Category Archives: Methodist

Great things from the Church of England. But

The Church of England does many things well, there are also lots and lots of wonderful people doing great stuff in the Church of England. But there is a but.

Take the Faith in Conflict Conference that I am at this week. So much of this is absolutely brilliant:

  • The actual plenary content (just the first afternoon and evening have been enough to have made the time and cost worthwhile).
  • The people who are speaking and leading the smaller workgroups are highly qualified in the field and good facilitators.
  • The preparation and organisation are great. Clear arrangements, good facilities, very welcoming,helpful and knowledgeable staff team, quality printed materials. All top notch.
  • The food has also been good (how many people get to have meals served in the Nave of a Cathedral), with good quality, quantity, service and timing.
  • Coventry Cathedral is a wonderful setting for a conference on conflict and has a fantastic ongoing work in the field of reconciliation.

So a great conference.

However, there is a weakness and it reminds me of my training on a CofE dominated course. It is in the area of ecumenical appearance.

First, we had warm and friendly welcomes from the Chair of the organising committee, from the Bishop and from the Cathedral Dean. But there was no ecumenical involvement. Why was there nobody from another denomination to also welcome us? There are people at this conferenence from the Baptists, Catholics, Society of Friends, Mennonites, Methodists and more (including from other Countries). Couldn't someone from a local Church or Synod/District/Area from another denomination have provided an ecumenical dimension to the welcome?

Secondly, it would have been nice to see in the programme some contributions to the worship from other traditions than just the CofE. The worship may be great (although Choral Evensong sadly does very little to help me worship) but there appears from what I can see so far no attempt to involve other Churches, no ecumenical welcome. At a conference on Faith in Conflict to not celebrate different traditions of worship (about which there has been plenty conflict in the past and plenty of reconciliation still needed) seems a missed opportunity.

My perception is that these come from two beliefs the Church of England has of itself. First that it sees itself as the National Church and therefore able to represent all Christians. Second it believes that because the breadth of the Church of England is so wide it encompasses all traditions. For me neither of these are true and it disappoints me when I experience what can appear as arrogance or a sense of superiority. I know that when I explore these issues with people in the Church of England this is not what they intend. I hope that over time we will see more progress made.

Celebrating Rothley Methodists

Just home from a fantastic afternoon and evening at Rothley Methodist Church.

We started with Messy Church at 3pm. This was only our second Messy Church (4th Saturday every month 3pm til 5pm) yet we had 24 kids and 19 adults.

Just to put that in context 19 adults is more than we tend to average on a Sunday morning! Lots of people that I am meeting for the first time :-)

In one of those nice "coincidences" that come after prayer and response, we were focused on the feeding of the 5,000 at this Messy Church. Lots of creative stuff, of which quite a bit was edible :-) Then marching into worship sing "One little boy who shared his lunch" to the tune "Ten Little Indians", then a video on the story, some interactive reflections on the story, a couple of Fischy Music action songs that fitted well ("We can do good" and "We all need encouragment") and prayers before we went back out to the hall to find the sausages were not quite ready. So I stole an idea from Birstall Messy Church where a parachute is used to bounce prayers upto God. We didn't have either a parachute or space for one with all this many people so we had a virtual parachute which worked just as well :-)

By then the very special "Truly Irrestible" Co-Operative sausages were ready along with the potatos, peas and beans (I was determined that we would have sausages that we would not read about horse in them during the week!). Pam had made a variety of cakes to follow that which also went down very well.

By this point the bread in fish shapes (ish) that the children had made were bakes so they could take them home along with all the other things they had made.

It was a brilliant afternoon, only made possible by a wonderful congregation who are enjoying a new lease of life having so many children in the Church. The congregation have been brilliant at inviting people and then being there to welcome them as well as getting involved in lots of practical ways. Sue, our senior Steward has lots of wonderfully creative ideas for the crafts (comes with a lovely mixture from her years of experience as a Beaver Leader and also as a Worship Leader).

After that we just had time to clear up and re-arrange the whole building for an evening of "Folk and Food", part of our 190th year celebrations. So we had a 10 strong Eileen's Little Big Band to play for us (as well as a couple of pieces sung by Christine from our own congregation). Lots of community singing of a mixture of secular and faith songs such as "Outragous Grace". A real highlight was Keith talking about his Baptism 3 weeks ago at Syston and then singing "Pour over me" with David on the piano. A very powerful testimony :-)

We had 60 people there which meant we were packed out! So nice to open the partition to the Church and move pews in order to add more space to the hall. In fact when it came to the eating many spread out into the Church (where I was serving beautiful Cameroon Tank Coffee having borrowed Syston's coffee machine and 4 x 2.2 litre pump flasks).

Everyone had a great time. So good to see the congregation enjoying having so many people joining them.

It has been an amazing few days for our little Chapel, last week we hosted a Circuit Sunday Morning Service. I wasn't there as I was on holiday but heard it was very full and again the congregation were loving the support of so many coming to celebrate 190 years of God's love in and through this congregation.

We have lots more things coming during this 190th year of celebration including services by Stella Bristow (former Vice President of the Methodist Connexion), Peter Hancock (Northampton District Chair) and a number of preachers/ministers with connections with the Chapel from the past.

Someone for David Cameron to listen to

I have just been visiting someone that I think it would be good for David Cameron to meet. A lovely lady in her 90's. One of her daughters recently died and we were talking about a whole range of things from her life.

She started talking about her husband who died many years ago. I thought of David Cameron when she described her husbands war experiences and how they affected him. In his Christmas speech our Prime Minister mentioned ""Indeed, God's word reminds us that Jesus was the Prince of Peace." Odd words to preceed talking about service men and women who are at war. Odd words from a Prime Minister who travels to oppressive regimes in the Middle East to sell arms.

I wish he could have heard this lovely lady on the subject of peace.

She described how after the war her husband would sob in her arms as he could not escape memories of standing on the bodies of his comrades, of seeing them die.

She said war solves nothing.

If only our government listened to people like this lady. People who have been trough tough times and come out knowing that violence only breeds hatred and more violence. The only answer she said is love.

What is more, that is of course what Jesus said and lived as well. The politicians of the day killed him for it. Today they simply twist his words to justify their terrible actions.

David Cameron, get in touch if you want me to introduce you to a lady who will help you understand the consequences of your choices.

What can women do?

After my annoyance expressed in More nonsense on what women can do about a post "What the Bible clearly says women can do" I thought I would write a more positive post on the subject.

So "What can women do?"

Short answer: Anything.

Slightly longer answer.

Biblically we see in Genesis 1:27 that men and women are both created by God and in God's image. Nothing about a hierachy here.

However, I recognise that in the Bible we see a patriarchial society. Yet despite that human structure God continually calls and equips Women for a wide variety of tasks that their society frequently believed were for men only.

When we come to the New Testament we see a very different picture in Jesus. Among other things he taught women, he learned from women, he called women as evangelists and he was financially supported by women. Jesus tells us he came to bring us life in all it's fullness and he does nothing to make it appear that this is a promise for men only.

We also see early Churches led by women in their homes, we see Paul praising women in many ways and clearly he worked with them in different places. Given that the (very) few occasions when Paul restricts the role of women must be connected with specific circumstances or individuals as otherwise he would be contradicting himself. Paul recognises that in God's kingdom there are no distinctions based on gender.

In the Church and world today we see that God blesses the work of women just as much as the work of men.

In the Church the Holy Spirit is active where there are faithful women in leadership just as the Holy Spirit is active when there are faithful men in leadership.

In business writers such as Tom Peters have consistently pointed out that businesses with women in senior positions tend to do better.

So are there limits on what women can do? Yes but they are the same ethical and moral limits that apply to men and so are not connected to this post.

Got to dash now as I have a membership class of people wanting to celebrate all God is calling them to!

Inspired to be proud

This evening I noticed the effects of earlier events today in my behaviour.

I had been at a couple of events at Methodist Church House (more on that in a minute), afterwards I stayed in my dog collar for the rest of the evening which is not really my normal practice.

I had a good time, a nice bike ride around London without getting too lost while looking for Foyles which is a lovely place to spend some time, then a nice meal at Pizza Express. It was only when I was getting off the train in Leicester with by bike to ride home that I noticed I still had the dog collar on.

No big deal even if with my rather low church background it is not what I normally do.

I realised it came from feeling inspired by what I had gone to London for. I went for two leaving "do's" as a representative of the Methodist Council.

The first was for Mark Wakelin, currently President of the Methodist Conference and it was a farewell as his "day" job of Secretary for Internal Relationships (yes we know, daftest job title ever) as that has come to an end (and at least we are getting rid of the job title).

I have known Mark for some 11 years as he was leading a team at the Guy Chester Centre (the team included Morfa Jones, Helen Muller, Liz Gamble and Sister Anne Marie Farrell) who together were a key part of the two years of foundation training the Methodist Church gave me.

Today Mark reminded us of three key themes that he focused on during the last 4 years in the Connexional Team

  • Encouraging the people of the Methodist Church to be kind to each other. Building relationships and bridges across the connexion.
  • Encouraging the Methodist Church to think strategically and intentionally about what we are doing, why we are doing it and what outcomes we expect/want.
  • and very much at the heart of all that Mark always does. Encouraging the Methodist Church to deepen our discipleship and gain in confidence as we talk of God.

Hearing Mark speak again on those things reminded me how consistently I have been encouraged and inspired by him over the years in all those things.

Mark was one of the key people who inspired and supported me in my initial training. 

After Mark's farewell it was good to have a chat with another key person from my past. Ann Leck (Vice President of the Methodist Church in 2001) leads a group in our District for under 5's (Ministers who have been ordained but have not yet completed 5 years service). Ann was also one of the leaders of the series of retreats I went on for Ministers reaching the end of their first appointment. Both those were incredibly helpful for me and Ann is always good to talk to with both wit and a tendency to powerful insights.

Then it was time for the second farewell, this time to John Ellis who has been Secretary for Connexional Team Operations. I have only got to know John during the three years I have been on Methodist Council but his integrity, commitment and determination to listen and respond has been outstanding. He is going on to be Lay Moderator of the URC a great choice by them.

So I left Methodist Church House feeling re-engergised, inspired and proud to be associated with these people and to have been trained and influenced by them. So much so that I realised afterwards that I had continued to wear my dog collar all evening because it is so good to be associated with people like Mark, Ann and John.

Doing theology in worship

In this evenings service we went pretty deep into John 4, the woman at the well. I tacked it in three sections.

First, recognising that this is a popular and influential passage for many people I asked the congregation to share how the passage had influenced them and how they experienced it.

Secondly, we looked at some of the issues raised in Sandra Schneider's excellent book "The Revelatory Text" which helps with understanding the 5 husbands as well as challenging views of this first evangelist and the only person that John records fully theologically engaging with Jesus (for example contrast to Nicodemus). On the way we looked at the typology of the narrative in terms of Bride and Bridegroom as well as the key importance of Jesus describing himself as "I Am".

Thirdly, I explored the relevance for us today of the way this showed Jesus at work. How Jesus worked around even the newly forming structures/roles and went to people (the woman in this case) with no power or authority. How Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit still uses ordinary people to bring real change as they discover him as living water and share with their communities.

At the end of the service people wanted to carry on discussing and were asking for to do more "deeper" theology :-)

Using the Bible on issues such as equality part 1

I have been engaging with the Newfrontiers Church again on the issue of equality. See The Pink Pamphlet: Soul Survivor’s Position on Women in Leadership | Theology Matters | Newfrontiers UK.

I suspect that my approach to the issue is probably as frustrating to Newfrontiers people. I get repeated requests from them to jump straight into biblical exegesis. However, I feel that is unhelpful and for several reasons.

Firstly, there is the problem of the hermeneutic circle.

Simplistically that recognises that there is no independent starting point when we approach Scripture. We come to Scripture and have interpret it from where we are now and that influences how we understand Scripture – if you like we are not and cannot be bias free. However, we would hope and expect that engaging with Scripture will change us and our views somewhat so that next time we come to Scripture we do so from a slightly different viewpoint.

This process has no end (hence Hermeneutic Circle). 

When Newfrontiers and I approach the Bible on a issue such as equality we do so from very different positions and with very different experiences. These change the way we then understand what we read just as all that we have read of Scripture in the past has already changed who we are as we approach this time.

In a situation where we know our views differ so greatly and where neither Newfrontiers nor I can come to Scripture bias free it seems to me that it is best to spend some effort exploring the issues before approaching Scripture so that when we do so we can have a little more understanding of these biases and where we are each coming from.

Secondly, (and of course this is related to the first) I am deeply unhappy with approaching Scripture looking for verses and interpretations of verses to support a particular point. At it's worst these becomes a proof text battle where each side hits the other over the head with individual "clobber" verses and in the process the Bible is reduced to a club rather than the word of God. I find this irreverent and ineffective. Sadly, it is very hard to avoid this in discussions such as this where Andrew Wilson has already responded using a verse based approach to a paper written elsewhere.

Thirdly, I much prefer a wider view and approach to Scripture. As I read Scripture I want to be explicitly reflecting on how this relates to my whole model (understanding) of God. Too often you can work at the detail level and then when you look up suddenly realise that what you have ended up with is in conflict with your understanding of who God is and how God works. Sadly, very often people do not evaluate their conclusions in this way and sometimes this leads them to make some very odd claims.

Related to this is my great concern about taking verses from Scripture out of context. The phrase "a text without a context is a pretext" is rightly a popular one. Yet the danger is that if you that start with individual verses the context becomes a bolt on and molds to your purposes. At that point the pretext is shaping the context.

Fourthly, I am unashamedly a follower of Jesus. That aligns me with what some describe as a "red letter Christian". In other words when I am reflecting on Scripture I give more weight, more priority to the words of Jesus than anything else. It does not mean I restrict the Bible to only the words of Jesus but it does mean that everything is tested against the teaching, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. I again find this puts me into conflict with the Newfrontiers approach which tends to put more focus on the writing of Paul.

So what is my approach?

The most important individual tool for me in using the Bible is the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. That means I explore an issue using 4 sources which in priority order are

  • Scripture
  • Tradition
  • Reason
  • Experience

So the highest authority is given to Scripture but my understanding is explored by relating it to all the others. A key element of this approach that was assumed in the past but with our society needs to be handled explicitly is that this process is not individualistic but done as and in community. My understanding needs to be mediated by the Christian Community that I am a part of (and the more that is connected into wider Christian Communities the better).

In a way the Wesleyan Quadrilateral fits well with my understanding of the Hermeneutic Circle. Using the elements of tradition, reason and experience allows me to explore in a deliberate way what affects the way I approach Scripture. Far better to be be aware of these than ignore them.

However, the Wesleyan Quadrilateral is not the only approach I take to Scripture. It can easily be too intellectual and so it is important to me to balance this with other ways of approaching Scripture such as through worship or meditation.

Hopefully this first post sets the scene for why I appear to Newfrontiers to be slow to use Scripture when I want to challenge a their views on gender and equality.

Two things I love about Christmas: the way and the end

I love what the story of Christmas tells us about both the way God does things and the ends that God is working towards.

Sadly, it seems to me that in much of Christendom we focus on the ends (the Kingdom of God, the return of Jesus, …) that we forget how central to these ends are the ways God acts.

One of the saddest things is where we get sidetracked from looking at the way God acts into worrying about how God does them. For me one classic Christmas sidetrack is the Virgin Birth. A concern for getting doctrine, understanding and teaching "right" on that issue inevitably derails us from reflection on the way God works in the Christmas event through ordinary, faithful, obedient people like Elizabeth and Mary.

I do not want to miss the ends, that God came into the world as a human being in Jesus who went on to die for us be raised from the dead leading to the joys of a relationship, new life, salvation and eternal life.

However, the means is absolutely vital. Too often we act as if the ends can be reached through ways that are incompatible with the way God shows us through the Christmas event.

The ways God works excite me, energise me and fill me with enthusiasm for being a disciple. You can see some of the ways that I find important from Christmas in what I write about

  • No religious hierarchy

The way that God went about sending his son as well as the way Jesus went about his ministry and the way the Holy Spirit worked in the early Church all indicate to me that far too much of Religious Hierarchy comes not from God but from humans. 

I am delighted to be part of the British Methodist Church which is generally pretty non hierarchical and find it frustrating when there appears to be a human tendency to create hierarchy.

I struggle a great deal with the way a number of other Churches create hierarchies such as (at two extremes( the Catholic Church and US mega Churches (some of which appear to function on an entrepreneurial profit motivated hierarchy).

I find it particularly problematical when Churches give the clergy a hierarchical role over lay people which can result in tremendous abuse of power where clergy interfere in the details of people's lives. 

  • All people

The account of the birth of Jesus in Luke's gospel demonstrates in many ways a beautiful inclusion of people who were typically excluded (women, shepherds, foreigners). Sadly we so often see this inclusion lost and forgotten in Churches – even activelty campaigned against by many (consider gender, sexualty and ethnicity).

  • peace/powerlessness

Again the way that God acts through sending a helpless baby to an occupied country to parents with no power or authority is wonderful and stunningly counter cultural.

I despair when Churches reject the ways of non violence and powerlessnes that we see in the birth, life, death & resurrection of Jesus. The birth narratives stand in stark contrast to our own striving for power and willingness to accept violence.

So I love the end results of Christmas and celebrate them. However, I am equally in love with the way God acts through the birth of his son and am inspired to stand for God's way of doing things that is non hierarchical for all people and uses non violence and powerlessness.

Of course the challenge for me as for everyone else is how to move from being in love with the way God does things to being in tune with them and onto living them out in my life – a worthy challenge for us all!

Decision making, mutual submission and God’s call

In a comment on my post "How to do theology?" "Priest" wrote:

I'm keen to know how you work 'mutual submission' out.

This is a common question for people who only have experience of Male Headship (commonly marketed at Complementarianism). 

For those of us who have grown up in "egalitarian" homes and/or whose relationships are not based on hierarcrhy or headship the question can easily apppear odd. We can struggle to understand why this would be considered a problem. Our confusion is often increased by the scenarios that are suggested as examples of situations where equality and mutual submission won't work.

One of the common challenges I have heard is without a single person to make decisions how do you quickly decide how to tackle an armed burgular who had broken into your home? One of the key problems with the scenario being the assumption that tackling an armed burgular is the best option whereas getting the family out of the house (something that can be done better by two of you working together) and calling the police is likely to be a much better option.

"Priest" asked a different question and one that is more interesting:

When I got married, my wife felt God had given her a desire to take the gospel to the ends of the earth, more specifically to unreached people groups. I, on the other hand, felt God had placed the local church we were part of, on my heart. What would you advise me to do in such a way that my wife feels honoured and respected?

I think this is worth answering in some detail in the hope that others will find it useful.

First, the language of the actual question is based in a view of Male Headship that does not match my understanding of the goals of a Christian egalitarian marriage. So instead of:

What would you advise me to do in such a way that my wife feels honoured and respected?

I feel it would be better to word this differently such as:

How might we decide what God is calling us to as a married couple so that together we casn respond to God's call and grow in our faith, discipleship and relationship.

In other words I am not following a path of mutual submission so that my wife "feels honoured and respected" but we both do this so that God may be honoured and our relationship strengthened as part of our journey into life in all it's fullness.

Next, I am certain that every couple will have their own way of doing this. The way that Jane and I do things won't be right for everyone, what works for us comes from our personalities, particular gifts & experiences, our family backgrounds, culture etc.

So how do we work out what God is calling you to do? Especially when you have different understandings or are "hearing" different things?

One factor in the equation is that compared to most Complementarians we are rather more Postmodern in our understanding. That means we are less likely to frame choices as discrete, mututally exclusive options. We are also less likely to see any revelation/understanding of calling as being complete and crystall clear.

This means that we are open to taking a while to making a decsion. If you like Myers Briggs then this emphasises P rather than J on the Judging element of personality (but don't worry if you think Myres Brggs is a load of rubbish that is not a core belief or a requirement). Not all decisions can be made slowly, but where a decision affects the whole of life it seems sensible to us to take as much time as is available to make as good a decision as possible.

So with the difference in understanding of God's call that "Priest" gives we would be considering together and with family, Church & friends lots of things. For example are these callings really incompatible? Might we be called to support/challenge our local church in world mission? Might we be called to support a local church in a place where there are many unreached people? Might the unreached people actually be in our wider community? Might the timing be sequential for example to work within the local Church while undergoing missiological training before going elsewhere? Might we be called to stay in this country and Church while funding ourselves for extended mission trips each year? Who else might God be calling us to work with (Churches already doing mission around the world, other churches where we live, parachurch organisations).

We would be praying and looking for doors opening/closing. We would be talking & praying together about the possibilities, about our developing understanding of God's calling for us both. We would be doing all this in the knowledge that both of us are willing to put aside our own preferences for the growth, happiness and discipleship of the other.

We would be doing all this in the belief that when we are seeking God's will and being willing to submit to the Holy Spirit then God will take our choices and work for good in them. We will recognise that we might get things wrong and miss some of what God asks but through that God will still work for good and will honour our intentions while forgiving our mistakes.

In otherwords we understand that the decision making process is almost as important as the decision. If we model love for God and love for our neighbours in the process then the decision will allow us to love God and our neighbours. If we honour the Holy Spirit in the process then the Holy Spirit will bless the outcome.

We also operate under assumptions that God is not going to call us to break up our marriage or hurt each other. That all of us are equally loved and called by God

All of this is called Christian Discernment. Decision making about God's call on our lives is a big big issue. It is not to be taken lightly or without using all the resources that God gives. You might find it helpful to think of these in terms of the Wesleyan Quadritaleral (Scripture, Tradition, Reason & Experience) being worked out in Christian Community (at the levels of marriage, family, local Church Community & wider Church).

For us the decision about whether I was being called to leave IT and our own business to become an itinerant Methodist Minister had the biggest potential for radical change for us and in many ways was the biggest decision of our marriage. Previous decisions about job changes while difficult were easy by comparison:

  • In the first few years of our marriage Jane changed jobs a couple of times for better prospects, related to training as a Civil Engineer.
  • I left the United Bible Societies to work in the City of London because the work was changing, because the amount of travel I did was upsettling our children and because we were struggling with negative equity.
  • We started our own business because we were approached with a wonderful opportunity of a two year contract to get us started with some security and because we wanted to work together & have more time as a family. It provided a way for Jane to return to work in a way that worked with a young family.

Training for and then becoming a Methodist Minister was much bigger with lots of questions:

  • had we understood God's call correctly?
  • what about all the employees in our company (over 15 at this point)? What did it mean for their futures?
  • what about our children? It would mean part-time studying for 6 years for me which would take a lot of time away from the family. It would mean moving around to places we didn't choose with potential disruption to their education.
  • what about my parents who were moving into retirement and had handed over their business to us? What did it mean for their dreams and relationships with people who had worked in the business for many years?
  • what about Jane's parents, particularly as her Dad was being treated for cancer? What would it mean for our support for them?
  • what about money? It would mean a huge pay cut (for us both) and we had a large mortgage on our home. Jane would have to start a whole new career as well.
  • what would it mean personally? Jane had chosen to marry a computer programmer not a minister. I liked working with technology more than people.

In the end it meant that it took 10 years from my first call to ministry to being stationed for the first time (admittedly for the first few years we thought the call was a joke and didn't take it seriously). When we started to take it seriously (due to a sleepless week for each of us as God repeated the call time and time again) we put lots of effort in to testing it and exploring it together and with others. For us it was also important that this call was not just about us but that the Church also tested it and so the recognition of the wider Church was important not just because the call was to be a minister but because we felt that the Church needed to be part of the decision.

For me this fits with Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians 7 especially verse 8. When it comes to responding to the radical calls that God makes on our lives things are different when you are married. When it comes to God's call for people who are married then the call has to be discerned in the light that you have become "one flesh" committed to each other for the rest of your lives. Fortunately, God honours our marriages and so respects the process by which we discern and respond to the call.

Our process may seem long and complicated compared to the view proposed by male headship supporters (God called me and I made the decision for our family because God appointed me as the head of the family) there is one other critical factor.

When we respond to God's call things will not always be easy. We will be attacked for the decision and we will struggle at times. However, when things are difficult the process by which you came to the decision makes a huge difference. If this is a decision you have made together as equals then our experience is that you will be far more able to support and encourage each other at these difficult than if one of you made the decision on behalf of all. Inevitably the level of commitment you each have to the decision is greater when you have been fully involved in that decision.

Simplistically, I know that the decisions that we make together are better decisions than I would make alone. Of course that is not a surprise given that I married someone far more intelligent than me :-)