Methodism – Faith in Word and Action
At this point, nearly at the end of my Vice Presidential year, I certainly feel that God has not given up on Methodism. I’ve seen wonderful people and amazing projects, great examples of traditional worship and intriguing examples of Fresh Expressions. In among all of that I have also spoken with people who are tired, trying to keep things going in the way they feel it should be done. And with others who don’t think the Methodist Church would welcome them or members of their family. I have had conversations with people of other faiths and none who think that the Methodist Church is losing its place in society where it has spoken out for those who are poor and oppressed. Sadly, I have also spoken to those who are members of the Methodist Church who feel that they have been treated badly by the Church and have asked where people like them are to be seen in the structures of the Church.
So what does my vision for the Methodist Church look like today? Well it is inevitably affected by the experience that I have had so far. I came back into the Methodist Church through the working of the Holy Spirit, aided and abetted by the evangelical witness of a family who I met on holiday who invited me to Derwent Week at Cliff College with them a few weeks later. That was when I really recognised God in Jesus and had my conversion experience when I decided to become a Christian. I have known the love of God and the people of the Methodist Church in my life and I have tried to share the good news. I have prayed with people as they have made their decision to be a follower of Jesus and I have tried to nurture others in the faith. I have also valued the commitment to social action that saw the transforming love of God as affecting individual lives and also communities and I have got involved with that where I can. I have benefited from being part of a Connexional Church finding people to nurture my faith in Church, Circuit, District and Connexion.
My vision is also affected by what I know of Methodist tradition (which isn’t a great amount!) One of the things I particularly like about John Wesley and the early Methodists is that they opposed the slave trade, fought for better conditions in prisons, created alms houses for old people, began schools for children and provided medical care for poor people. They saw the poor and oppressed as deserving to hear the good news of God and recognised that these people had basic human needs to be met. Apparently on one occasion Wesley set out the heart of his message in a conversation with a wealthy man who had fallen on hard times and tried to take his own life. The man asked Wesley what was the aim and purpose of his preaching. Wesley replied that it was to make people virtuous and happy, at ease with themselves and useful to others, to lead those who would listen to heaven and to God and to Jesus. He preached the religion of love and kindness that he found in the Gospels. He hoped that his hearers would come to enjoy God for themselves and overcome the fear of death. This for me is a tradition based on the greatest commandment –to love God and to love our neighbour.
A particular glimpse of this working out came for me at “The Potter’s House” in Stoke a few months ago. A growing congregation meeting in a school hall had the opportunity to purchase the school and raised the £200,000 required quickly from among the congregation. The vision which has been realised is for a church and a community centre with conference facilities, counselling and a whole range of activities, a centre for the performing arts and for a number of start-up business units. These are the things that were most needed in that place. Not every church should be responding in exactly this way and not every community needs the same things. I was also thrilled on another visit to hear of older people coming to know Christ through the witness of their friends who invited them to play indoor bowls in a refurbished church hall and of another church which was helping the families with no transport to the cheaper out of town shops to order groceries online using the newly installed church IT equipment. I was uplifted by the project for homeless adults in Cornwall and a new MHA provision for people with Alzheimer's in Wales and parenting classes in conjunction with NCH in central London. And it is also important to see Methodists engaging in wider society by being involved in politics in all sorts of ways, as Councillors, MPs and MEPs. Also by lobbying those politicians on behalf of the oppressed and the vulnerable, particularly the very old and the very young.
So my vision is of a Methodist Church that takes time to study the Scriptures and pray and listen to see what God is saying to the people called Methodist and the communities and society in which they find themselves now. A Church that is released from looking after buildings which are no longer appropriate for the worshipping community or the wider community in that place so that it can go out to the places where people are and share the good news in ways that are relevant to the needs of those people. As it goes out the Church should be ensuring that the good news is shared with all and no artificial barriers are put up such as race or gender or sexuality or disability.
I also see that the Church needs to continue to develop ways to nurture new Christians and provide space for them to pray and enquire and develop their own theological perspective. Places of acceptance, challenge and growth. I would like to see this rooted in a connexion of churches and networks including virtual communities using the internet. There needs to be teaching which is contextual to people’s lives including giving the confidence in their own faith in ways which allow them to be respectful of those of different faiths and none and to engage with them for the common good.
The Church also needs to be where those who have met the living God are inspired, not only to share the good news of salvation, but to love and serve every individual as those loved by God. It is important for the Church to be involved in empowering people to engage with and overcome those things that oppress them. This is also something which has to be dealt with inside the Church and there needs to be equality in how people are treated and the opportunities they are given to take part in the life of the Church and express the gifts which God has given to them.
And if that Church is to be part of a wider community through joining together with other denominations as in the United Church in Canada and the Uniting Church of Australia then I pray that the faith in word and action of the Methodist Church will be a wonderful gift that we bring to the table.
Ruby Beech is Vice President of the Methodist Conference.
metconnexion, Summer 2008, pp 8-9