Category Archives: Methodist Church

Why is Easter so bloomin early!!

Phew! What a mad few months this has been since Christmas. I hadn’t realised just how long ago I last posted.

Lots going on in that time (including loads of meetings). I’ve been on some Supervisor training. Officially I’m delighted with the scheme and it is high time we ministers were in some kind of supervision. Unofficially, I’m not yet sure of the benefits and am still scratching my head about how I find the time to do it. Time seems to be something we Methodist Ministers have loads off – apparently – in fact I’m beginning the think that officially we must have some kind of time machine that enables us to turn one week into the equivalent of one month. However, I seem to have missed the memo that explained where I get my hands on that time machine.

Anyway, Easter is early because we base the date on Passover which is (or at least was) based on a moon cycle that doesn’t really exist (known as the Pascal moon). There are some fun calculations you can do to get the date if you want to.

Personally I would rather we fixed the date to correspond with the date of the first easter and left it there. Perhaps this is something that can be done with the time machine that I don’t have access to.

What is the Methodist Church?

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I sometimes get asked what the Methodist Church is and so I’ve started writing something to help me with the answer – I’m hoping to remember it all. Anyway, here it is – perhaps you could help me by pointing out what I have omitted (this mainly concerns the UK Methodist church by the way).

The Methodist church is movement started by John and Charles Wesley in the 18th century to reform people’s lives by following the teachings of Jesus.

We are a very democratic church which is run by its members with the majority of services being taken by lay preachers.

Methodists played an important role in the abolition of slavery and the emancipation of women (we were the first church in the UK to ordain women, for instance).

Methodists were instrumental in the formation of the trades union movement.

Methodists have got deeply Involved in politics playing an important part in the formation of the Labour party – which according to Harold Wilson owes more to Methodism than Marx – and the Liberal Party and being active in the Conservative party.

After witnessing the disastrous effects of alcohol and gambling on family life in the 19th century Methodists supported the idea of complete abstinence in an attempt to help reform society – hence our reputation but now a matter of personal choice.

At the end of the 19th century in response to the number of homeless and vulnerable children Methodists started the National Children’s home which became one of the largest children’s charities in the UK and still continues its work as Action for Children.

In 1943, and prior to the welfare state, Methodists concerned about caring for the elderly started Methodist Homes for the Aged or MHA, which 70 years later is the largest charity provider of care for the elderly in the country.

Methodists have been deeply involved in caring for the elderly, education and health care. It was a Methodist who started the Salvation Army.

In the 20th century The Methodist Church was one of the biggest providers of youth work in the country through its MAYC youth clubs, Boy’s and Girl’s Brigades.

There are presently about 80 million Methodists worldwide and growing, and there is a Methodist church in nearly every country.

In the 21st century Methodists are pioneering new ways to express what being a Christian means.

We have always had a concern for personal and social holiness – the way we live. We believe that Jesus and his teaching is the way forward for the world and that God’s love is available to all.

Joint Somerset Circuits Day

love jesusHad a good time at the Joint Somerset Circuits Day yesterday. Lots of things to think about and it gave us a chance to meet a few people from the other circuits. We had lots of input from the District – including the District Chair – which helped us to think beyond the boundaries of the Circuit and to what we can achieve if we work connextionally.

My heart strangely warmed

I can’t let today go unmarked by me in some way. May 24th is the day that John Wesley went to a meeting in Aldersgate Street in London and there he had an experience that would change his life forever. Before this he had been a strong follower of the church, committed to serving God to the best of his ability. Yet he felt he lacked something in his Christian life. He had seen that others had a faith and love for God that made a difference to them. It was that visit to Aldersgate that brought years of searching to a head and he discovered God in a new and exciting way.

That moment began a life dedicated to helping others experience what he had experienced. So many people were helped that the Methodist Church, that he helped found, is now a church that stretches around the world and touches many lives.

I pray that the Methodist Church today rediscovers that heart of John Wesley and commits itself to realising the vision that God gave to John and which has since been passed to many susequent generations.

Spare bridegroom at a wedding but one that was welcome

Yesterday I was welcomed back into full connexion in the Methodist Church. No longer seen as a maverick rebellious type (I never was really) I’m now back in the fold of the Methodist Church.

The service itself was good and I enjoyed being around all the ordinands (those who were being ordained that day – I am already ordained) but I did feel a bit like a spare bridegroom at a wedding. They knew each other well and spent much of their time chatting with each other (this is a good thing by the way) but I felt a little bit left out of it all. Thankfully there were a few others who were being received into the Methodist Church from other churches and one of them was in a similar position to myself – so I had someone to share the experience with.

As part of the event I had to stand with the others on the stage for a standing vote. It was good to know that I was welcomed back by the church. It did remind me of my first time and subsequent ordination. It is always hard to say what an ordination means but it does mark a significant point in life and affirms the ministry that you feel God has called you to. In some ways it does make you feel different because it takes years to reach that point and getting beyond that point makes a difference. I also like to think that God sees you in a different way. The church lays hands on you and prays for God to help you in ministry. It’s an example, perhaps, of the importance of the physical in expressing the Christian faith.

Now I can get back to being a minister – even if I am one who is in an appointment over which the Methodist church has no control (Methodist talk for the job I do).

Back as a Methodist Minister

After a couple of years of trying I have finally been through the system and am being recommended to be received back in to full connexion at Conference in a couple of weeks.

It has been a long and at times painful process but at long last I’m back where I was (well almost where I was) 11 years ago.

This is the beginning of a new life as a minister and I trust God for all that is to come (as I’ve been forced to trust him for all that is past).

There are times when it is important to be patient and wait for God to show you what he is up to. I can honestly say that at times I have been very confused by what God has been doing with me but I’m sure it is part of a greater plan. It is important for any Christian to understand that it is important to remain faithful and allow God to shape us.

I’ll keep you up to date here on what I’m up to and how it is all going.

What is a Methodist?

I think that one of the issues surrounding the Methodist church and it’s future is that we need to be able to answer the question: What is a Methodist?

One of the byproducts of the ecumenical movement is that the Methodist church starts to find that it is no different to many other churches. But if it is not different then why should we bother to keep it going. If the only difference is that our ancestors were Methodists then it’s high time we amalgamated with the church we split from.

John Wesley once wrote a booklet on the character of a Methodist and I’d like to suggest that this is still relevant to us today:

Because I didn’t fancy wading through all the stuff he said every time I want to think about this subject I condensed his thinking into some bullet points and thought s0meone might find it good to read:

  • Methodists do not always think the same (Wesley calls it having a particular set of notions). Of course Methodists are Christians and so believe the basics of Christianity as found in the bible but apart from that Methodists do not hold particular Christian beliefs.
  • We prefer to use plain and ordinary words when we speak about God – the only exceptions being to use biblical words when speaking about biblical things.
  • We are not distinguished by actions or customs. We do not abstain from anything that is not expressly prohibited by God.
  • We don’t live out our faith based on one part of the gospel message but instead on the whole. Salvation is about faith and the living out of that faith and not just a single act of being saved (important though this is).

Continue reading What is a Methodist?

Memories of a Methodist Church

I thought I might continue with my thoughts about the Methodist church today. I have often come across people who are very attached to church buildings and how they find it incredibly difficult to cope with the idea of closing it. I understand this because I’ve experienced it myself. The Methodist church that has had the most impact on my own life was closed down and is now a housing estate.

This church (Wesley Methodist Church in Plymouth – formerly King Street Methodist) was built after WW2 when the huge King Street Methodist church building was bombed flat. This was a major church in the heart of Plymouth and it was rebuilt in a new location (no longer on King Street) with money from the Rank Foundation. The premises were magnificent. The church itself was tall, bright and roomy. There was a great circular window above an impressive altar area. There was a large platform area at the front of the church which proved ideal for choirs, drama, etc to be performed. The church also had a large hall (with stage, green room etc) and there were many other rooms of all different shapes and sizes. It was the kind of building that any church would be delighted to own.

It was also the church my parents attended when I was born. Hence I was baptised there and went to Sunday School there. My parents were very involved at the time and so (together with my brothers) I took part in annual pantomimes, Christmas plays, sang solos,  and played in the long corridors. It played an important role in my childhood. I have very happy memories of Christmas services, in particular. Christmas is very big for me and I think some of this stems from my memories of being in church for candle light services and taking part in nativity plays.

When I was about 13 I decided I didn’t want to go to church anymore and my parents agreed. We had some bad experiences as a family and this lead to difficulties with some of the church members. I thought this would probably be the end of my involvement with King Street (as it was still called then).

However, at the tender age of 18 I found myself back at church, although this time it was my local church: Crownhill Methodist Church. At the time there was a youth choir in the Methodist Circuit and I was persuaded to give it a go. This choir was called the Plymouth Praisemakers and was lead by Peter Bolt who was the minister at King Street. The choir meetings were held in the hall of King Street.

So now every week I was in the old church again. This choir was to have a big effect on my spiritual life and took me from being a very new Christian through to candidating for the Methodist ministry.  It was also the place that I met my wife Alison.

Every year we would sing concerts in the church at King Street (now renamed Wesley – because it was not actually on King Street). My Christmas memories were revived and made even bigger and better. I loved singing in the choir so much that I started singing in other choirs. I sang in my own church choir (Crownhill Methodist) and at times the church choir at Wesley. I sang Handel’s Messiah in Crownhill Methodist and was so impressed by it that I joined the Wesley Choir so I could sing it again.

Now a preacher I also got the odd chance of preaching in the church.

Even when I left Plymouth to begin my ministry I found that Wesley Methodist church played a part. I came back for a few Praisemaker concerts but the biggest event was returning to the church to take the marriage service for my eldest brother (his wife was later to die of cancer but he is now happily remarried).

The minister of Wesley also helped me out during my time at College with some holiday work on the building. I painted the rooms and polished the floors in this magnificent building.

Then when I resigned from the ministry it was a reunion with the old choir at Wesley Methodist Church that healed some wounds and brought me back to thinking about ministry again. We sang in the church shortly before it was demolished.

These are all big things for me and much of it happened within the walls of this wonderful church building. I can’t put across in words just how important this building had been to me.

However, it was a big building and the congregation was decreasing. It wasn’t long after my brother’s wedding that the church decided they could no longer afford to keep the building open. It was a very difficult time for the church people and caused a great deal of sadness – even more than I felt I’m sure.

So now it is gone and I still miss it. When I visit Plymouth and see where it once stood it makes me feel very sad – the memories go on but the scene has changed.

Yet I am forced to admit that this was God’s will for this place. I can’t say why people would not come – I do know that it was not through lack of effort of the people in the church. Perhaps there were opportunities missed, perhaps the people didn’t always listen to God (isn’t this true for every church?). I dare say the money to repair the building could have been found from somewhere but would it have been money well spent?

Yes, I miss the building but I know that the work of God goes on and whatever sacrifices I have to make to let it happen – so be it. If God wills that everything from my past disappear then I must accept it. The important thing is that God continues to work through his people in Plymouth and perhaps one day there will be a big enough church to allow a building to be built that surpasses the grandeur of Wesley but whatever God’s plans we must follow his lead.

This brings me back to the way the Methodist church is changing at the moment and possible joining with the Church of England. Do I want a strong Methodist church the way that it used to be? Do I want to see crowds of people attending Methodist churches again? Of course I do.

But do I want to serve God? Do I want to follow where Jesus leads me – wherever that may be? Yes I do.

From the older version of the Covenant service (which I also miss) with a few insertions of my own:

“I am no longer my own but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you or laid aside for you, exalted for you or brought low for you; let me be full, let me be empty; let me have all things, let me have nothing; [this is my bit now] let me have my memories, let me forget; let me be a Methodist, let me be an Anglican; let me have my buildings, let me be homeless; [end of my bit] I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal. And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours. So be it. And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen”

Future of the Methodist Church

If you are a Methodist in the UK then you will have heard of the excitement caused by the President of Conferences comments about the future merger of the Methodist Church with the Church of England.

It has always been my desire to see a more united Christian church and so I see this as a positive comment. However, it seems to me that there are dangers, dangers which the Methodist church knows about only too well because it has already joined together with other denominations in it’s past. The Methodist Church in Britain and Ireland came from the amalgamation of several Methodist denominations (Wesleyan Methodists, Primitive Methodists, United Methodists, Bible Christians, etc – if my memory serves me right). The danger has been that the larger denomination simply takes over the smaller ones and the distinctive nature of the smaller churches is lost. Some of those who came from the smaller denominations commented on how they had all become Wesleyan Methodists. Of course the differences between these denominations was slight and so the losses were not so great (although Bible Christians had women ministers before the merger and it took the new Methodist church quite a while to catch up with this idea).

If you walk around many towns in the UK you will see Methodist chapels of many different sorts. In the town where I live there once were 4 Methodist churches of various denominations but now there is just the 1.

So what should be retained from the Methodist church as it is now?

Class System
Of course we don’t call it the Class system anymore and we don’t insist that people who want to be Methodists join one (they are generally called House Groups or Fellowship Groups). It could be argued that these are already lost but there are those in the Methodist church who want to see them revived. These Classes were the start of the original Methodist church and were the real strength of Methodism. It seems to me that this would be an easy part to retain (or perhaps I should say revive) as they were originally formed when Methodists were still all Anglicans anyway.

Preachers
The CofE has managed to produce some pretty good preachers and the Methodist church some pretty bad ones in the past, but in general Methodists have a great emphasis on preaching. Again this formed part of the original Methodist movement when it was part of the CofE. I still think that preaching is important and it needs reviving in most churches but the Methodist church has at least retained it’s importance and it’s training of local preachers (different to the Lay Readers in CofE).

John Wesley
Methodism has kept the work and witness of John Wesley and the early Methodists alive. It would be a shame to see these things lost.

Simple services
The Methodist church has had a long tradition of services that are simple and accessible to all. No complicated liturgies to be read (unless it’s a communion service), no sung liturgies (I have seen this done but it’s very rare indeed), no fancy robes (cassock and gown at most), simple prayers and sermons.

Singing and music
I’m always struck by the difference in volume between a Methodist church and a CofE church. I have a pretty strong singing voice but in a Methodist church there are others who sing loud with me, in most CofE Churches I’ve been in I feel like I’m singing a solo. It seems to me that this is an issue bigger than just volume. Music plays an essential part in most forms of spirituality and we would lose a great deal if we lost the Methodist enthusiasm for music. We also need to keep Charles Wesley’s hymns (to be used alongside modern worship songs as well as old hymns) – many of them are fantastic.

Organisation and ministry of all believers emphasis
I hate to add this one because I’ve sat through some pretty dreadful Methodist meetings in my time, and the system can seem very slow on occasions. However, it is a system that is designed to include all the members of a church and for them all to have an equal say. I’ve talked with some CofE Clergy where they seem to be expected to do all kinds of jobs that in a Methodist church would be the responsibility of the whole church.

Hymn Book
The present Methodist Hymn Book (Hymns & Psalms – there is a new one being planned as I write this) is arranged in a way to help Methodists with their devotions at home.

What can go?

Buildings (well some anyway)
I may not be all that old (although I’m getting there) but I have seen much of my built history demolished. Places where I grew up have disappeared. I know that this can be painful and although it’s wrong to get too attached to physical things it’s hard not to feel emotional about buildings where you were married, or had your children baptised, or held a funeral service for your mum, etc. The wonderful church (it was an amazing building built just after WW2 to replace one that had been bombed) where I went to Sunday School is now a housing estate. The church was even kind enough to support me during my training as a minister by giving me some holiday work polishing wooden floors and painting rooms (this was very important to me at the time). I even had some of my best memories singing in a youth choir there (my wife sang in the choir too). Yet, at the end of the day it was just a building and sometimes buildings fall into disuse or they become too big or they just crumble away and are hard to repair. There are many Methodist churches like this. Of course it will be sad to say goodbye to them but it doesn’t matter if the work of God goes on. Some of the better buildings must be kept of course and where the current Methodist church is growing those churches must be retained.

Name
This is a hard one but I don’t think the name is important. It was a derogatory name in the beginning and John Wesley never really liked it himself. For those of us who grew up Methodists this may be the hardest part of all to give up but I see it as something of a maiden name that we will need to give up if we want to get married to the Church of England. Sometimes people retain maiden names and that works fine for them, this is not a comment on their choices. I’m not in favour of the business approach of combining names: Church of England & Methodists? Methodist Church of England? MethCh? I can’t see a good combination and it’s probably best just to lose it. The only way I could see it working would be to have a subheading: Church of England (Methodist)

History
The Methodist church, on it’s own at times, has played a very important role in the life of Britain – as well as the rest of the world. Our history will remain, of course, in those Methodist denominations that won’t be part of the joining, as it will remain in the Methodist church throughout the world. In Britain, though, we should do our best to ensure that the memory and long history of the Methodist church remains (perhaps there needs to be something of the name retained for this to happen?).

Conclusions

Above all I think it is important to the joining of 2 churches makes something better at the end of the process. If either one just dissolves into the other then we lost something important. My hope would be that all that has made the Methodist church a powerful force in Christian Britain will become part of a stronger and better Church of England.

Our priority must always be to do what God wants us to do. It seems clear to me that God wants unity in his church and as long as we respond to God out of desire to follow rather than fear or greed then how can this be wrong?

We must not let our personal feelings stop the work of God and how can we see Christian unity as anything but the work of God?

Do you have any suggestions as to what to keep and what not to keep?