Friday, April 8, 2011

The death of an idealist and the birth of an unhappy pragmatist.

Good morning God,
It's depressing to contemplate how much of my life has been lived as a lie. Unintentionally I grant, but a lie nonetheless. I actually believed in the work I have been doing, in the theology behind it, in the doctrines that motivated it and the passion for you which was supposed to have inspired it. Worse than this - I taught it to others; shared the lie, encouraged them to believe and want to live the ideal of Connexionalism; to take up the challenge of serving you as a minister in the Methodist Church.
There is no finer calling, I told them, than to serve you by loving your people.

God - do I feel a fool!

It's taken a while, but I finally understand Don Cupitt and his insistence that it is perfectly possible to have a vacant faith - to practice religion as a social rite rather than an expression of faith, to 'do the job' rather than live the life of a servant of Christ. To be an almost Christian as Wesley would say - and to be perfectly happy in it - indeed to argue for it as being the most sensible, practical way of surviving in ministry today. It certainly has the potential to reduce the heartache and preserve some integrity when ministry is more like a job than a calling and vocation.

I only have myself to blame. I allowed myself to be seduced by the theology of the priesthood of all believers, to be intoxicated by the idea of truly representative ministry, where lay and ordained sought to model the coming kingdom by their work together in the circuits and local churches. Circuit ministry was different from Parish ministry I believed: diakonia, collegiality and collaborative leadership - lay and ordained - was written into our structures. Connexionalism bound us together in an outlandish equality before you God. Small rural churches were deemed as important to the body of Christ as large suburban churches were: a probationer minister was paid the same basic stipend as the President of Conference.  Yes there was a hierarchy of sorts, but it tended to be based on respect and seniority, earned through fidelity to the Gospel and the service of your people rather than granted by job title. We were all under the same discipline of the Church which called us to a life of scriptural holiness and social justice.

Of course this was all an ideal - and yes - Of course I knew this - I'm not THAT much of an idiot: but it did seem to me at one time that it was an ideal, a model, that the Church was still holding up and striving for: The reconfiguration of the representative session of Conference as a means of ensuring parity between laity and clergy being but one recent example.

But I think I was mistaken. The dream was mine.

I can find little evidence in what I read of our new structures, disciplines, and forms of ministerial oversight of a theology that can be reconciled with a search for truly representative ministry or with the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. To take but one example - gender equality : we have to concede that the number of women superintendents is declining, not increasing. Team focus has apparently led to a significant reduction of women in positions of leadership at Connexional level, and we are a long, long way from parity at District level. Have we unwittingly been walking backwards, by forging on with the management of our priorities without thinking through how this might impact on the practical outworking of our core doctrines?

In our determination to be 'better' more coherent, more financially responsible and personally accountable are we unknowingly developing a blindness to our theology, to our calling, to our purpose and identity?

I'm not sure what the dream of this once great movement is now, the priorities tell us what we have agreed we will spend our time, money and resources on - but they say very little about why. We are committed to making new disciples of Christ - but to do what?  What is the ultimate goal of all our restructuring, management and mission? What is the PURPOSE of our priorities and how does that UNITE us in one common calling or identity?

There are some great things happening at every level of the Connexion. Fresh ways of being Church are springing up at local level, new and alternative ways of being circuit are being discussed and implemented, Districts are finding creative and innovative ways of encouraging lay leadership, and at Connexional level we are seeing some real fruit - the youth participation scheme, the new free resource Talking of God the Venture FX project, and not least, the wonderful wonderful way in which the media and joint public issues teams are working to try and give the work of Christ a voice that will be heard, must be heard.. 

And for as long as I live, I too will continue to try and play my part in making the priorities a reality - albeit differently.  No longer the idealist, more the unhappy pragmatist. (Wesley would be proud)
For where can I go Lord - you have the Words of eternal life. 

So I will celebrate and rejoice in the good that I see, and pray earnestly that you will find some way to speak to us and get us to speak more of YOU. That you will inspire us and fill us with confidence once again in simple words like love, trust, respect, faith and hope and point out to us why it is these things that abide - long after models of leadership, management and governance have been changed once again. That you will remind us that you called us to be a movement - not a monument, to work with you for the building of your kingdom, not our structures, and that in Christ, there is neither chair, nor synod secretary, superintendent nor circuit steward, neither lay nor ordained... just your people.

And maybe, just maybe God, the prayer will challenge me to believe in Connexionalism again.


  1. Ouch! Sounds like this is a very painful time for you you are very brave to be so candid in your thoughts.

  2. I still believe in your final paragraph but experience has made me cynical.I think that sp much has still to die in Methodism before it can be reborn.10 years perhaps.............