[Update 23/7/09] See bottom of post for a response
At the Methodist Conference there are always a number of "Fringe Events" during the lunch break and in the evening. Beyond lots of meals to catch up with friends I like to try out a variety of these. I blogged about last nights in 42: Some beautiful women.
Tonight I decided to go to the Sacramental Fellowship's Lecture by Rev Helen Cameron on ‘The Extempore Sacrament'. I am not a member of the Sacramental Fellowship but I went for a number of reasons:
- I believe in itinerancy. That means that as a Methodist Presbyter I am stationed by the Methodist Conference. There is an element of sending rather than choosing. I was taught that a presbyter needs to be able to fit with a congregations styles and preferences for worship. Actually that is too simplistic a statement. Clearly there are expectations of leadership and that a presbyter will encourage and support congregations in deepening discipleship and spirituality and that this might well include working to move worship onwards. But there is certainly an expectation that a presbyter will not simply force their style on a congregation. I recognise that I am a good fit with the congregations where I am now (informal, flexible, low evangelical) but that might not always be the case so it is a good idea to stay in touch with other streams of Methodism.
- "The Extempore Sacrament" interested me as a title. I am needing to do communion without books in a number of places for a variety of reasons:
- At Old Weston if I say we are not going to use the books for Communion there will usually be a clear loud response of "Oh Good", partly it is their tradition but also with an elderly congregation it is also about comfort reading with failing eyesight.
- At all age worship at Raunds where there might well be a number of people who struggle to read it excludes people from fully participating if wee use books.
- One of the chapels I am gaining pastoral charge for does not have the Methodist Worship Book.
My thoughts are:
Hospitality: Sorry but the Sacramental Fellowship did appear a bit of a closed club. Clearly most people knew each other well and there was little attempt to integrate new commers. For example several were obviously going out for a meal together after the lecture but it was not announced and there was no invitation to join them. Poor marks, I do expect more and am not normally disappointed.
The Lecture was very interesting indeed. One of the things that struck me was the very different starting point and some of the assumptions that are very different to my experience. I wonder why the experience and therefore the assumptions should be so different. Also which is more typical of Methodism in general.
My training experience was in a very different establishment to Queens, one with (at least to start with) a much weaker Methodist input. It was also part-time rather than residential. Helen said
That was not the case at SEITE. We had a wide variety of Anglican forms of worship, although none of them very spontaneous and one weekend a year of Methodisty worship which was focused around the Covenant service which is hardly typical Methodist Worship (much as I love the Covenant Service it is quite different to Sunday worship the rest of the year). In our Foundation training at The North Bank Centre (now the Guy Chester Centre) all worship included spontaneous elements and was generally very free and very informal.
Even before that the Methodism I grew up with and the places I serve now are quite clearly different from Helen's expectations:
Gulp. This is so different from my experience it is quite hard to recognise. The Methodists I trained with (Beale, Dani & Kim) were all far more experienced local preachers than I yet all of us found it hard to adjust to the lack of extempore prayer and preaching. We expected it but it was not expected of us and so we had to sneak it in :-)
Looking before that. It was expected and normal in the Sunday Night fellowship when I was a teenager, also in Methsoc at University and when working for the United Bible Societies. In house fellowships it was normal to be able to ask pretty much anyone to pray at any point in the meeting.
When I was a Church Steward, with Terry Hudson as the minister, he quite correctly (according to CPD) expected the Stewards to be the Spiritual leadership of the Church and with that was an expectation of being able to pray in public (not just the Stewards either). If I had gone to the Circuit to ask about becoming a local preacher without them knowing that I could pray I think they would have just laughed. In my local preacher training my mentor expected some extempore prayer and reports on services would immediately pick up prayer if it did not include a balance between extempore and fixed.
In the Churches I serve there is also an expectation of prayer. I expect Worship Leaders to be able to pray extempore (although there is a range of preference). I expect the leadership team to pray and the same with house groups, we always have open prayer and pretty much everyone joins in.
In short I don't understand how anyone could get to pre-ordination in the Methodist Church without plenty of expectation and experience in extempore prayer. We are much more likely to find people who have never led worship straight from the Methodist Worship Book (in lots and lots of places it is only used for Holy Communion, Covenant & Baptisms so very rarely by local preachers).
One of the questions was about how to teach extempore prayer for Local Preachers as well as for student ministers. I was surprised that modelling was not mentioned. You learn how to pray from the example of those who are walking alongside you. When you meet to prepare the very first service you are going to share in, surely you start in prayer. When you go to the local preachers meeting surely there is plenty of extempore prayer as you go through the agenda. For more see 42: Moving Methodism: 21 ways to improve Local Preachers Meetings.
So I wonder, is it me that has some strange experience of Methodism? Or is the Sacramental Fellowship quite out of touch with general Methodism. Meanwhile make sure you are comfortable praying before asking me about ordination :-)
I received the following email from Rev'd Prebendary Norman Wallwork which I am including (with permission):