What is the Future for Methodism?

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Greville Mills takes a look at the Open Letter to the British Methodist Church and some of the conversation that’s followed its publication.

Earlier this year, an open letter was issued to members of the Methodist Church and signed by five people (Angie Allport, Cathy Bird, Bala Gnanapragasam, David Hardman, Ian Rutherford).

The introduction, explaining the reason for issuing it says:

“For a long time, many in the Methodist Church have been crying out for a radical transformation of our mission and ministry, a crystallisation of our identity, and the articulation of a longer term vision that goes beyond increasing our membership, getting more young people through our doors and encouraging more people into ordained ministry.

This message puts some flesh on the bones of that vision, asking the same question that is being asked in wider society at this time; can we seize this opportunity – this liminal space between the pre and post Covid-19 world – to take on board all that we have seen and learned, to commit to not simply returning to the way things were before, but rather embracing a new and more hopeful future? We believe we must…”

The full transcript of the letter together with the names of additional signatories can be found here:

An Open Letter to the British Methodist Church June 2020

The letter has currently been signed by 710 members, some of whom will be known to you.

As a response to the letter, several meetings (via Zoom) have taken place to gather views from the wider membership and the comments and observations have been recorded and a summary issued, as follows:

What resonated with people in the Open Letter?

The social justice emphasis

  • doing, not just talking
  • joining in the wider hunger for justice in society
  • equality and inclusivity

A feeling this is a Kairos/liminal moment for us to re-shape the church

  • We need a big vision
  • Systematic/institutional/cultural change (e.g. stationing, governance, resourcing)
  • A re-imagining of the use of our assets

The description of a church that is counter-cultural –

  • which doesn’t try so hard to occupy the middle ground
  • which places itself deliberately on the margins and risks offending, challenging and being on pilgrimage.
  • Suggested actions which could flow from the ethos of the Open Letter

    A New Culture

    • A complete rethink of our structures that is not just a re-jig, but something that releases people to focus on social justice and mission rather than buildings, finance, and numerical growth.
    • A Connexional statement that our aim is not numerical growth.
    • Education for our members re racism, gender, poverty etc. and recognition of our part in the creation of the current situation, including repentance, individually, locally, and collectively.

    A Louder, Clearer Voice

    • Find ways to be heard at a national level, being more politically engaged and be prepared to take sides rather than always sitting on the fence.
    • Campaign openly on clear justice issues (e.g. environment, black lives matter). Re-think the role of JPIT to enable this.
    • Address the big political and economic issues of our day through an ecumenical commission that puts the government on the spot.

    A New Property Strategy

    • Use church land for permanently affordable housing (e.g. Community Land Trust)
    • Release buildings/resources for community use rather than being an encumbrance for a few people.
    • We need to be able to close/sell churches if they are very small/are open only for Sunday worship.
    • Use buildings and residential properties to create cell communities.
    • Stop the idea of renovating Methodist Church House, make home working the norm and reallocate the resources.
    • Embed this into a Connexional Mission plan to open up possibilities for recognising best value rather than market value.

    Follow-up meetings have taken place to further sense appetite for change and what the next practical steps could be to getting this item on the agenda for discussion at Conference.

    Those of us who have been involved so far have been asked to cast the net wider to seek further views and get as many members involved in discussions. As a group of churches in Bath, we can pass our views to Circuit and hopefully thence to District.

    Views can be passed to Greville Mills to collate information, and we could, if enough people wanted to be involved in a discussion, set up discussion(s) on Zoom.  

    Feel free to comment here or in our Facebook Group.

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