Twenty Years of HEADWAY
I remember it well: endless hours of debate about what to call this new movement combining both the older MRF (Methodist Revival Fellowship - established in 1952) and the newer group called CEIM (Conservative Evangelicals in Methodism - begun in 1970). It was now 1987, and I had been given the immense privilege of serving as the first chairman of the new movement. We decided to call it by the rather enigmatic title ‘Headway’ for, besides continuing to fulfil the aims of both its parent movements, our hope was that this new fellowship would be a constant reminder that Christ is the Head of the Church, that we must seek his way in all things, and that the Church’s task was to make genuine headway for the gospel.
I had been a member of MRF since 1956 and was at the founding conference of CEIM. Both movements had helped to shape my Christian thinking and ministry, and now Headway too became a fellowship in which I felt spiritually and theologically at home. Three particular impressions of Headway’s life and witness within the Methodist Church are worth mentioning here.
1. Itinerancy and continuity of ministryL~
Methodism at that time resisted either its theological colleges or its local churches developing any particular theological stance, either evangelical or radical. This was something that CEIM had begun to address, and Headway continued to work at it. The idea that it was good for local churches to experience constant swings of theological emphasis as successive ministers came and went was argued against, and the fact that today District Chairs and the Stationing Committee are much more open to finding ministers who ‘fit’ a church’s theological tradition is in no small measure due to Headway’s influence.
2. Evangelical involvementL~
Donald English always argued that if they were to have any lasting influence for change within Methodism evangelicals must get involved in the life and structures of the Church. He himself was a supreme example of that approach, and God alone knows how much change was brought about by his and others’ quiet, patient, persistent involvement behind the scenes over the years. Faithful evangelical witness in matters as diverse as human sexuality, liturgy and mission priorities (to mention only a few areas of debate) had a significant influence on the shape and stance of Methodism as it is today – not yet what we long for it to be, but surely healthier from an evangelical perspective than two decades ago. The fact that our Church is now generally careful to include evangelical representation in its various committees and working parties is the fruit of such work, as is the growing number of evangelicals serving at District and Connexional level.
3. Support and encouragementL~
When I first joined MRF as a student, to be an evangelical Methodist was to walk a very lonely path; yet knowing that I was in fellowship with others of like mind was always a great encouragement, even though I only occasionally had opportunity to meet them. Headway has fulfilled that same role, and many evangelicals have been held within the Methodist Church and supported in their witness not only through Headway’s activities and publications but simply because of what this movement has stood for through the twenty years of its life. I for one thank God for its life and witness, and pray that MET will continue and develop that same vital role.
Rev Brian Hoare was the first chair of Headway and later editor of Headline magazine. In 1995 Brian served as President of the Methodist Conference
Leading Headway for six years has been one of the most significant parts of my ministry, and I thank God for the confidence that Headway members placed in me during that time.
As I look back on that time let me pick out what I see as three key memories:-
First and foremost the tremendous sense of fellowship at any Headway gathering.L~
I am glad to be operating in a Church which has a variety of liturgical and theological emphasise (within reason!), but what a joy when coming together with Headway members to know where we stand, to take the Bible seriously, and to share in worship which touches the soul. Within the Headway Executive Committee the fun and fellowship were always a great source of joy and strength. Christian fellowship is impossible to define, but has Christ at the centre, that has always been my experience in Headway and I thank God for it.
Second, my disappointment at how evangelicals can sometimes behave.L~
In my time as Headway Chairman I received hundreds of letters about a whole range of issues. Sadly the most objectionable and offensive were usually from those who would call themselves evangelical. I am friends with many Connexional officers, their experience is much the same, and because most of them are not of an evangelical persuasion their view as to where evangelical Methodists are coming from is often a jaded one. Some letters have been so bad that I have simply sent them back with a covering letter asking the sender to read it, pray over it, and ask themselves whether it was worthy of a follower of Jesus, and if so to re-send it – I have never had one back! Why is it that some evangelicals seem to be so totally lacking in grace? I don’t know, but it saddens my heart.
Third the encouragement of seeing the perception and profile of evangelicals within Methodism change.L~
I think it was my good friend Paul Smith who spoke about our holding meetings for evangelicals at the Methodist Conference in a telephone kiosk!- that was not too far from the truth. The debate about human sexuality changed all that: evangelicals saw the need to have their views voiced effectively, and began to appreciate that to do that well they needed organisation. This therefore was a time a great growth for Headway; it was also a difficult time for even within the evangelical constituency there was controversy as to what line we should take. The result of the sexuality debate was the so called “Derby Resolutions”. Some felt these unsatisfactory and left us, others that a line had been drawn and we could now move forward. Those outside the evangelical constituency realised, many for the fist time, what a significant voice we were, and I also like to think that they also realised that evangelicals could combine firmness and grace – a lesson many of us younger leaders learnt from dear Donald English. Since then the influence of evangelicals within Conference has increased beyond the wildest dreams of many, we now have a number of District Chairs who are members, and other significant appointments such as my own at the Methodist Central Hall Westminster show how we are now part of the mainstream – let us be thankful for that.
Headway is now to change its name, but the gospel values upon which it is based will never change. May God bless and guide Paul Wilson as he takes over the mantle of leadership, he is moving into one of the key and most satisfying roles within Methodism!
Rev Martin Turner was chair of Headway from 1995-2001
Headline Summer 2007 pp.4-5.