Saturday, July 2, 2011

Methodist Apostolic Succession

Good morning God,
The point was made yesterday that the handing on of Mr Wesley's Field Bible was in effect a form of Methodist Apostolic Succession. In bygone days there is no doubt that the power of the President was such that they could and did represent and embody the Conference in a highly symbolic and practical way - particularly the ministerial session of Conference. The changes in both Conference and the role of the President over the last decade mean that this may no longer be the case. The President retains the power to persuade, to preach and to visit, but the leadership, discipline and decision making of the Church is now far more diffuse. The power of President is no longer a reflection of the power of the Conference.

There is nonetheless, in my opinion, a more historical, lasting significant and powerful sign of our apostolic succession, and it is embedded in the order of business for the second day of the ministerial session.

The day begins with consideration of those candidates for ministerial training, and reviews the stage of each of our 'preachers' in their journey with our Church. This is no rubber stamping job, Conference can and has in the past, overturned some decisions regarding particular preachers. It is however a moment of joy as the Church acknowledges the renewing of the call, and the graciousness of God's Spirit in equipping people for ministry.
Later that day, a very moving service of remembrance is held. The families of those ministers who have travelled to higher service, are invited to join with the ministerial session to share in the worship and hear proclaimed again, our conviction of the truth of the Good News, Death is not the end. As the roll is called each person is recognised and honoured. It is almost a 'sacramental' moment, for their lives are the outward and visible sign of the inward invisible grace that countless thousands have received through their ministry.
It may seem too small a sign of our thanks and deep appreciation for the personal sacrifices that we know each family will have made in order to enable their loved one to serve, but when the entire body stands in respectful silence, not for their grief, but in thanks and appreciation of THEIR ministry, it is impossible not to be moved.
Following the afternoon's business, a buzz begins, quietly at first, as in ones and two's the ordinands arrive straight from the ordinand's retreat. Their joyous anticipation mingled with nervous trepidation is a powerful reminder to the gathered presbyters of their own ordination and the days leading up to it.
For me, the cycle of the whole day embodies a model of apostolic succession that is far more powerful than the handing on of Wesley's Bible.Especially as the day culminates with a celebration of Holy Communion. We gather, from every stage of the Journey, to hear and respond to the call, to worship God and be bound together as the Body of Christ. We receive what has been handed down to us, that on night on which he died, our Lord Jesus Christ, took bread...
Like many, I miss the arrival of the Deacons who used to share in the same service, but the powerful symbolism of the Vice President as preacher reminds us all of our calling to be a part of the Whole people of God, not separate from them, but raised up by them.

All of which leads me to conclude that Methodist apostolic succession is not (and perhaps never has been) ensured by the laying on of hands nor is it embodied by the President of Conference; rather, it is ensured by our faithfulness to our doctrines as they have been handed on from generation to generation and embodied in the real presence of Christ and the means of grace.

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