NORTH NAPLES – For the first time in its five-year history, the annual church renewal event known as “Light the Fire!” will move out of Ohio and onto the campus of one of the largest churches in the Florida Conference.
Sponsored by United Theological Seminary of Dayton, Ohio, the event will be held Jan. 22-23 at North Naples Church, where Rev. Ted Sauter, a United alumnus, is the longtime pastor.
Sauter said he learned from the seminary’s president, Dr. Wendy Deichmann, that event organizers were eager to have a presence in the South, so he volunteered the spacious North Naples campus. He predicted that South Florida weather in January would add a desirable element to the gathering.
He also said the slate of guest speakers, including leading theologians, counselors, biblical scholars, pastors and two United Methodist bishops -- James Swanson of the Mississippi Conference and Florida’s Ken Carter -- will make for powerful presentations. The theme for the event is “Divine Healing.”
“There will be great teaching, great preaching, great weather and great food,” Sauter said.
Carter is scheduled to discuss “The Ministry of Intercessory Prayer” on Friday, Jan. 23. His most recent book, “Pray for Me: The Power in Praying for Others,” lays a scriptural foundation for intercessory prayer and provides practical suggestions to help Christians pray for others facing various challenges in life.
Sauter is scheduled to lead morning worship that day. He said the conference will offer attendees guidance on how to be a source of healing in the lives of people, in the church, in their local communities and throughout the world. He said this type of teaching will allow a “mature theological way” to approach healing of souls and community.
Jason Vickers, the president’s associate for mission advancement at United, said past events were held at nearby Ginghamsburg UMC of Tipp City, Ohio. But United’s prior relationship with Carter, who was on the program two years ago, contributed to the idea for a Florida event.
Each year, “Light the Fire” focuses on a different topic. Last year the event explored disabilities in relation to church renewal. This year, Vickers said, the exploration of healing leads from the growth of Pentecostal and Charismatic global Christians all around the world.
Topics will include:
• divine healing in global Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity;
• healing for physical, emotional and social ailments and disease;
• the role of intercessory prayer and divine healing in Scripture;
• the theological and spiritual challenges that emerge when sought-after healing doesn’t occur.
"Basically, we’ll be looking at brokenness of any kind."
-- Jason Vickers, United Theological Seminary
Each day will conclude with a special worship service for divine healing. Speakers include William J. Abraham, professor of Wesley Studies at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, and a United Methodist elder; Candy Gunther Brown, associate professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University, an historian and authority on the practice of healing in Charismatic and Pentecostal churches; Craig S. Keener, professor of New Testament, Asbury Theological Seminary; Mike Slaughter, lead pastor of Ginghamsburg UMC, and an advocate for the people of Darfur, Sudan; and Swanson, known for his charismatic preaching and teaching on healing.
Vickers said the event’s attendance varies from year to year, from 200 to about 500. Because the conference previously has been held in the Midwest, many of the attendees came from that area, but people have come from the West Coast and New York as well.
Pastors, church staff and laity are all invited, Vickers said. In the past, clergy have outnumbered laity by about 3 to 1. The same ratio has applied to Methodists and non-Methodists, but Vickers emphasized that the invitation is for anyone who feels called to minister to, in the words of the brochure, “the sick and the wounded, the disabled and the poor, to the lonely and the troubled.”
Vickers said the focus on healing will be broad.
“Many Christians self-identify as Pentecostal and Charismatic,” he said. “It is more common than we may think, and we seek to learn what healing means. … Is it physical, such as laying hands on someone with cancer? Or economic, or agricultural? Basically, we’ll be looking at brokenness of any kind.”
He added, “At this event, we will be recovering the practice of healing and the way it can foster the renewal of local churches. And there will be a service for divine healing, which will have a participatory, experiential dimension.”
For more information or to register for the event, go to www.LightTheFire.org.
-- Anne Dukes is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.