. Indeed, there were testimonies and sometimes tears among the various “glory sightings” that witnessed to God’s grace at the close of the half-day training.
“I felt a special presence when I was anointed with oil,” shared one woman. “I started to cry because I felt the Lord’s presence very deeply. I’m very happy today.”
Another asked for prayer as she was leaving for Lehigh Valley Hospital to visit a man dying from Leukemia who did not expect to live long.
“This is a sign of hope that so many people are learning about this ministry, especially with all that the church is going through now,” said the Rev. Irving Cotto, pastor of St. Paul UMC Warrington.
“We can’t do what God is calling us to do in our communities without engaging fully in the Holy Spirit, “said the Rev. Helen Adams, pastor of Stehman Memorial UMC in Millersville. “We’ve gotten away from holding spiritual revivals; and many of us have gravitated to the idea all this is just the pastor’s job. But Methodism began and grew as a lay-driven church.”
As one Bethany layman said solemnly, “I’ve been waiting for this for a long time.”
Hendrickson and Ortiz, along with the Rev. Mike Netznik, CDT chairman, will co-teach a third, Four Stations of the Holy Spirit session Nov. 17 at Bethany from 2:30 to 8 PM. Ortiz will also preach at the church’s regular 5 PM Saturday service.
All photos by John W. Coleman.