Letter from General Secretary

March 2019
The Methodist Church

The Revd Gareth J Powell

Secretary of the Conference

Email:  SoC@methodistchurch.org.uk

 

 

Sisters and brothers in Christ,

 

"In this sign conquer."
     Emperor Constantine

...the 'smile of the gospel'...
     Pope Francis       

   

On the face of it these are two very different statements.  Both directed to a gathering of Christians, one appears to have the language of a battle about it, the other a benign presence.  Constantine was shown the cross of Christ and given the injunction to conquer.  Francis apparently encourages the Church to reveal more of the smile of the gospel.  Are they then two sides of the same coin, after all gospel and cross are inseparable?  Having about us the duty to live the gospel and being marked with the sign of the cross we find ourselves wrestling with two rather emotive statements.  The first arising as part of a dream at a time of uncertainty for the Christian community.  The second a remark to a group of seminarians about the need of the Church to be more joyful.   Both phrases need to be understood less in terms of the apparent battle of the first and cheerful grin of the second.  They are deeper reflections on our identity at a time when identity matters a great deal.

 

The identity of the Christian community requires careful redefinition as we respond to the call of God.  The way we do things; spend our money; deploy our resources; treat all that is God’s, will each, in their own way, say something about how we understand God, and God’s call upon our lives.  It may, at times, feel as if we are conquering a desperate apathy or a negativity. On other occasions the smile of the gospel will challenge oppression as we live by mercy and grace.  In holding together these phrases we are in one seeking to overcome all that denies God with the grace freely given upon the cross, and the other offering comfort and joy.  That said, we wrestle with holding together the reality that the gospel contains both the ‘comfortable words’ and the ‘hard sayings of Jesus’.  On the cross we see painful disfigurement and as Wesley would put it, ‘a healing stream’.

 

This was brought into a particular focus for me last week when I spent some time with Army Chaplains.  The motto of the Royal Army Chaplains Department is ‘In this sign conquer’ and yet their ministry is undoubtedly shaped by the multifaceted ‘smile of the gospel’.  The contexts are tough, there is wrestling with a whole range of decisions, and in that regard we are each of us engaged in a common task.  

 

The question of how we shape our own identity may be a good reflection point for Lent as we follow the way of the cross.  In this journeying we encounter not only characters from the pages of scripture, but one another and we wrestle with what it means to build and be a community when the UK leaves the European Union.  We have to find a way of working out what the smile of the gospel means when making a response to the desire of Shamima Begum to return to these shores.  

 

In our hearts and in our communities we are at once seeking to conquer all that denies God so as to be a holy people, co-stewards in this holy creation. That of course goes for the very nature of the Connexion as well. When we forget that, we have become little more than a well ordered system when we are of course the evangelistic community of love. Is that how we are seen?

 

May we have a holy Lent as we wrestle with the reality of grace.

Gareth J Powell

Secretary of the Conference

 

 

Jesus, the gospel –grace impart

To ours and every longing heart;

    Take us into Thy fold.

The truth of pure religion give,

That all who bear Thy name may live

    And love like those of old.

 

The mark on every face impress,

That like Thy first-born witnesses

    We hand in hand may move;

And ready each for each to die,

Constrain the world for each to cry,

    ‘See how these Christians love!’

 

 

Charles Wesley (1707-88)

May your overshadowing and indwelling Spirit O God,

be present to us in this holy place;

And increase in us the gifts of that Spirit,

especially that love, joy and peace

which come only from You.

 

 

Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941)

 

 

 

You have made us only for yourself,

and restored us by your precious passion.

You keep us in your perfect love.

And all this of your goodness.

O God, in your goodness,

give me yourself,

For you alone are sufficient for me.

 

 

Julian of Norwich (1342-1416)

 

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

Deacon

 

Nora Fowler

Presbyters

Shirley J Bench

Linda J Brock

Murray J Hasler

Shirley Ludlow

Harry Mills

Ieuan A Johnston
Jack Dowson

David S Watkinson

Peter A Knight

D Heather McGivern

Christopher J S Lewis

Alan Taplin

Eileen J Mason

David A Barker
Alan F Herrick

Paul Ellingworth

Denis E R Gardiner

Barbara Halstead

George S Beck

Ruth M Carter

Chris Hughes Smith

Gwynne Brindley

Raymond H Norgate

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