Friday, December 10, 2010

methodism: what's that all about, then?

We go to a Methodist church in Chepstow. Purely in terms of ideology, I'd go Baptist and Jon, Anglican. But there are more important things than ideology. And I like the fact we've been Baptists, Anglicans, Methodists and Independent Evangelicals (sorry....) during our lives. I am Ecumenical and proud of it.

What with my Baptist minister patriarch and Anglican career, I am pretty well versed in the hows, whys and what on earths of Church of England (and Wales) and the British Baptists. But the Methodists..... after two years, I still feel rather in the dark about why they exist and what they stand for.
 
The Anglicans think every (Christian) body is really Anglican. More or less anybody, of any Christian mould, can find an Anglican church to suit them. The denomination gets in muddles because it does have some rules, about bishops and communion and stuff, which the 'all' have to somehow agree on despite the diversity. They have some regrettable links with good old Henry VIII, colonialism etc etc, which they can't really escape. And, being the state church, they tend to take the flack for all the madcaps (anti-women, anti gay, creationist etc) Due to that state link, they also have more money and tend to be given a voice in the public arena. Bishops rule the roost. The congregation's will is decided by an elected council - the PCC.

The Baptists resist being subsumed into all-embracing Anglicanism: their churchmanship is at root rebellious not conciliatory. They structurally insist on the independence of a congregation, the humility of a leader, the "priesthood of all believers" (the very prospect of bishops is a no-no) and self-chosen baptism. All very admirable. But with no heirarchy of authority there's more risk of things going wrong. And, in reality, today's Anglican church is no longer that which prompted rebellion. The British baptist church will never divorce itself form the British public's perception of American Southern Baptists - bad, bad PR. There's little central money. No one rules the roost. The congregation's will is decided by all its members.

The Methodists don't have bishops or call their leaders 'priests' (like the Baptists). But they are strict about who can serve communion (like the Anglicans). Their roots lie in rebellion against church corruption (B) but today they seem keen for protestant denominations to join forces (A). They theoretically prioritise the involvement of laypeople in 'priestly' ministry (B) but have strict ideas about who can preach and lead worship (A). They run in circuits - groups of geographically close congregations that share resources and are linked in various ways. Centrally, the denomination is in serious financial trouble. A "Conference" rules the roost (?) The congregation's will is decided in various ways: stewards, a church council, a membership. I am extremely unclear on the roles and responsibilities of any of these groups.

I really like my church. But I have not yet met anybody or read anything sensible and convincing that tells me what really, uniquely matters to Methodists and how that influences their setup. I may not buy into such a manifesto but I would like to know there is one.

A church doesn't need to be right. But, to my mind, it does need considered, faithful convictions underlying the bureaucracy. And those convictions need to be relatively obvious to the interested.
Correction and instruction welcome!

1 comment:

Andy said...

Nothing really to add -- but very interesting and certainly got me thinking! :)