Changing Methodism V: A bit of order?


I have been spending the last little while reading and thinking about missional and other forms of Christian community and trying to discern whether it is time to be part of forming a new one. I am enormously grateful to Prof Elaine Heath, Dean of Duke Divinity School for her thinking and activism in this field and have been inspired by her two books, Longing for Spring and Missional.Monastic.Mainline.

The idea of being part of a Community is not new to me - I have been a member of the Corrymeela Community for the last five years and have beneifitted hugely from the community life of the Dominicans. But recently I have felt a calling to explore how ministry in the Methodist Church might be better supported, resourced and encouraged. I am deeply troubled by the conversations I am having with younger clergy who seem deeply disillusioned already by their experience of a Church that seems incapable of change. I am also, frankly, angry that, despite lots of rhetoric about lay ministry in the last 25 years and more, so little is available to support and equip lay people engaged in various roles inside and beyond the gathered congregation.

I am also increasingly haunted by Wesley's dictum: 'The Bible knows nothing of solitary religion.' Having spent nearly twenty years in presbyteral ministry in various sectors and in other Connexions as well as Great Britain, I know that the idea of real team ministry is, at best, an aspiration in many Circuits for presbyters, let alone deacons and those engaged in lay ministry.

The Methodist Conference was supposed to be considering a report this summer on the Diaconate as a Religious Order, but this has now been delayed. It would have provided a good opportunity to discuss the nature of Christian communities and Orders and work that is emerging in other Connexions. In particular, it would have allowed us to think about how being part of an Order or Community strengthens team ministry and supports individuals in their place of service.