Letter from General Secretary

December 2017
The Methodist Church

The Revd Gareth J Powell

Secretary of the Conference

Email:  SoC@methodistchurch.org.uk

 

 

Sisters and brothers in Christ,

 

‘Oh, Christian, remember your dignity, and be aware that you share in God’s own nature.’

 

So it is that Pope St Leo the Great offers a summary of the claim of God upon our being in a sermon preached on Christmas Day in 440.  To begin Advent with this realisation of hope, making it clear that we do in fact share in the very nature of all that God is, may be considered as circumnavigating a time of preparation.  In fact, rather than enable us to fast forward to the message of Christmas as if Advent were merely about waiting, to be reminded of Leo’s words at this juncture underlines the foundation of the message of hope.  This is the message we seek to articulate, sometimes with words, each of us in our respective ministries.

 

We proclaim what we have come to know; that is, the mystery that God has created us.  We proclaim that we dwell in God’s world, that is, sharing in God’s own nature.  Therein is the transformative message which we are seeking to reveal by our interest in communities.  We are more than observers of social trends.  Our concern for political life is more than a passing interest about the lives of others, although we are certainly curious to learn about the world.  To put it another way, in our heritage, schools, institutions for teacher training, social care, housing associations, trade unions and a plethora of charities have found their foundation in the life of the Methodist Church.  Not, of course, that we have a monopoly on this.  As Matthew Bolton has pointed out, churches have been the ‘primary gathering place of a local community, connecting with each other around a tradition of hope and service’ (How to Resist: Turn Protest to Power, Bloomsbury 2017).  I rather fear that we can all too easily lose sight of that vital role, forgetting that faith communities still have a role to play.  It is a role we play in God’s creation.  We may use that language of ‘local communities’ and indeed, we have to be immersed in our communities.  Yet we can never forget that our communities are where God is recreating.  We are called to be immersed in God’s world.  Such language might help to lift our sights a little. The task of proclaiming hope remains vital, urgent and rather more than a convenient theme in the advent liturgy.  We live hopefully not by shouting or observing from the side-lines, we roll up our sleeves and engage in all manner of tasks.  The Methodist way, you might say, is about being inquisitive and interested and immersed.  Immersion in a context has its dangers; we lose our saltiness, confuse faithfulness with relevance, and start to speak a language that is so attuned to a situation that our voices fail to be conditioned by the Gospel song of Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55).   

 

‘Oh, Christian, remember your dignity, and be aware that you share in God’s own nature.’

 

Such a statement has a profound impact on our thinking about fellow human beings.  A radical reappraisal is required as we keep in check how we honour all that God has made.  Presented with people we like and surroundings that afford us comfort makes that an easy task.  Making sense of human activity that defiles another human is a different matter. Yet, God loves all that God has made.  This is more than the need to think about patterns of forgiveness; it raises questions about engagement with all that disfigures and harms.  Yet, we are called to minister in each context.  Called to challenge and offer a way of living that honours God’s nature in all its manifestations.  Responding to allegations of sexual harassment and challenging patterns of behaviour, making a contribution to public life in the midst of political fragility, reaching a common mind on how we define marriage are each about personal, human relationships.  The scale is not the point; that each of these is about human encounter is the point.

 

Have we the courage (and the energy) to give voice to our dignity?  It will require some discipline (to pause before we send the damaging email).  Have we the patience to accept that to live hopefully is more than observing the four Sundays of Advent?  It will require some reorientation (and perhaps some profligacy?) in the use of our resources.

 

Our voices must ring out in the wilderness of contemporary society, but not by a hard sell of religious clichés.  We remember our dignity as ones who share in God’s nature by finding and cherishing opportunities to express the deepest impulse of the human heart and mind.  A heart and a mind that share in God’s own nature.

 

May Christ the Sun of Righteousness shine upon you, scatter the darkness from before your path, and make you ready to meet him when he comes in glory.

Gareth J Powell

Secretary of the Conference

O joyful sound of gospel grace!

Christ shall in me appear;

I, even I, shall see his face;

I shall be holy here.

 

He visits now the house of clay;

He shakes his future home;

O would’st thou, Lord, on this glad day,

Into thy temple come!

 

Come, O my God, thyself reveal,

Fill all this mighty void;

Thou only canst my spirit fill:

Come, O my God, my God!

 

Fulfil, fulfil my large desires,

Large as infinity;

Give, give me all my soul requires,

All, all that is in thee!

 

Charles Wesley (1707-88)

God of hope,

you drive us out into the desert

to search out your truth.

Give us clarity to know what is right,

and courage to reject what is expedient;

that we may abandon the false innocence

of failing to choose at all;

but may follow the purposes of Jesus Christ.

Amen.

 

Adapted from a prayer in ‘The New Women Included: A Book of Services and Prayers’

 

The following ministers have died since my last letter to you:

Deacons

 

Greta Wainwright

Merle Wilde

 

Presbyters
 

Carol Braithwaite

Peter H Bolt

Howard Booth

Victoria O Bravette

Richard H Chapple

Ronald S Charlton

David A Clarkson

John R Girling

Philip Hodgson

Harry Johnson

Ivor F Mann

Keith I Munns

Eric C Prichard

Brian Ridley

D Brian Russell

Douglas F Savill

Gordon Squire

David A Woosley

Eileen Wragg

George H Yates

 

May the souls of the faithful, through the mercy of God, rest in peace, and rise in glory. Amen

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