Rev. Tom Stinson-Wesley visited the Holy Land for the first time in 1987. But it was Stinson-Wesley’s second trip earlier this year that gave him the opportunity to soak in the sights of the places he’s studied and preached about for years.
The Pineville United Methodist Church senior pastor, along with his wife, Amelia, who also is an ordained United Methodist minister, joined 25 other United Methodist pastors and their spouses for the Reynolds Leadership Academy, held Jan. 20 to 29 in Israel. There, the group toured many of the places referenced in well-known Biblical stories and passages – including Bethlehem, the Garden of Gethsemane, Jericho, the Jordan River, the Sea of Galilee and Golgotha, the site of Jesus’s
“Visiting these sites that we read about in the Bible really made it come alive,” Tom Stinson-Wesley said. “… One thing was the terrain, the mountains, those things have not changed much in 2,000 years.”
The trip consisted of a lot of walking, which Stinson-Wesley said gave an idea of the daily lifestyles of Jesus and his disciples, who spent a lot of time traveling on foot from town to town. Each time the group stopped at a certain place of interest, one of the ministers in the group hosted a devotional session and read Bible passages referencing that particular location.
“We had communion several times … the story really comes alive, and you look at it through the eyes of faith,” Stinson-Wesley said.
The Garden of Gethsemane had a big impact on Stinson-Wesley, he said. There, the group stopped to sing and host a devotion.
“I can’t really describe why, but it was a very good devotion,” he said. “Just something about the Garden of Gethsemane looms over you, and you feel how it felt to be one of the disciples. We felt very close to other members of our group at that time.”
Other places that had an impact on Stinson-Wesley were the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, two different sites theologians believe Jesus may have been buried and the Dead Sea – which he said gave him an eerie feeling.
“There’s not even flies. The rocks don’t wear away and form sand because there’s no (wave) motion to do that,” he said. “… It really is
Stinson-Wesley’s 1987 trip was an archeological dig and part of a college course. So, the thing he enjoyed most about his more recent trip was the freedom to focus on the spiritual significance of the area while also fellowshipping with other Christians. He also had the opportunity to share the experience with Amelia, who had never visited the Holy Land.
“It was just such a powerful experience to be in that space and in that place,” Amelia Stinson-Wesley said. “… I think that will transform how I preach various things. It just makes the scriptures come alive in a different way.”
Now that he’s back on this side of the globe, Tom Stinson-Wesley is using his experiences to enhance his sermon illustrations. The Stinson-Wesleys also recently hosted a worship service inspired by their trip, where attendees were served communion from an olive wood cup and plate Amelia purchased during their visit.
The couple will host another event focused on their pilgrimage, which will include a meal and a question-and-answer session where attendees can learn more from the Stinson-Wesleys about the Holy Land. The event is set for April 13, a Sunday, with a specific time to be announced soon.
Check Pineville United Methodist’s website, www.pinevilleumc.org, for updates. The church is located at 110 S. Polk St.