Tag Archives: methodist

What is the Methodist Church?

re_methodist_logo_hires

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.

Why I don’t come to everything.

694470_36995341Sometimes people wonder why I don’t go to a particular event and I hope this might give you some kind of answer. Of course, every persons event is important to them and they will believe that I should be where they want me to be. The problem with ministry is that there are loads of events that I could attend. Each church in the section I look after has events, then there are events in the other Circuit churches, then there are the district events and events in neighbouring circuits to say nothing of ecumenical events and events in the community.

Here is a list of my reasons why I may not be at your event – they are not necessarily in order of priotity but they all combine.

1. Family – I have always believed that my own family must take precedence over church events. When I have a working wife and children at school I don’t get opportunity to see much of them during the week. Weekday evenings are also often taken up with church meetings (sometimes business meetings, sometimes to see people about weddings and baptisms, sometimes to see people about personal things, sometimes to see community leaders, etc). As I often work all day on a Sunday I have one day in the week (Saturday) where my family can have some of my time. I firmly believe that it is the job of a minister of God to live out what he preaches each week and if I am going to preach about the importance of family (and I hope churches would want me to) then I sometimes have to sacrifice being at a church event for the sake of my family.

2. My health – ministers are very susceptible to breakdown and ill health. In fact this has happened to past ministers in the section of the circuit I am working in. There is quite simply too much to do. I once worked as a Stress Management Trainer (I had to train and get qualified to do this). I am very aware of the effects of long term stress and the perils of ignoring it. Doctors today believe that as much as 80% of serious illness has a direct link with stress (stress does not cause illness but it can trigger it and certainly makes it much worse).  Stress is also the leading cause of long term sick leave (back pain being the first for short term). On top of this I have been reminded just recently of what can happen with three of my own friends having heart attacks (to say nothing of the heart attacks I have heard about in the news lately). I can say with some confidence that they, my friends attacks, are all linked to stress. I am determined that this will not happen to me but to avoid it I must take a pro-active approach to looking after myself. This means taking rest and relaxation when it is needed.

3. Higher priorities – maybe the two above qualify for this anyway but there are also priorities in my work. Although I would, of course, love to spend more time with all of you I have to prioritise my time as best as I can. You may have reasons why you think I should make your event a priority but I have to decide based on what I believe God has called me into ministry for. God chose me for a reason, and whilst I struggle to understand what that reason might be, I do know that he did it because he wanted to use my gifts and talents for the benefit of the church. This means that it is my duty to prioritise my time based on what I believe God has called me to do. Your idea for what I should be doing may be different but I have to be true to my calling. I don’t honestly believe that God called me to fund raise (some ministers he did) or to spend my time socialising (enjoyable though this is and some ministers do seem called to this). This does not mean I will never socialise (I think this can be important for ministry) or help with fund-raising (this is part of every Christian’s duty as part of our care for the world and our communities).  I am really sorry if this dissapoints anyone but you would want me to be honest and open about this I’m sure.

4. Other ministries – not all I do is about your church. I believe it is part of my role to engage with the communities in which I am based. This will mean doing things that have no direct link to the churches I serve. It takes a great deal of time and energy to do this (I often have to build a relationship from nothing and sometimes with people who are very suspicious of church). However, if we are going to help create the kind of world I believe God wants then the church must leave its buildings and engage with the community. At the moment I am engaging with young people through the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme. This has proved to be very valuable work and I have had more meaningful conversations with non-church people doing this than through anything else I have tried. You also know that I do some of my work on the Web. Engaging with people who have been hurt by the church and with people who have an interest in spiritual things but doubt the church can help. This is direct work ‘on the frontline’ if you like, it is very demanding and challenging and takes up time.

5. Self – sorry to be a little selfish for my last point. I am still a person. I get tired, I get grumpy, I need prayer, I need rest and relaxation, my life is supposed to be enjoyable as well as yours.

There are many other things I could say – but I don’t want to take up too much of your time. This is also not a moan – honestly. I hope you will understand that I say all this because it is important you understand why I was not at your event. I believe that the Methodist people are very supportive of their ministers and I know that you are to me. Just occasionally, though, I sense some dissapointment about things that I don’t come to, you can help me by understanding and not showing that dissapointment. I am a sensitive soul (you have to be in ministry) and the occasional dig and innocent comment can hurt and undermine the work I try to do.

Thanks for your support in this matter.

Safeguarding

Off to some Safeguarding training today. A very necessary, if somewhat harrowing experience.

The church in recent years has been scared by reports of Priests and workers who have abused those put in their care. We have to hang our head in shame that we were part of an organisation that both failed to protect those in its care and then tried to cover up what was going on. Of course these things happened in a time when everyone tried to cover up this kind of thing – that, at least, is not exclusive to the church.

The church has a dilema. It has had a high proportion of abuse problems in its past. This is doubly bad because Christianity teaches that we should be caring for the abused and oppressed. However, it also has such a high number of problems because it has been the place where most of the work with children and vulnerable adults has taken place. When you are the one doing all the work it is no surprise that you will be the one who also has all the problems. The churches dilemma is this: do we continue with the work and risk more cases of abuse or do we simply stop all the work and appear to be squeaky clean?

My feeling is that we must do all we can to prevent abuse but still continue with the work. It wouldn’t be right to abandon our work of caring for those that most people don’t seem to be bothered about. Who is bothered about helping young people discover fullness of life and helping them become useful members of society? We have tended to leave this stuff up to churches and now they can’t do as much we want our schools to do it – when their job is really about education. I’m not sure that a school can successfully help young people in this way given the restrictions they face on what they can and can’t do or say. I for one am not prepared to abandon young people (or vulnerable adults) to fend for themselves from now on.

I have heard the question asked: who in our society, outside of school hours, knows the names of the young people who populate our streets, save perhaps the drug dealer?

Yes, the church must continue to work with young people and vulnerable adults and then we must do all we can to protect them in our care.

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).

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?

Waiting for things to happen

I’ve applied for reinstatement to the Methodist ministry but I’m now having to wait for the system to move along. It’s one of those crazy feelings where every day of waiting is difficult and yet it’s taken me about 11 years to get around to applying. Of course there are implications with the waiting for me because I am self-employed and not quite sure of the future until this is sorted out.

Waiting is a strange experience but teaches some important lessons – not least of which is patience.

I also know – from my self-employed experience – that it is easy to assume that nothing is happening when you don’t hear anything. I think this is one of the reasons why you will hear how important communication is within an organisation. People love to know what is going on and when they don’t they get all edgy and impatient. It’s much easier to be patient when you know that you haven’t been forgotten or pushed to one side.

Don’t take this as a criticism of the Methodist church because they have kept me informed of the major developments I just need to learn patience.

I’m sure something is happening but I just have to be patient.

Back as Methodist Preacher

Had my first service back as a Methodist preacher yesterday (14th Feb 2010). It was a good experience although there were many things that I need to improve on. I’ve always found preaching to be exhausting and this was no exception.

I am determined to get to preach without any notes at all but this time allowed myself a few. I seem to preach an awful lot better when I’m not tied to notes – it’s always been a problem for me to get my own personality involved when I have to read a sermon. I remember disappointing my friends at College who thought I’d be a better preacher than I was – of course they didn’t say this but I could tell.

The rest of the service went ok but I want it to be better than ok. I think the biggest problem was my sermon was too long – I think I had too much material because I was nervous that with only a few notes I would dry up and not have enough to say.

Anyway it was well received – I preached on the transfiguration and for a first time back it went fine. Next service is in a months time.