The Methodist Church was birthed by seeing the importance of telling the story of Jesus beyond the walls of the traditional church. Niall Briggs explores this further and what the churches in Bath are doing to follow this path.
The Methodist Church is proud of its history of community engagement and passion for social justice. Our churches in the Bath Mission Area have developed over the past 200+ years as the city has grown and changed. There have been all sorts of moves and changes over this time to produce the churches we now have — both the buildings and the people. We live in a time of change — a good time to ask questions, to reflect and wonder about the relationship between church and community.
Where is the church?
For some people, the church is the building. The place where the church building is, that is the primary place where church and community interact, whereas for others — particularly those who live some distance from the building or are working a lot of the time – where they live or work or shop is where they experience community.
With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, where we see community has been brought into much sharper focus than before. With many buildings closed or restricted in access — not just churches, but pubs, restaurants and leisure facilities, our local neighbourhoods and our immediate neighbours have been a vital lifeline. Many people have got to know their neighbours in new ways this year, whether by standing on the doorstep clapping, joining a WhatsApp group or many other ways. Some have gone digital for the first time and discovered all sorts of opportunities for connection in their communities too.
What’s happening now?
The Methodist Churches in and around Bath are looking again at how they connect with the community — around the buildings and around the people. They’re asking what’s changed recently — in general and because of Covid-19?
Jesus went out to where the people were, beyond the obvious places where religious people gathered and listened to the people’s questions and longings. He talked to those that society had pushed to the edges; listened to them and valued them. Many of his signs and miracles were about reintegrating these people back into the communities from which they’d been excluded. In his time — Georgian England, John Wesley did something similar to reach out to ordinary working people who were also often ignored or excluded.
A time for questions
In our increasingly networked world, not everyone is being connected as they might like or need to be. We can see that people are still slipping through nets. As new frontiers emerge for the bold to explore, so too do new margins for others to take refuge.
The mythical time when there was just one culture and the only difference between communities and neighbourhoods was their place on the map has long gone. Any group of people – from neighbourhoods to families to clubs and societies – will have some culture that’s distinctively theirs. The way they do and see things will be different to others. That might be a point of tension, but it’s also an interesting opportunity for conversation. How do we see the world together across the things that both unite and divide us?
As you look at your neighbourhoods and networks, what have you heard that sounds like good news that needs to be shared more? Where are the hidden talents that need a little spark to get them going?