A heart strangely warmed

I have been to Aldersgate, have you?

In 1991 Bishop Ernest Fitzgerald appointed me to the Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Augusta. That congregation began on September 9, 1962, when ten families joined together and took a great step of faith in organizing a new Methodist church. Rev. Arthur M. O'Neil, Jr. was the first pastor. By the time I arrived the church had grown to several hundred members and was a vital worshipping, witnessing, and working body of believers.

The church on Wheeler Road is known as "The Church of the Warm Heart". This name comes from the experience John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, had on Aldersgate Street in London, England. While at a prayer meeting he said he felt his heart strangely warmed. Wesley experienced an assurance of God's love and salvation and went on to share that love with many others.

The time I spent as a part of that vibrant group of Christians at the Aldersgate UMC was one of the most important periods of my life. I was enriched in my ministry and encouraged in my faith. There were many opportunities to experience and share the grace of God during those years.

I have also been to Aldersgate Street in London, England. On the site of his life-changing moment there is a bronze memorial Methodist Flame and plaque commemorating John Wesley's experience on May 24, 1738.

Prior to the Aldersgate experience Wesley had sought assurance of his sins forgiven, but he was unable to obtain it through his many pious works. On the return trip after his difficult missionary experience in Georgia, the ship on which he was sailing encountered a terrible storm. He was terrified.

A group of Moravian Christians on board the ship were in the middle of their time of worship when the storm struck. Wesley was fascinated that, while the English on board were screaming for fear of their lives, these Germans simply continued singing.

Wesley asked one of them, "Weren't you afraid? Weren't your women and children afraid?" The man simply said, "Thank the Lord, we were not afraid; we are not afraid to die."

Later, Wesley met with one of the Moravian leaders for advice. The pastor asked him, "Do you have the witness within? Does the Spirit of God bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God?" Wesley was caught off guard. And so the pastor asked, "Do you know Jesus Christ?" Wesley said, "I know he is the Savior of the world." The pastor replied, "That's true, but do you know he has saved you?" Wesley said, "I hope he has died to save me." "But do you know?" And then John Wesley said, "I do." Later he would say, "I fear they were vain words."

However, what was to happen to Wesley on May 24, 1738 would forever change his answer and forever change the world. According to his journal, he was heavy-hearted when he went "very unwillingly" to an evening meeting on Aldersgate Street. While someone was reading from Martin Luther's Preface to the Epistle to the Romans he felt that his heart was "strangely warmed." He describes it as: "I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death."

I have been to Aldersgate. However the "Aldersgate experience" can be had at any place and at any time. The place is not important. The deep sense that God's grace is adequate for me is important. The assurance that God has forgiven me is perhaps the most significant truth that I can imagine.

One historian said that at Aldersgate Wesley's "intellectual conviction was turned into a personal experience." It was a turning point in his spiritual growth. Faith in Jesus Christ became real for him. Next Sunday is Aldersgate Sunday in the United Methodist Church. I hope that you will experience your "heart strangely warmed" and you will know the assurance of God's love and forgiveness.

Reposted with permission from ngumc.org