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gatheringbwThe Gathering: From October 15-18, 2018, Asbury First hosted “The Gathering,” an informal assembly of United Methodist ministers from large congregations and historic pulpits for fellowship and connection. Though the faces have changed, the group has been meeting together for over 40 years and has been the genesis of lifelong friendships and faithful support. Each year, The Gathering moves between host churches and, this year, Asbury First is honored to host ten ministers from around the denomination. It is the first time in many years that the group met north of the Mason Dixon line. That’s why Asbury First’s Dr. Rev. Stephen Cady (pictured center) gave a welcoming homily to introduce these ministers to Rochester—and speak about the winds of change that are coming within our denomination...and all of Christianity. Read the homily below.

Homily: Something New

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.

Friends, welcome to Rochester. The flower city. On the shore of Lake Ontario and the Genesee River. A stop on the Erie Canal.

That’s right, you’ve come to upstate—to western NY, what was known 200 years ago as the burned over district, a name given by Charles Finney after decades of revivals and camp meetings meant that there seemed to be no one left to convert, the fuel had already been burned over. Let’s just say, that’s not our problem today.

It’s the land where Frederick Douglass published his North Star, where Harriet Tubman called home, where Susan B Anthony asserted her right to vote, where Elizabeth Cady Stanton gathered a group in a little Methodist hall to hold the first Women’s conference.

It’s the land where Joseph Smith had his vision that launched the Mormon movement and where William Miller unsuccessfully predicted the second coming leading to both the great disappointment and the advent of the Adventist movement.

This is the town where Walter Rauschenbusch, Howard Thurman, and Marjorie Matthews went to seminary.

It’s the birthplace of Bausch and Lomb, the Xerox corporation, and the garbage plate.

It’s the hometown of Wegmans grocers, a grocery chain so beloved by locals that they know where every store exists outside of this region and have been known make holy pilgrimage to pay homage.

But all of that aside, the thing Rochester is perhaps known best for, the thing that over the last hundred years has been both the cause of our greatest pride and, at times, the source of our deepest shame, is, of course, Kodak.

This was the place, after all, that launched the snapshot camera. “You press the button, we do the rest.”

Where George Eastman figured out the formula for getting a camera into the hands of the world and the process for producing the moments they captured.

Kodak was at one time one of the most powerful and profitable companies in the world.

Fifty years ago, at the height of its success, Eastman Kodak, headquartered a couple miles from where we now sit, employed close to 130,000 people worldwide with over 70k here in Rochester.

They existed to help people capture those moments of life worth sharing, those Kodak moments, and their tag line was simple, “share memories, share life.”

But as sometimes happens to those of us called to help others share life, Kodak got used to sharing it one way...and the world changed around them.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.”

Today Kodak employs 6,000 people and is a shell of its former self—a casualty, some would say, of the digital revolution.

The irony, of course, is that in some ways they started the digital revolution. They were, after all, the ones who in 1975 had the first prototype of a digital big as a toaster, it took 20 seconds to take an image and had to be hooked up through a complicated series of connections to a television in order to view the grainy image, but it had potential.

Only they were a film company...and it meant a change. And as the now infamous story goes, the executive who first saw the camera was reported to say, “That’s cute, but don’t tell anyone about it.”

If we’re honest, we know what this is like.

After all, there are moments when we can see the new heaven and new earth coming, but aren’t quite sure whether to embrace it or run the other way...used to the way it’s always been.

Perhaps this is one of those moments for the people called United Methodist. Or maybe at this point, it’s better to just say, Methodist.

As we anxiously await the results of February’s Special General Conference, we wonder as we wander toward that new thing in front of us, unsure what it will fully look like.

What we do know, of course, is that, for better or worse, regardless of what happens, we as a people called Methodist will not be the same after that Conference as we are now.

“Some will win, some will lose, some were born to sing the blues.”

And yet, here we are, gathered again, from churches across the connection, each with different histories, stances, hopes and dreams for what comes next.

Here we are, committed, as this group has for over forty years, to walk alongside one another for a couple days on the journey of ministry and to remind each other of that which never changes—The grace of God made known in Jesus Christ and the call we have to share life—in any way we can.

Which means, of course, that while we might not know what that new heaven and new earth will look like—at least we know we won’t have to face it alone.

And who knows, maybe 50 or 100 or 200 years from now, someone will stand in a space like this rehearsing the most important moments in Western NY history, in the history of the people called Methodist, and will celebrate this Gathering on the eve of change in the denomination as that brave group who faced the unknown in the only way they knew how...together.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.”