Is Methodism all about relationship?

In The Road to "Elder" ado: It is all about relationship! POSITIVES David Matthias wrote:

Who oversees a Church is not determined by a random decision from above, rather "it is all about relationship"

In a comment on my post 42: Dave "one record" Warnock (which was about the way that for women New Frontiers is not all about relationship) Peter Kirk wrote

Dave,
I agree with you. But you might sound less like a "one record" man if
you answered David's implicit criticism of the Methodist church (well,
it fits you better than any other church I know) that "Who oversees a
Church is … determined by a random decision from above".

In fact Pam has already given a good response to Peter in her comment.

My own experience about the way the oversight of a Church is determined within Methodism has in fact very little with a "random decision from above" (unless we understand God to be the "above" in which case I do not think it is appropriate to refer to it as "random").

Firstly, there is a 26 page booklet on Good Practice in the Stationing
of each year Ministers issued to all Ministers and Circuits involved in
stationing. I have my copy of the 2010 document in front of me. This is
important as the process needs to reflect human rights, equal
opportunities and employment legislation. No random decision could do
that, but equally no system based on friendship could achieve that
either.

Secondly, the Good Practice Guide makes it clear that this is a connexional process. In order to server in the Church Ministers need to be both ordained and in "Full Connexion" with the Church. Connexion for Methodists is about relationship. We are all connected (ie in relationship) and our structures and procedures reflect that.

Thirdly, the guide recognises that stationing (ie determining where ministers serve and thus provide Pastoral Oversight) is a partnership involving a large network of people many of who are representatives of groups. For example it explicitly includes: the minister, their spouse and families, circuit stewards (elected by the Circuit Meeting, which itself is elected by the elected Church Councils), (the Diaconal Order and Warden of the Order for Deacons), the District Chair, the District Lay Stationing Representative, the circuit invitation committee (chosen by the Circuit Meeting), the church stewards and representatives and all groups within the Churches and served by the Churches including ecumenical partners.

Fourthly, the guide makes clear the need to balance adequate information and confidentiality.

In my own experience I know that my first appointment as a probationer involved a web of relationships. From my side that included the Methodist Director of Studies (Angela Shier-Jones), the Team at Church House and the Stationing Committee of District Chairs etc. This is a team of people who have strong relationships, they work together a great deal and usually have known each other many years. Their work could not be described in a any way is a random decision from above, it is neither random nor "from above" in the sense of a centralised authority figure. I know that all 3 of us who came from Seite that years were very happy with the way that the stationing process treated us.

From the side of the Church there is a complicated web of relationships around the Circuit who will have been involved in deciding that they would have a probationer, knowing that they would have no direct say but instead would rely on their relationship with the District Chair to look after them.

In the process that I am at the start of this year (detailed somewhat in 42: Methodist Stationing 1 and 42: Methodist Stationing 2) there is again huge reliance of relationships within Churches, Circuits, Districts and between Districts.

But at the same time as there is all this reliance on relationships through which things get sorted that happens within this wider framework which is there to ensure fairness and which avoids the dangers of favouritism or special favours for friends (and the guide is extremely specific on what must be done to avoid such problems).

So I am starting this process, not knowing what the outcome will be yet confident that the process, while no perfect, is being handled by people with whom I have good relationships and who have good relationships between them, within a process that does its best to ensure fairness while at the same time being run by people who are very committed to prayerfully seeking God's will. All that sounds good to me and I am comfortable to be within this community, this connexion or related people.

8 thoughts on “Is Methodism all about relationship?

  1. Dave Warnock

    Bwahoa,
    You will see from my comment to Peter on the previous post that I did not think you were aiming that comment towards the Methodist Church, but Peter did and that was why I responded.

    Reply
  2. Peter Kirk

    Bwahoa, I rather did think you were thinking of the Methodist church, perhaps because you had been reading Dave’s other posts. If I misrepresented you, I am sorry.
    Dave, I would like to withdraw any suggestion that Methodist stationing is “random”.
    But I would like to insist that it is “from above” at least in some cases. One of our fellow bloggers, Sally who I think you know personally, was recently given an assignment as a UK Methodist minister, to start this summer I think, without having any prior information about the churches she was being assigned to, nor if I remember correctly did the churches have any information about her. The decision that she would work there was taken entirely “from above” in the hierarchy of the church. She now has to move her whole family to a distant part of the country which she had not even seen until after the appointment was made. Do you deny that this happens at least in some circumstances?
    I should add that she is not complaining. But I don’t see this as an appropriate way of filling vacancies in a Christian church. In fact it sounds to me rather like the old Soviet system where people were sent all round the USSR on work assignments decreed by a bureaucracy.

    Reply
  3. Dave Warnock

    Peter,
    “Do you deny that this happens at least in some circumstances?”
    Absolutely not, it is the normal system for probationers. It was that system that meant we moved from Crawley, West Sussex to Raunds, Northamptonshire.
    But if you read my posts on stationing I absolutely deny that this is a system that works “from above” at least in the negative way you are implying.
    A placement like Sally’s, Pam’s and mine is in fact worked through a web of relationships. People who know us personally represent us (in my case it was Rev Angela Shier-Jones) and I know that all 3 of us who went from Seite that year feel very happy with the way that relationship worked.
    You are right in one sense. Once a circuit decides to seek a probationer they will get no choice. That is done to protect the probationers and it mostly does a good job of that.
    There are lots of similarities between this and the placement of Baptist Student Ministers and CoE Curates and for good reasons relating to the development of people the Church has invested a great deal of prayer, time and money in preparation.
    Seriously this is nothing like a Soviet system. Anyone who thinks about training for Methodist Ministry knows from the outset that this is an itinerant ministry. In a way very reminiscent of Ignatian spirituality we gain true freedom when we surrender every choice to the Living God. There is a huge sense of freedom that comes from releasing yourself to God through the Bride of Christ – I recommend it!
    In no way is the process the Methodist Church uses perfect and it can seem complex and rule bound. However, I have been very impressed by the way it is executed by the Church which has always presented itself in ways that are full of genuine pastoral concern for all involved – even if sometimes things don’t actually work as people would wish.
    I remember that there was a mix up when I was supposed to hear about where I was being sent. Late on a Friday evening I discovered that my friends knew where they were going but nobody had contacted me. I was able to talk (and this only started at about 9pm and went on for a couple of hours) to my Minister, to my Superintendent, to Angela, to my District Chair, to someone from Church House and all of them gave up time on a late Friday evening to help a worried and rather distressed student minister and get me the answer I was waiting for. That is not people “from above” but people in a proper pastoral relationship and I love them for it.

    Reply
  4. Dave Warnock

    Peter,
    Just to clarify a couple of points.
    There are multiple strands for stationing ministers within the Methodist Church. For example there are differences between presbyters and deacons.
    Deacons are part of an order and so the order is very much involved in stationing deacons – deacons surrender a great deal of freedom over their location to the order. The result is wonderful for the Church, a group of amazing people being sent into a wide variety of places often on the edge of the Church or beyond it in the community.
    Another group that are handled specially are probationers (as I mentioned in my previous post).
    Note all ministers are stationed into Circuits, not into Churches. The circuit can move ministers between Churches at any point (it does not happen that often). For example after 4 years I am gaining two Churches under my pastoral oversight (due to the circuit moving from 4 to 3 ministers and also because I have closed a couple of churches).

    Reply
  5. Peter Kirk

    Dave, I realise of course that probationers are going into this voluntarily and have no right to complain. And I accept that there is a place for assigning trainees to places, some of which might be difficult, without giving them a choice about it. But I don’t think it is the way to grow good ongoing ministries. I am glad that the system is being run by good caring people who make sure it is not an abusive one.
    This is nothing like the C of E system for new curates, at least in my diocese. A friend of mine recently, before ordination, was put in contact with a parish and then offered an interview with the vicar and others and a chance to look around the parish, with no obligation on either side. I think he took the first one offered to him, being aware that he didn’t have many choices. But he voluntarily went into a situation which he knew about in advance.

    Reply
  6. Dave Warnock

    When I was training with CoE folks it seemed they found their system a lot more stressful than the Methodists.
    Yes some of them had some choice (much less so for NSM’s) but only if they turned places down which was a big worry about whether an alternative could be found.
    Whether it is a good way to grow ministries surely depends on a number of things including your attitude to and understanding of ordained ministry.

    Reply
  7. Sally

    Just to answer Peter Kirk, no I didn’t know anything about the Circuit I was assigned to, nor did they know me. BUT, the people involved in the Stationing process had knowledge of both myself and the Circuit. The paperwork was extensive, and the Stationing process was far from random.
    I am pleased to say that although S&S where I will be stationed might not have been my first choice I can see the wisdom that is beyond mine in Stationing me there.

    Reply

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