A evening with the Methodist Sacramental Fellowship

[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

"I worship daily as part of the Queen's Foundation, Birmingham in a diverse community where spontaneity and regular fixed forms are both valued and recognised s vital signs in prayer and worship."

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:

"I note in 2009 that many pre-ordination students are neither confident nor experienced in extempore prayer and yet on Circuit placement still encounter an expectation in Methodist Churches that, as student deacons and presbyters, they should be competent to do so."

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 :-)

[Update 23/07/09]

I received the following email from Rev'd Prebendary Norman Wallwork which I am including (with permission):

Dear Dave,
It WAS good to see you at the MSF lecture at
I am sorry if you felt out of it in the
MONDAY and TUESDAY said ANYONE was very welcome at the MEAL
AFTERWARDS and they only had to let me know for the PRE-BOOKING at the BALTI
We couldn't really give an open invitation and
swell the pre-booked numbers.
If your church booked a speacial meal with
pre-booked numbers I don't think you would then publish it as an open event just
as you were about to leave for it!
I think you have judged us a little
But there it is.
I do apologize.

10 thoughts on “A evening with the Methodist Sacramental Fellowship

  1. PamBG

    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.
    Oh good, it wasn’t just me who got that feeling last year. I’ve just decided to erase another sentence for the sake of diplomacy. Suffice it to say that I felt actively unwelcome.
    I certainly got to preordination with very little experience in extempore prayer. OK, I come from a tradition that is actually hostile toward extempore prayer, but my sending church was quite Wesleyan, so it didn’t feature much.

  2. Sue Hobley

    As an Anglican priest I use extempore prayer every time I preside at weekday communions (4 per week) and on Sunday morning at 8.00am (BCP. It’s not just mindless babbling though is it? There is structure and thought behind what I want to say related often to the readings. I just don’t write it out. When I was a local preacher I always wrote the prayers! So Anglicans do it too! I’m also a member of MSF. Sorry about your experiences too.

  3. Jane

    As a former Methodist Minister and now Roman Catholic (employed at Diocesan level in Adult Education and Evangelisation) and MSF member for 20 years, I felt I had to comment on your above blog entry.
    MSF is an incredibly welcoming and hospitable fellowship, where every effort is made to integrate and encourage members new and old.
    This is the first year for a while that I haven’t made it to the MSF Conference meeting – but I know that the dinner is indeed open to anyone who books and in previous years has often been filled with “new faces” – several of whom have come into membership.
    I can honestly say that MSF is in every sense a true Christian fellowship, where pastoral interest and care is consistently extended to sick and housebound members and the bereaved. It was the only Methodist body which offered a very warm hand of friendship when I resigned and converted.

  4. Sandra Marshall

    My experience of MSF has been like that of Jane. I don’t think Jane was saying she only felt welcome when she moved on. Indeed I know she always welcome and that she would say so. Indeed I was welcomed into their fellowship, joined, held office, resigned the office and was still welcome. I always went out of my way to greet new new people.
    Over the last few month’s I have known prayer, love and support in a time of crisis. I thank God for MSF.
    I too know that people are always invited to book for the meal – I can only think that you were too busy with the Conference Agenda to read the notices! Sorry.

  5. Dave

    Sorry for my poor use of English. I meant that I was sorry it was “only from MSF” not “MSF only”.
    There was limited availability of notices to the gallery.

  6. Pat Billsborrow

    I know we are already nearly up to Conference 2010 but if you are there I will personally make sure you are welcomed to our meeting if you come. We really are a friendly bunch and come from a wide range of sacramental experience. You may have seen the report in the Meth Rec this week about our annual conference where we enjoyed a wonderful time of fellowship together, we in the north west meet on a monthly basis and there are regional meetings on a regular basis which cover a wide range of subjects. Please don’t write us off, give us another go. Pat

  7. Dave

    Thanks for the invitation. Unfortunately I won’t be at conference this year. With us moving in August I did not want to lose a week in the circuit at that time of year.


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