HMS Terror’s Chilling Lesson for The UMC

By Rev. Dennis W. Miller, Foothills District Superintendent

One cold winter day I found myself lost in a dusty old book about the disappearance of Rear Admiral Sir John Franklin in the Canadian Arctic. In 1845, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror set sail from England under Franklin’s command. Their mission was to explore the Canadian Arctic in search of the Northwest Passage. The book described the provisions these 19th century explorers brought with them. Each sailing vessel carried an auxiliary steam engine and a twelve-day supply of coal for a long voyage. Instead of additional coal, each ship made room for a 1,200- volume library, an organ to play Christian hymns, fine china place settings for officers and men, cut glass wine goblets, sterling silver flatware, and gallons of concentrated spirits, ale & porter. But the expedition carried no special clothing for Arctic conditions, only the uniforms of Her Majesty’s Navy. Tragically, in 1847 both ships and the entire party of 129 men disappeared into the Canadian Arctic and never returned. Years later Inuits came across the frozen remains of the expedition and found men dressed in their finery and pulling a life-boat laden with place settings and boxes of chocolate. The truth is that Sir John Franklin and his crew had too many distractions and were totally unprepared for the multitude of challenges before them! Common sense should have told Franklin to have a single focus when attempting to travel the uncharted waters of the icy Arctic to discover the Northwest Passage!

In just two months, the UMC Titanic is scheduled to sail full speed through another ice field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Presently, we are so consumed by internal conflict over human sexuality and our denominational strife that we have failed to embody the gospel mandate to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. As a result, I predict that several of our current Foothills District churches won’t be United Methodist in five years. Not because they have left the denomination, but because they have failed to evangelize our communities and were forced to close their doors. Furthermore, there will be many other churches that will continue their downward spiral toward irrelevance and death no matter what denominational name they eventually place on their church sign following our upcoming General Conference, because they have focused on cultural or political advocacy and not prioritized new birth, revitalization and holiness of heart and life.

During the entire month of February, I encourage you to take heed of the words from Hebrews 12:1-2, “So then, let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, and of the sin which holds on to us so tightly and let us run with determination the race that lies before us. Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end.”

In what ways has your Church allowed themselves to get sidetracked and distracted by matters that are not core to the mission? Over the next 30 days, I encourage you to do two things: 1.) Narrow your focus on becoming the most Jesus loving, disciple-making and sharing Jesus’ love church you can be! 2.) Pray this prayer every day: “Lord Jesus, whatever it takes, please increase our resolve to pursue only what You call us to do. Prepare our hearts to follow Your call, equip us with the tools needed to accomplish Your mission and deliver us from the fragmenting effect of fruitless distraction. Amen.”

My friends, I charge you to love, follow, grow and share Jesus this week! I am cheering for YOU!