It should never be all about the collar…

What do you get when a non-ordained person is heading up a brand new cell church initiative, under the banner of the Methodist Church? If you live in our house, the answer shifts between two issues; firstly, an ongoing discussion about the role and value of lay leadership within Methodism, and secondly, who’s going to do Communion? And currently, we haven’t formed clear conclusions on either matter!

We belong to The Beacon Christian Community, based on The Bridge Development in Dartford, Kent (you may have read a previous article about us in Headline). We are now on site, having moved into our new home in January, and we are incredibly excited and expectant about what God is going to do in this place over the coming months and years. We follow the pattern of Cell Church, meeting initially in one home every week for fellowship, worship, exploring the Word and encouraging each member to be active in applying and living out the Word in their everyday lives. We meet regularly for prayer, and are seeking God’s guidance and the equipping of the Holy Spirit, that in these initial weeks and months we will begin to meet and get to know our neighbours and appreciate and respond to the needs of a brand new community and its residents. We are praying for growth.

As a family we no longer ‘do’ Sunday church, our Monday Cell night is church for us, and our weekly routine at home includes times of prayer, worship and talking about Jesus with our children. Yet there is one thing that we miss out on, unless we opt back into the traditional church pattern once a month, and that’s the sacrament of Holy Communion. Other members of the Beacon miss it too.

“Go back to church then”, is what some people may be thinking. And herein lies the dilemma. If a Fresh Expression is to be truly valued and held up as church for those who belong to it, the important elements of the Christian life and tradition, i.e. baptism and communion, at present to be participated in generally only within the confines of the traditional church structure, have to be allowed to be a valuable part of it. And for us, that will mean allowing lay leadership dispensation to lead their Cell (church) group in the Eucharist. (Currently dispensation is only given for deprivation, when there is a lack of ministerial staff within the circuit.)

I’m certain there will be a variety of responses to this suggestion, some of which we have already heard and thought about. For instance, if I had a £1 for the amount of times somebody has suggested ordination to my husband, Bart, I would be much better off! (Well, I’d have several coins jingling around in my pocket anyway!) But to my understanding, ordination is for those who feel a strong call to the ministry, which Bart doesn’t, having explored that path previously.

“Bus in a minister!” usually comes next, and I’m sure many would be willing to come and share with us in this way. But Cell church works differently. It’s about relationship; with God, with each other, with those who need to hear the good news. It’s about forming a close bond with those in your cell and coming to God together openly, honestly and worshipfully. And it’s about empowering every member to be in ministry according to the calling upon their life. Therefore it seems right that we share in communion together, led by the Cell leader who will know their flock’s needs and be able to guide them sensitively and appropriately, through a deeply significant and crucial act of worship, something which someone who pops in once a month may not be so able to do.

The Fresh Expressions movement seeks to encourage and equip innovative and exciting methods of mission and evangelism. By its very nature it is going to test the longstanding methods of ‘being’ church. And this is the challenge. My question, or more, my general wondering, is, can/will/does Methodism really accept the challenge? At The Bridge, we want the Beacon to be church, to include all aspects of Christianity and church life, especially communion. And we don’t want it to be all about who can lead it.

Cell leaders will be appointed according to calling, prayerful consideration, spiritual gifting and training. It won’t be just anybody seeking to lead others in Holy Communion. It will be valued as highly as it is every Sunday or weekday that it is carried out by Presbyters across the world. Perhaps now is a good time to highlight the value of lay leadership, and sometimes to allow them in on that which will enrich and enhance the worshipping life of the fresh expressions they are part of.