Most of the earliest European settlers in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, were Anabaptists fleeing religious persecution in their homelands. In 1725 Martin Boehm was born into a Mennonite family several miles from our current residence. Boehm became a pastor and bishop in the Mennonite church, and his heart for God to be glorified, and passion to see people encounter God in a deeper way, drove his desire to unite Christians beyond denominational boundaries. His widely successful efforts got him in trouble with his own Mennonite bishop brethren, and he was excommunicated in 1800.
Martin and Eve Boehm's son Henry became a minister and a prominent leader in the early Methodist church. The Boehm family dedicated some land from their farm and built Boehm's Chapel in 1791 on the current site of Boehm's UMC church in Willow Street, Pa. On June 26, 2016 my wife and I attended the 225th anniversary celebration at the Boehm's Chapel. The ceremony was attended by people representing many Church denominations. The service included reminders of the importance of understanding heritage, comments from current UMC and Mennonite leaders, and honoring of those who have worked on the present-day restoration of the chapel.
At the end of the service in the chapel an invitation was given to gather around the grave site of Martin Boehm just outside the building. For those with Anabaptist heritage, and I believe for all people living in Lancaster County and beyond, a most significant event took place. Several Mennonite bishops and local pastors were present to comment and read a resolution adopted by the Mennonite Board of Bishops in February of this year. The proceedings rescinded Martin Boehm's excommunication 216 years earlier, confessed to sins of slander etc. of a servant of God, repented and asked God's forgiveness, and requested and declared a spirit of reconciliation to bring restoration and healing in the Body of Christ.
Why is this significant? Because forgiveness and reconciliation is at the heart of the gospel. Christians are commissioned not just to study and talk about forgiving and reconciling, but to practice and grow in it as a way of life. As Bishop Weaver recognized, "we took prideful comfort in the areas where Holy Spirit had traction among us, priding ourselves in our singing, giving, charity and clean living. But the Scriptures are quite clear that “what is not of faith, misses the mark.” The blessed apostle said in his first letter to the church in Corinth: “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” Therefore, we renounce our pride, which was the cardinal sin of the enemy, and embrace the humble way of Jesus Christ." When we practice Christ's commission not only as individuals, but as a corporate Body, we build a foundation that no enemy can tear down, not even the devil himself!
Most significant of all is the impact of forgiveness and reconciliation on the spiritual climate of a region. And the spiritual climate is the most important element in forging positive transformation in a community and culture. I heartily thank all who helped make the event happen at the chapel. I also thank other forerunners like Dr. Robert Doe who (over the past two decades) have brought together representatives of past generations (both offenders and those offended) to facilitate healing of old wounds. Dr. Doe reminds us of William Penn's vision in the Foreward of my book Escaping the Pain of Offense: Empowered to Forgive from the Heart, "The Kingdom of God was to be reflected in the society of Pennsylvania. In Luke 9 and 10, this is revealed to be peace, healing, deliverance and new life. In addition to religious and political liberty, Philadelphia was also the site of the first institutions of healing in the New World. The first hospital, medical school, pharmacy school, mental hospital, nursing school, osteopathic institute and other medical centers were developed in southeast Pennsylvania as the first of their kind in the United States. Therefore, it could also be expected that healing ministry and practical new models of Christian medical care should be a fruit of the historical blessing of our region." Lancaster County has been at the heart of William Penn’s vision to see Kingdom of God principles expressed in community life. Healing of broken relationships between individuals and groups of people is essential for the transformation (healing) and fulfillment of a destiny of a community.
Many pictures can be used to describe the work of the Holy Spirit in transformation; ie. doors opening, gates unbarred, river waters flowing, holy fire falling, purity fire consuming. Only God knows precisely which doors are opened and which gates are unbarred to advance God's purpose and Kingdom in our region through the Boehm's Chapel event. May we continue to follow the leading of Holy Spirit and obey the call of God for our destiny both as individuals and as a corporate people of God. May God release a fresh anointing of inspiration, initiation, innovation, and trend setting in holistic living and spiritual revival to spread across our land. As in the days of ancient Israel, our attention to God can make a difference as recorded, " if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land" (2 Chronicles 7:14).
Note: A book I authored Escaping the Pain of Offense: Empowered to Forgive from the Heart discusses truth for dealing with disappointments, offense and finding freedom through forgiveness (from a Christian perspective). See more info. by clicking here: http://bluerockbnb.com/healing/book_main.htm .
by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry