Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A discpleship movement shaped for mission

Good afternoon God,
I have been reflecting further on the new direction for British Methodism being presented to the Conference this year in the hope of unpacking what it might mean for the ordinary church member.
The report states that 'The big theme of Connexionalism sets the context' in which all the remainder of the report must be read.

The argument is that Connexionalism is 'a Spiritual commitment' before it is a descriptor of Methodist 'structures, processes and systems'.
This understanding allows us to loosen the bonds that hold circuits and local churches together in such a way that

1) We can be more flexible about who is 'in full Connexion' with us - and why!
2) We can be more flexible about what a 'local Church', 'circuit' or even a 'District' is
3) We can redefine how Connexionalism is applied across the connexion.

How might this change things..
A fresh expression of Church might well become a part of the Connexion - but not necessarily a part of a circuit on the circuit plan.

A circuit or district could be created which is not defined according to geography but according to (for example) churchmanship.. so a network of fresh expressions across the country could become the equivalent of a 'District' or 'Circuit'. An ethnic fellowship could become the equivalent of a 'Circuit' etc. This makes it possible for forms of spirituality to flourish regardless of geography. So a youth church in an existing local Methodist Circuit might be part of a much larger national youth circuit and so would not be  dependent on the presbyters and local preachers of their local circuit, but on those already engaged in similar work and worship.

The current principle that all Churches in full connexion are under the same 'discipline' and have access the same resources would no longer necessarily hold, meaning that the Connexion could decide where to focus and allocate resources (such as ministers, deacons, finance etc) according to where and how it is discerned that the Spirit is moving.

Ethnic groups/fellowships/churches can be part of the Connexion, as Districts or Circuits or churches allowing the richness of diversity to  become a real factor in shaping Methodist mission and understanding.

For all this to happen - the Connexion rather than the local church, will need to become the primary body deciding what happens with our buildings and our boundaries.

Yes of course some of this could be seen negatively. It could be argued that introducing such phenomenal diversity  will destroy what little is left of a distinctive Methodist identity, or that such diverse connexionalism will be impossible to 'discipline'. Small rural churches and circuits could well feel threatened or even abandoned. 'Traditional' Methodists who insist that we have always done it this way and so must always do it this way will undoubtedly feel threatened! But truth be told - this vision of Methodism is much much closer to the origins of Methodism than what we currently have.

Perhaps the most difficult change for some will be the loss of 'Church' in favour of 'movement'. This will undoubtedly affect our ecumenical relationships. Some of our existing ecumenical partners might balk at being so closely tied to a body that deliberately chooses to be in full Connexion (and hence - perhaps - full communion) with a Pentecostal 'circuit' or a Fresh expression youth 'District'.
It will be harder to define common ground when we are once again so diverse.

When we look less like Church because we are structured less like parishes and dioceses - we will however become more dependent on our theology and understanding of the movement of the Spirit to hold us together - we will need to draw more on you GOD than on CPD!

The potential - really is - staggering!


  1. Great thoughts, Angela. Over here in the United States, all the momentum is in exactly the opposite direction. We are putting more and more emphasis on congregations.

  2. Dear Angela,

    I wonder about the movement idea - a cynical colleague said that this was all about softening up the Methodists to become a mission movement withing a greater Church of England. If it is, I might well go along with it. It might allow us more room as Ministers to do the wrk that we are called to do.

    However, putting that to one side, the Deed of Union makes it plain that we cherish our place in the Holy Catholic Church. I don't see how a movement can do that. I look forward to Conference with interest!

    Robert C. Manning

  3. Hi Robert,
    great to hear from you. I too look forward with interest to how the consequences of the report will be 'spun' out for us to grapple with them. Of course, the ONLY immediate consequence of the ANGLICAN/Methodist covenant was that the Anglican Church agreed that the Methodist Church was - actually - wait for it - a Church!! so it will be interesting to see whether they are prepared to remain in convenant with a 'Movement'. I can't see myself under any circumstances as a member of the Church of England - whether as part of a 'Holiness Order' or in any other way - so for me such a move would signal the end of my ministry - unless of course, there was a special province -with a flying chairman, to hold together the unity of the people one called Methodist!