Tag Archives: Methodism

Methodists

Methodist! A nickname? A reputation? A methodical people? There are two volumes of Standing Orders and Agendas to prove it – The Constitution and Discipline of the Methodist Church. (All good Methodists know all about it!) I can write about it but, happily, I have no longer to contend with it professionally. In fact I have forgotten most of it. To tell the truth, I never was an avid reader! (How did I survive?) Some people live happily with chaos. I have visited more than one minister’s study with the floor, desk and window ledge littered with books – all sorts of books, manifold sorts of papers, magazines – and they knew, amid the apparent disorder, where to find what they wanted. Somewhere there must be a Bible! It worked for them – genius?? Most of us like some order: we prefer the predictable, especially in church affairs. The cynics among us may be of the opinion that the purpose of our fixed agendas is to ensure that we do things in the way we have always done them. They may succeed in that but, you know, I think their true purpose is to ensure the items essential to our missionary task are there to guide us and keep us on the straight and narrow.

George Whitefield preach

George Whitefield. See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

We call ourselves Methodist because John Wesley, George Whitefield, and other friends in their time at Oxford University were known to be most methodical in life and practice and, most of all, in their prescribed religious exercises. It WAS a nickname. That is it in a nutshell – a big subject well and truly documented, so that one wonders how many more books and PhD theses can be written about it. A fascinating study. The danger of being methodical and orderly is that we can stifle the Spirit of God at work among us. A great pity, because the story of the Book of Faith is about the unpredictable. The most surprising – that God should come to share our life in a child born to a lowly, embarrassed ordinary couple; not to a palace but to a dirty, unhygienic stable. Come to us in the form of a servant – Son of the God of surprises. In all our endeavours to be neat and tidy we have to remember that we are not an institution, we are the children of the Living God.

Where is the space in the agenda of our life, the agenda of the church, the agendas of the dull routine business meetings, to give God the chance to surprise us?

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Letting off steam

Image: Felix Burton via Wikimedia Commons

Image: Felix Burton via Wikimedia Commons

I could never count myself, even in my younger days, as one of life’s “Angry Young Men”. I was not bold enough to stand up to be counted with those who fought unpopular causes in the interests of justice or in the pursuit of change!. Strangely, and surprisingly, I am becoming an “Angry Old Man”. What is my problem? For this blog it is to do with Church, Methodism in particular – I am on familiar territory.

We are hearing that the church is only a short distance away from extinction: Lord Carey’s guess is probably one decade. So if the Church is to regain lost ground and survive, change is vitally essential and it is urgent. We are harangued by preachers, church leaders and writers about discovering new ways of being Church – “Fresh Expressions of Church” is how it is described, and Methodists are warned that we are being given a short breathing space to sort ourselves out. I have no quarrel with this – I want to keep change on the agenda. After all, one of the few things we can be certain about is that change is expected, inevitable and embraced. The changes that have taken place in my lifetime are mind-boggling. The hymn writer has us sing, Change and decay in all around I see – interestingly, he gives us the next line, O thou who changes not, abide with me! Now the church, whether we like it or not, is set in the midst of and is part of our secular society; there is no escaping it. Of this we can be certain, it is an environment of constant change and if church is to have an impact, any relevance at all, she will be open to whatever changes may be necessary to enable us fulfil our mission: to explore, to pursue, to engage in whatever new ways of “being Church” are appropriate in our particular neck of the woods.

No, I am not opposed to change: all my ministry I have advocated change, and in each of my larger churches there has been at least one activity that has been the consequence of a “Fresh Expression’” project, although we didn’t call it that. What irks me and angers me is the suggestion (sometimes in a whisper) that we who are of my vintage, or thereabout, refuse to face the need for change, and are determined to resist it totally. I recall reading somewhere, Change is all around, except in church where we find people who want to remain the same – a bastion of unchangeableness. For some change is easy – a challenge to keep up with the ever-changing world in which we now live. For others it is difficult, a painful move away from the familiar which dispels much-needed comfort. And because we are who we are, because church as we know it has meant and still means so much to us, we may well be slow to accept and respond to change – but, I say to those who rile me on this matter: that may be so – but do not accuse us “oldies” of placing obstacles in the way of reform in church. Why? Our commitment and devotion cannot be challenged. We have lived with change for years – yes – in church! I resist the temptation to fill a page telling the stories of the changes I have lived through, granted not as spectacular as today’s ambitious programmes, but change nonetheless. So, please, do not accuse us of being architects of the troubled waters of our current predicament, (to mix the metaphors). We in our generation (the old brigade), steeped in the traditions of church, immersed in its life and programme, who have stuck around, still keeping things going, may be a little slow, somewhat afraid of change and its upset – they love “their church”; they love their Lord, they have found joy, peace and a love reciprocated freely and tenderly and sometimes at cost. Veterans of the good fight, disappointed the battle is not yet won, they will not desert, they will continue faithful, even in the throes of big change.

Of course, not all change is good and not all decay is bad. But thank God for this:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. Hebrews 13:8

We’re taking a rest….

The Blog Administrator is on her holidays so there will be no more posts for a while. Normal service will be resumed in August, but in the meantime, she has sent you a postcard from Vermont.

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The Meeting House in Charlotte VT was built by the community’s Methodist congregation in 1840. In 1952, it was moved to Shelburne Museum where it can be seen today.

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Enjoy the summer weather!

A near miss

Salvation Army

Salvation Army

It was young people’s day during my brief time in the Salvation Army when members of the young people’s section were invited to give their heart and dedicate their life to Jesus. Toward the end of the meeting the Young People’s Sergeant Major – the Leader in charge – made her appeal presenting us with the opportunity to start out on the road of discipleship. The journey would begin, she explained, by our being saved or, if we were already committed, to rededicate ourselves to the service of Jesus. She wanted us all to be saved by accepting Jesus as Lord and Saviour.

Salvationists were well accustomed to this kind of appeal. The worshipper who was challenged by the message and felt compelled to respond to this altar call would make their way to the front and as invited, kneel at the penitent form. They would arise, counselled, prayed over, their request confirmed – the process of salvation begun.

Back to young people’s day – the process a wee bit different. There was no altar or penitent form in the smaller hall in which we met. So, she was going to ask us to come to the front and kneel before the big drum, to declare publicly our intent. “Hands up those who haven’t been to the penitent form,” she asked. Slowly I raised my hand. “Put your hand down, John” I was instructed, “You have been saved!” That was it – am I saved or am I not? That is the question. What do I say to the enthusiast who might want to know, who asks, “Are you born again?”

That was it until . . . . . . . . .

Stripped image of John Wesley

John Wesley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One Sunday evening some years later, the minister was trying to educate the inattentive members of the youth fellowship in the traditions of Methodism. He was telling the story of the Kingswood colliers coming up from a shift underground hewing coal, to be confronted by the Reverend John Wesley preaching the good news – the gospel of grace. The picture is still vivid in my memory of those men, white channels marking their coal-dust faces where the tears flowed as they listened and opened their hearts to the Spirit of Jesus. How their lives were transformed, some of them converted into preachers, others to positions of influence at work and in the community at large, partners in the religious revival led by the Wesleys, a revival that helped give birth to Methodism. This late 18th Century revival helped to turn the minds of the English people from thoughts of revolution, although not all historians agree.

The story told that Sunday evening of those responsive Kingswood colliers has had a lasting impact on one youth. From that moment, my conscience ceased to trouble me about missing out on that young people’s day when I was told . . .” put your hand down.”

Prayer: Lord, we thank you for our spiritual awakening, for those who pointed us to Christ, those in whose lives we caught a glimpse of Jesus. Thank you for Jesus, all he means to us; our hope for days to come. Amen.

Cheers from the grandstand

Wembley Park Grandstand

Wembley Park Grandstand
Source: Wikimedia Commons

For one reason or other, I am not sure which, I do not find myself dashing to the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews for inspiration or guidance. I’ve heard numerous co-travellers on our Faith Journey declare Hebrews to be a favourite, cherished biblical reading, especially for the space the writer gives to faith in his teaching. Records reveal that in 65 years as a preacher, few sermons have emerged from the Epistle to the Hebrews. I suspect I am in a minority, but do not despair of me, all is not lost. There are two passages in the Letter to the Hebrews that I have turned to from time to time, the inspiration of a number of sermons delivered mainly at a Church Anniversary or All Saints. more often than not concentrated on Hebrews chapter 11.32 to 12.2 or 13.8. In spite of my stance on this Epistle, paradoxically the first is actually one of my favourite passages of Scripture; a beautiful piece and one I need to read or hear again and again: Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us (RSV) or the alternative Since we have such a huge crowd of men and women of faith watching us from the grandstands, let us run…… (Living Bible)

The Letter to the Hebrews – like many others – was written at a time when it was dangerous to be a Christian. Some of these early disciples must have been suffering terribly from the ill-consequences of making public their faith in Jesus in a hostile environment. The unknown author of this Letter writes to put heart into those Christians who, threatened with persecution, might easily give up. How did he do it? He reminds them of their heritage. Relates to them the testimony of the great pioneers and stalwarts of faith who, down the centuries, held to their belief in God through thick and thin. So many of them, he has neither time nor space to do more than mention some by name. It is an impressive Roll of Honour. Hopefully, it was what was needed to inspire those to whom the Letter is addressed to run with perseverance the race that was given to them. A Charge with our name on it. We do not need to be reminded that the Church in our country today appears to be losing the argument and there are those in our secular society who seem determined to engineer her demise. But that is nothing: there is a much more severe persecution of Christians in other countries – North Korea, iran and Central Nigeria to name three. But cheer up, press on, the writer to the Hebrews urges, there are all those pioneers who blazed the Way; all those veterans cheering us on (The Message.) Not an idle promise.Message

Looking back at the end of a long preaching ministry, I am reminded of countless times when I was keenly aware of a presence in the grandstand urging me to keep going with determination the race I was given to run – one of “Mr Wesley’s Preachers.” A couple of examples from early days. Dr Norman Snaith taught me Old Testament in College. Speaking to him at the Methodist Conference in Newcastle on the day he became President of the Conference, he asked where I was currently stationed. When I told him I was a minister in Haltwhistle he said “That’s interesting, my old dad was minister there once.” On my way home, I thought of the stories Dr Snaith told us about his dear old dad. I went back to Haltwhistle humbled by the thought of those in whose footsteps I walked. When I went to Thompson Memorial Hall in Sunderland I was told that Dr W E Sangster preached his last sermon from the platform I was to occupy each Sunday, before he was compelled to retire by the illness from which he was not to recover. Whenever I went on to that platform I felt humbled at the thought of the giants who had climbed those steps before me.

We have this large crowd of witnesses cheering us on in our Journey of Faith, but none would claim the sole, the major credit for taking us past the winning line. Run with eyes fixed upon Jesus who began and finished the race we are on. And it is the same, unknown writer who, in chapter 13:8 turns the command into a promise. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.