Disclaimer: prepare for a little satire…

“Set yourself on fire (with enthusiasm) and people will come for miles to watch you burn.” – Someone other than John Wesley. You may have seen this line or something similar attributed to the Rev. Wesley but it is not something he ever wrote and the language sounds out of place for an 18th century Anglican clergyman, even one who was at times accused of being an “enthusiast.” Even though there is no evidence to show the co-founder of Methodism ever said such a statement, I think that I may have come across why this quote has been associated with the ecclesial traditions bearing the theology of the original Methodist.

This upcoming Sunday is the Homecoming/Memorial Day Service for Liberty United Methodist Church in Camden, Tennessee, which is one of the churches to which I am currently appointed as pastor.

Current picture of Liberty UMC in Camden, Tennessee.

Current picture of Liberty UMC in Camden, Tennessee.

And as this is my first year there, the tradition holds that I am to be the bearer of the homecoming message. So I’ve spent a good amount of time hearing and reading accounts from the history of Liberty UMC’s life up to this present day. Some parts are fuzzier than others, but the details in a story entitled “An Unusual Sunday at Liberty Methodist Church” are quite specific. You see on a cold Sunday morning in March of 1928, there was a fire that threatened to consume the old wooden church building. A person driving by the church noticed smoke coming from the building and announced, “The church is on fire!” There was an immediate commotion and a very risky and enthusiastic attempt by two brave men to put the fire out, which only threatened a portion of the ceiling. Their attempt was successful and the fire was extinguished, but by the time it had fizzled out, there was a very large crowd gathered outside the building, greatly exceeding the normal attendance for worship. The reflection I read says it all:

Some members had thought it much too cold to walk to church on that day, but somehow before the fire was brought under control, the church yard was full of people and in those days, communications was limited to just a few battery operated phones. Someone made the remark, “Maybe we should set a fire to the roof every Sunday if it will draw a crowd this large.”

So maybe it was more like advice to the church that says, “Set your(roof) on fire and people will come for miles to watch (it) burn.”

Nah…

The story is true though. Hope to see you Sunday!

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