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Devotional celebrates 70 years of connecting people, God

 


April 25, 2005

A UMNS Feature
By Linda Green*

For 70 years, The Upper Room has been bringing people together to experience Christ.

The daily devotional guide is a spiritual companion for more than 2.5 million Christians seeking to know and experience God more fully. 

In 2005, the magazine is celebrating 70 years of helping people make space for God in their daily lives and of teaching ways to faithfully respond to God’s calling, says the Rev. Stephen Bryant, editor and publisher for Upper Room Ministries, a division of the United Methodist Board of Discipleship of the United Methodist Church.

The Upper Room helps people focus on what is central to faith—their relationship with God. The magazine “keeps people in touch with the here-and-now reality of God’s presence in their lives,” Bryant says.

It is unique because it is written by its own readers including lay and clergy from around the world and representing many denominations. Thus, the devotions provide a glimpse into God’s work in the lives of ordinary people. “The devotions come out of the real experience, needs and surprises of grace in people’s lives,” says Bryant.

The devotional guide began during the Great Depression of the 1930s, when a group of women in San Antonio discerned, through prayer, that families need daily worship and Bible study to sustain them. They asked their church for a devotional guide. That request inspired the Board of Missions of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, to publish a quarterly devotional booklet to be sold in the local church. The magazine was born in 1935.

Today, The Upper Room is published worldwide in 73 editions and 44 languages. It is used by individuals and families and in meetings and other ministry settings in vastly different cultures in 100 countries. A free e-mail edition devotion is available, and it also can be read on the Internet at www.upperroom.org/devotional.

The guide has lasted because it continues “being true to the intention of the prayer group,” says Sherry Elliott, director of administrative services for Upper Room Ministries. “Those women knew exactly what Christians needed, and we have stayed on the path and keep that at the heart of the ministry.”

On its 70th anniversary, The Upper Room is at a critical juncture in its efforts to support people’s spiritual lives. A redesign is under way to include a new cover, photos of the writers and small group discussion questions. “We are in a time of revisioning,” says Bryant, “and working closely with churches to find their deepest needs and respond.” 

Publishers of The Upper Room say the magazine is the most accessible resource in the church today.

The guide provides a brief devotional for each day of the month, including a Scripture passage, prayer and “thought for the day.” It is designed to give Christians simple ways to practice the presence of God every day. And, in the process, it can be a practical and cost-efficient resource for churches and ministries. “People do not realize that you can do so much with it,” says Elliott. “It is perfect for outreach, evangelism. There is so much to it.”

Meanwhile, the devotional ministry has expanded to include additional publications, spiritual formation and nurture programs, prayer support through the Living Prayer Center and other resources to serve believers of all ages and denominations.

Based in Nashville, Tenn., Upper Room Ministries publishes books, online resources and five other magazines: Weavings, Devo’Zine, Pockets, Alive Now and El Aposento Alto. It provides discussion space and other interactive features on Web sites for each magazine.

Upper Room Ministries has developed seven events that bring people together in face-to-face communities for spiritual nurture. Among those are the Walk to Emmaus and the Academy for Spiritual Formation. All provide spiritual renewal and a nurturing of the mind, body and spirit.

Upper Room Ministries is more about building community than individual meditation. A community space, created at www.upperroom.org/devotional/stories.asp as part of the anniversary activities, asks “How did we meet?” and “When did you first come in contact with The Upper Room daily devotional guide?”

“We are always creating space for people to come together to experience Christ and learn practices of the faith,” Bryant said.

More information about Upper Room Ministries is available at www.upperroom.org or by calling (615) 340-7200

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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