Sometimes we need a space where there is new room for the Holy Spirit: space in our lives, in our schedule, in our church building, in our preaching, in our house.
For me, luckily enough – except it never seems to do with luck where new room is involved – this has been at the New Room Conference. In an age when marketers hope and pray that their ad campaigns will go viral, the Holy Spirit has seen that challenge – and raised it. It’s a potent reminder of how a little backwoods religion “went viral” all around the Mediterranean around 2,000 years ago. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has nothing on the Third Person of the Trinity.
This September the gathering saw just its third birthday. Every year, it has doubled in size, causing organizers to have to change venues. Last year, with participants numbering around 800, it wasn’t too hard to find someone you wanted a quick word with. This year, at around 1,500, it was a bit harder, though the conference still managed somehow to have an intimate family feel – which is pretty remarkable, given that its participants represent a blend of denominations and regions.
Many people there have some kind of connection to Asbury Theological Seminary, but not all. (Seedbed Publishing, which sponsors New Room, is itself sponsored by the seminary.) Still, speakers and attendees came from a spectrum of experiences. Presenter Danielle Strickland hails from The Salvation Army (I couldn’t help but be thankful that she left her uniform at home). Andrea Summers has spent her ministry in The Wesleyan Church. Many other speakers were from the United Methodist Church, though Brit Pete Grieg is known for his work with the 24/7 prayer movement. Bishop James Swanson preached a mighty sermon, though the presence of the Mississippi United Methodist underscored an area for growth: while there was racial and international diversity in the speaking line up, many (not all, but many) of the participants were noticeably Caucasian. If New Room truly wants to “sow for a great awakening,” it will inevitably find itself in a conversation on racial reconciliation at some point, because there is no awakening without the whole Body of Christ represented. We simply cannot receive it without each other. The Spirit won’t do it without all of us seeking healing together, in a posture of repentance and confession.
Yet the seeds are here: Dr. Prabhu Singh from the Wesleyan Methodist movement in India spoke a powerful word. A panel of global representatives shared about what God is doing in different places around the world. One woman spoke about her ministry through mental health services to victims of ISIS brutality.
And I saw scholars, professors, pastors, worship leaders lying flat, face down on the ground in prayer. A prayer and worship service that was scheduled to be 90 minutes long went on for three and a half hours. It didn’t feel that long. Organizers handled it sensitively: there was ordered progression to the service, but flexibility as well. At one point someone leaned over to me and whispered, “this wasn’t on the schedule,” as Pete Grieg hopped up on the stage and exhorted everyone in the simple, powerful prayer, “Come on!” – asking the Holy Spirit to “come on,” to come down and transform lives, the world; goading our hearts to “come on,” to respond to God and wake up; and urging each other to “come on,” to keep going in the faith, to move forward together. It was during that service that somehow God plopped the desire of my heart in my lap, stringing together a nearly-impromptu covenant group that somehow seemed to just happen without a great deal of clarity about how it came together. Creating new room for the Holy Spirit, indeed.
The differences between New Room and other conferences are numerous, but one of the most pivotal differences in my estimation is the readiness to translate learning and growth at the conference into daily practice throughout the year, with its fostering of Wesley bands and its online platforms for group study that allow fellowship and growth to flourish regardless of geographic location. In this sense, it’s unique.
S0 – are you creating new room in your life for the Holy Spirit? Has your life created spiritual clutter? Do you need to sort and toss, mop and box up, or even just shove aside a pile of detritus to make just enough room to lie flat in prayer? Claim some space, now today: it doesn’t have to be much. Just enough time, or attention, or space to pray, “Come on, Holy Spirit…Come on…”