Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Further discussion on Methodism

Dave Warnock commented to my first post in this series:
I do have a small concern though. I recently heard a mostly excellent talk by someone from New Frontiers who talked about the Methodist tradition, it was good except that it attempted to claim the heritage while totally ignoring the present. To a conference with a lot of Methodists it was not exactly helpful to look at current Methodism as just a source of heritage and buildings for New Frontiers.

I obviously cannot comment fully on that talk or that event as I was not there.

Areas of social justice, social activism and the environment would be where I see modern Methodism as being strong and having a track record with which they can influence and encourage the wider body of Christ. For example our local Methodist Church was the second in the town to gain the eco-congregation status. I think this is a good thing, and a provocation. If we go down that route in the future the Methodists (and the URC) paved the way.

This Christmas our local area the Churches, including us and the Methodists are giving out 4,000 Christmas cards and inviting our community to our various Christmas events, together.

Last year I served on the Hope 08 planning group which included a local methodist minister and we did large scale bit of publicity to 54,000 homes, together.

But Dave poses a very interesting question. I think many people don't know much about modern Methodism, or what they do know about feels confused. It does for me.

You would be left with big questions if you spoke to one of the thousands in the membership of many evangelical churches in the UK, in the newer churches or in the older denominations, a whole generation of Methodist evangelicals, including former Church leaders, who feel they have been "driven out" of Methodism over the last 40 years. "Methodism" does not present itself as being an evangelical movement now, but it was. And that is where I, as an evangelical, feel my strongest connection with Methodism lies, at the point we were closest. Or with the parts of Methodism that still hold that ethos.

I would also suggest it depends mostly on people's experiences on a local level, and the methodists they know, those whose blogs they read etc. In the same way people's view of newfrontiers is shaped by which bits they have or have not seen or who they think speaks for all. The local experience often changed every five years with the minister, who for other Church leaders is their primary contact with the Church. The spectrum is so wide, and changes so regularly, that commenting on "Methodism" becomes a bit difficult.

Evangelical representation within the "Churches Together" movement is sketchy in places, so the connections are limited. I would imagine local Methodists consider our church (and others in the town) to be distant because we are not fully engaged with Churches Together locally.

I also think Methodism nationally has had something of a self-depricating public face which means as an evangelical growing up and going to university from the 1980s onwards it has not been on the radar, at all.

I knew about New Wine, Fusion, UCCF, Soul Survivor, Alpha, YWAM, OM, Youth for Christ etc. they were well marketed to me. I had friends from Elim, AOG, Vineyard, the C of E etc. My walk with God as an evangelical Christian meant I barely ever rubbed shoulders with Methodism except when we had refreshments after a Fairtrade march in Birmingham city centre once.

I would not deliberately "ignore" modern Methodism as such but rather would not know enough about it to comment, and frankly, am a bit weary of hearing how bad things are from Methodists themselves. I don't know what to say, or even sometimes where to look. I remember a Methodist preacher speaking at a united service here about ten years ago who was so disparaging about his Church it made me really uncomfortable. If newfrontiers is accused of arrogance then Methodism must be accused of and unhelpful level of self-deprecation.

With all that said, if I lived in Market Drayton in Shropshire, and wanted a local Church, this is the Church I would go to, without question. Some of their people have visited us to share ideas and learn from each other, and none of them fit into the critical category I have outlined above. As I read their "about us" section it ticks many of the boxes I would look for in a Church. There are hundreds of Methodist Churches like it all over the country, and they remain true to the heart of Methodism that I see as my heritage too.

1 comment:

DaveW said...

David, Interesting to hear your view.

I'll try to get around to responding but life is a bit hectic at the moment.