The Cloud of Unknowing (Middle English: The Cloude of Unknowyng) is an anonymous work of Christian mysticism written in Middle English in the latter half of the 14th century. The copy before me is subtitled "A Book of Contemplation the which is called the Cloud of Unknowing, in the which a soul is oned with God." Edited from the British Museum MS. Harl. 674, with an introduction by Evelyn Underhill, 4th edition. It was published in London by John M. Watkins, 1946.

The text, which birthed the idea of 'centering prayer', is a spiritual guide on contemplative prayer in the late Middle Ages. The precise identity of the treatise is unknown, although various individuals were suggested as its author over the years. The debate over who might have penned the original still occupies the academic hunger of many researchers.

The underlying message of this work proposes that the only way to truly "know" God is to abandon all preconceived notions and beliefs or “knowledge” about God. To be courageous enough to surrender your mind and ego to the realm of "unknowingness," at which point, you begin to glimpse the true nature of God.

While some dismissed the work as mere theosis (the entry into deification) or as too similar to transcendental meditation , others focused on its attempt to move the person into a deeper and closer relationship with God.  A mysticism familiar in various periods of Christian history.


The Value of Church History

A Church in Plevna, Ks ca 1920
Many churches are looking at assessment of how well they have done the work of the Gospel.  They have reached a place where they no longer grow and are in decline.  Once vital, active, and focused in their life as a church in their community they have unraveled and questions remain.  A key factor is found in discovering the church history.  When a person goes to a medical doctor they fill out a history form that provides clues to current or future problems.  In the same way, examining the past can provide important information as to what went wrong, when, and what might need to be done in the future to renew, or in some cases, resurrect the church into a vital reproducing centere of spiritual life.

Many denominations have very useful helps for establishing local church archives and keeping the history. The Commission on Archives and History of the UMC published a small booklet just in time for the writing of the 1975 church history.  Significant areas are underscored and the outline of the finished work clearly follows the suggestions of the booklet by Wallace Guy Smeltzer.  

In the introductory remarks he notes: "An accurate, well written history of a local church has real value. It lifts up the achievements, services, and sacrifices of past generations in the church. It inspires pride and loyalty on the part of present church members...It can enhance one's appreciation and love of the church of our Lord which is a "thousand years the same." 

At the time the guide was written the General Conference made the compilation of such a history the responsibility of a local church history committee under the guidance of a local church historian.  The history was to be compiled and then brought up to date each year.

The booklet was divided into subheadings:
First Step
Source Material for the History
Exploring Local Church Sources
Annual Conference and Denominational Sources
Community Sources
Organizing the Material for the History
-Table of contents
-Preface by the author or the committee
-Chapter 1 How United Methodism came to (name of community)
-Chapter 2 Our Connectional Relationships
-Chapter 3 The Story of Our Church Property
-Chapter 4 The Story of Our Church Organizations
-Chapter 5  The Record of Our Spiritual Life and Concern
-Chapter 6 The Growth of Our Church and Its Future
-Chapter 7 Our Present Church Organization
-Chapter 8 Our Current Membership Roll
Origin of the Church
-Connectional Relations of the Church
-Church Property
-The Organized Life of the Congregation
-The Spiritual Life of the Church
-The Progress of the Church
-Current Organization
-Membership roll
-Publishing the History

It is interesting to note that in the "Spiritual Life of the Church", the author says "the spiritual vitality of a church is difficult to measure. Some indication of it is provided, however, by evangelistic activities, such as camp meetings in earlier days, revival services, visitation evangelism campaigns, and preparatory class training.  An important indicator is the number of full time Christian workers produced by the church, such as ministers, missionaries, religious education directors or church music leaders....A social conscience of the church can be set forth by recording participation inactions for the causes of temperance, economic justic, civil rights, benevolent controbutions, and charitable relief..."

History, however, is more than mere names, dates and places.  A history should also clearly express the motivations, attitudes, and beliefs of people in a given time or it will be nothing but dry data.  It is the spiritual legacy a church history carries...from generation to generation...telling the marvelous works of God among a people.

For those interested in developing a church archive here are some useful links:
Brunner, Mark.  "Ten Steps in Building a Church Archive." Wisconsin Lutheran Churches.
Gardner, Robert. "How to Start and Maintain a Church Archives".  Southern Baptist.
Bergeron, Jeannette. "Manual for South Carolina Religious Archives and Record Keeping."
Texarkana Museum System. "Guide to Collecting Your Church History". 
United Methodist Archives Center
Insuring the Future of Our Past (some good practical consideration points)


The Method Behind the Means

In 1936, the '2 in 1 Class' (also sometimes the Two in One Class) printed a small booklet of the classConstitution and By-Laws of the Two in One Sunday School School Class of the Wesley M.E. Church, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. This eight page (6 with text) booklet was approx. 5 inches by 4 inches. It established in Article I the name of the class was to be the "The 2 in 1 Sunday School Class". 

It specified the object or purpose of the class as an organization for the "regular and systematic study of the Bible under competent leadership; the achievement of Christian culture through the spiritual, intellectual, and social development of every member; mutual helpfulness and the extension of Christ's kingdom." The motto for the class was simple and direct: "every member present every Sunday on time with a liberal offering, a studied lesson, and a mind to learn."

The name came from the 'two shall be one' and was made of younger married couples. Some fifty years later they members had aged but the class still met. It finally disbanded in the 1990's. The committee for the booklet was comprised of Virgil A. Alden, H.B. King, and Ellis Margo and the last amended date for this copy was October 30, 1936.

One has to wonder if this type of intentional approach to religious life, merging aspects of both civic awareness of orderly group conduct in a democracy and the Wesleyan model of setting a goal and then meeting that goal through an ongoing process of personal commitment, might not be an important lesson to relearn.  

In the "Me" decade of 'going with the flow' rules, commitment, and accountability fell by the roadside in most of modern society.  That is also a time when churches from many denominations encountered a great 'falling away.'   The WWI and WWII generations in conflict with the Gray Flannel corporate society and their children - who tuned in, turned on and dropped out of nearly everything.  The modern era of social justice replaced sharing the Good News. The social programs replaced the spiritual programs.  Instead of bringing the two together an either/or dichotomy emerged.  The way was lost as the clear purposes, missions, and goals were lost in a forest of conflicting idealogies of equal worth on a stage relative moral direction.

One of the aspects of post-modernism is a return to the origins, to touch once more the source and then make the journey again.  Along the way there is an identification of mistakes and errors in judgement, methodology and practice.  A living form of the old adage "measure twice, cut once."

Maybe it is time to revisit the origins and the source and take measure once more, check the compass and find the true north of spiritual activity and be renewed in mind and functions.


Wesley's Covenant Renewal Prayer

The people called 'methodists' were so labeled due to their belief in approaching the life of faith with a method, a plan, a specific personal goal that reflected the instruction of scripture.

A part of that was an annual 'renewal', what we might call a revival, of this commitment in a prayer used in the litugy.  It was often used at New Year's and is frequently found in churches to this day.  That is very fitting because it was designed to adjust the course, and gracefully urge a return to the true north of relationship and witness for the sake of the Gospel.  It was a reminder to be a people of holy purpose:

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.

The Character of a Methodist at UMC Global Ministry.
Some additional resources from Wikipedia:
Image from - From "The Wesleys and Their Times," http://gbgm-umc.org/umhistory/wesley/ , courtesy of the General Board of Global Ministries, The United Methodist Church.

Dr. William Forney Hovis of the Methodist Episcopal Church (1872-1860)

WUMC Archives
William Forney Hovis was born in 1872 in Wesley, Pennsylvania.  He married Aimee Parry in 1902 and pastured in Indiana, Missouri, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, and Minnosota.  He retired in 1938 to devote himself to his writing.  After the death of his first wife he remarried Ina Mosiman and had children Willliam Jr (1914) and Keith (1916). He died in 1960 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Hovis published numerous works from an early date in his ministry.  Some titles are:

  • Quality Folks: Practical Meditations (Cincinnati: Jennings and Graham, 1908).
  • My Words: As Reported by Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Paul. (Cincinnati: Jennings and Graham, 1911).
  • Heart Sonnets. (Boston: R.G. Badger, The Gorham Press, 1913).
  • Poetic Sermons. (NY: Revell, 1932).
  • Consolation. (Indianapolis: Cornelius, 1935).
  • Sin and Salvation: A Study in Origins. (Nashville: Tidings, 1954).
  • A periodical in the 1930's called, The Reveille.
He served as the pastor of Wesley Methodist Church 1925-1928 during a crucial building program that added educational space and a new sanctuary.
Wesley Methodist Church, ca 1930