Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Being in full Connexion

In a recent facebook discussion I wrote something which I fervently believe to be true:

Being a minister in the Methodist tradition is the best calling that there is - NOTHING beats being able to live and preach the gospel of grace which changes lives and hearts and which is empowered by God to reform the nation and the Church - God is not finished with the people called Methodist yet.

Because I am a Methodist, the word minister does not mean ordained. As a Methodist I believe in the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, in the full equality before God and in the service of God of both lay and ordained. I am also persuaded that nowhere is this doctrine more powerfully expressed than in the gift of Connexionalism. I use the English way of writing it because it still serves as a reminder that Connexionalism is not just about being connected one to another, it is about being connected through Christ. There is a cross at the heart of our conneXion which binds us one to another and which motivates us to work together to fulfill our calling.

There has been a tendency in recent years to use the expression 'the Connexion' to those called to serve in 'Connexional office' of some kind, whether as a member of the Connexional Team or as a worker on the help desk. It is a dangerous short-hand because it allows and even encourages people mentally, spiritually and emotionally to separate from 'the Connexion' and stop being a Connexional people. It's something I know I am periodically guilty of even though I try hard to resist it. (Sorry) It's just that it is so much easier to talk of 'them' than of 'us' when talking about decisions we are unhappy with, steps not taken, theology or worship not quite to our liking etc. And of course, eventually this language encourages 'the Connexion' to think of themselves as somehow separate, more responsible, more accountable than the wider connexion for the faith, order and action of our Church - which is of course - not true. We are in full connexion with each other.

There can be no 'them' and 'us' in the priesthood of all believers - for we are all one in Christ - which is another way of saying that everything which I have blogged about over the last few weeks is not written as a cheap pop at 'the Connexion' before Conference - regardless of how much some might want to think that it is. WE are 'the Connexion' - The challenge I am making is to all of us - myself included - who dare to wear the label Methodist and who claim that it means something to them, to take seriously the task of BEING IN FULL CONNEXION.

Obviously I dont believe that this means agreeing mindlessly to every decision taken at Methodist Church House by the Methodist Council or members of the Connexional Team. It does mean owning and taking responsibility for our own part in the decision making processes, in the faith, order and actions of our Church. If we are concerned about something, or convinced that something needs to be done, then we are called to be connexional, to test the mind of the Church and the will of God through the means of grace that God has provided us with to reform the nation and the Church.

The joyous fact is that we are where we currently are as a Church because WE have journeyed here - with Christ. We weren't dragged kicking and screaming - we prayerfully considered how to get here and then as a church took whatever steps we believed were necessary. We have had choices at every stage of the journey - just as we will have choices to make in a weeks time.
When we choose not to participate, not to confer on the matters which concern us as the people of God, then we are choosing not to be in full connexion with the people called Methodist. We may worship in a Methodist Church, carry a membership card even, but being in full connexion means sharing responsibility for where we are as a Church and what we are doing.

Conference is a God given opportunity for the wider connexion to confer together. Methodism teaches that Christian conferring is a means of grace, a means by which the will of God might be made known, the gospel made more relevant, the mission of God more explicit. Over the years, Conference has been deliberately shaped and changed, not just for financial reasons, but for sound theological reasons - so that it as closely as possible embodies the principle of the Priesthood of all believers and encourages and enables better Christian conferring.

At its best, Conference really IS a means of grace and it is at its best when those who attend it are being Connexional and getting involved by prayerfully conferring on the pressing issues of faith, order and action.

In my opinion, this means not rubber stamping and then disowning policies brought to Conference by those who have worked hard on them all year. It also means not opting out of uncomfortable debates but having the courage to speak out and listen to the voice of the Church - even when we might not agree with it. I may not like some of the consequences of decisions we have taken together as a church, but because we are a church in full connexion, the opportunity exists to do something about it - not least, to discover whether the unease is shared or just a personal pet peeve. And this is something that everyone can do at local and at district level by the memorial's procedure as well as at Conference in debate. Every Methodist has the opportunity for their concerns to be heard by the Church.

The simple fact is that every Church member, every representative to Church Council, every circuit representative, every synod rep and every member of Conference has chosen at some time to be in full Connexion with every other member. I remain convinced that Connexionalism as an expression of the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers is a gift of grace from God, but to borrow an expression from Randy Maddox, it is a gift of 'responsible grace' - which means that God holds us all to account for our use of this gift. The decisions taken at this coming conference and the way in which they are carried out, are the responsibility of every member of the Methodist Church.

Now.. where's that agenda..

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