Letter from General Secretary

The Methodist Church

The Revd Gareth J Powell

Secretary of the Conference

Email:  SoC@methodistchurch.org.uk

 

  

1 March 2018

   

 

 

Sisters and brothers in Christ,

John Wesley could not have been more clear. As part of his advice on how to preach he tells us, ‘Don’t just say ‘I read only the Bible’ in order to preach, read the most useful books, and that regularly and constantly… at least five hours in twenty four… or return to your trade.’  Visitors to the New Room in Bristol see this displayed at the back of the Chapel, enabling them to gain an understanding of both the preachers and the task of preaching.  On the face of it we can assume those early preachers to be well read, to be alert to the possibilities of human enquiry which Wesley himself was keen to promote.   More practically we wonder how, or if, they managed to read for the allotted time span.  Just for a moment we pause, I hope, to reflect on our own pattern of daily reading and study.  Such a pattern of reading may be a relatively straight forward discipline in Lent.  For Wesley this was a little more rigorous than observing a mere forty days.  The Benedictine tradition is equally rigorous in the approach to reading, and Lenten reading in particular. Curiously perhaps Saint Benedict sets out the requirements for daily Lenten reading in Chapter 48 of his Rule which is entitled, “On the Daily Manual Labour.” Reading is not a pious occupation for those moments when time permits.  It is a vital part of our labouring in the vineyard.  It requires a resolute application of the mind, and the heart is to be focussed on the task for it is intrinsically linked to spiritual growth.  While Benedict set out an expectation of reading from the scriptures and other sacred texts (usually the early church monastic tradition) gradually the Benedictine order would expand the material available so that the broader riches of literature and learning were taken seriously.  For our part we dare not set limits on how we encounter God’s creation – do we?

 

Benedict could have made the requirement for reading in the chapter of the Rule that deals with Lenten observance,  but the Rule makes it clear that there is a constant requirement upon the monks to be engaged in enquiry and learning.  There may be a different pattern for certain times of the year, but Lent has a particular focus and it is during Lent that each member of the community is given a book ‘ to read thoroughly each day in a regular and conscientious way.’ What Lent books might we give to others I wonder?

 

The Benedictine tradition makes provision for one or two ‘seniors’ to ensure that during those times set aside for reading the monks are not distracted by ‘idle boredom and wasting time in gossip.’.  St Benedict and Mr Wesley might have got on rather well.  We might benefit from their oversight.

The injunction to human enquiry through reading goes much beyond advice on preaching.  For Benedict this was about encounter and engagement with God’s world. Wesley was of course advising preachers in the first instance, but what a discipline and tradition he imparts to us for the totality of our pastoral work.  Our prayers, our words, our actions and our silences need to be enriched and refreshed by a pattern of study and thought.

In the last few months I have had the task of helping to dispose of and distribute the libraries of two of our brothers in the ministry.  Both had active ministries of similar lengths, but in vastly different contexts. One almost entirely in education, the other only in Circuit.  Both had served only where and when the Conference had chosen to send them.  Both had been faithful in ministering grace.  While it was possible to detect when they had been at theological college it was clear that they had not stopped reading, enquiring and searching.  In both cases the foundations passed to them by those who mentored them as Local Preachers were evident and at the point of death both had recently acquired books waiting to be read, ideas waiting to be explored. 

This should of course be something of the letter I must write to myself, that I readily admit to you my sisters and brothers. We should all the same be thankful that in our own way we have the chance to ensure that ‘one or two of the seniors should be assigned the task of doing the rounds of the monastery during any of the period when the community is engaged in reading.’ (St Benedict’s Rule Chapter 48). Do if we have the corporate commitment and will to actually to make it happen?

 

May we each of us keep a holy Lent and nurture an enquiring faith for it really does make a difference to the way we keep the feast of the glorious resurrection!

 

Gareth J Powell

Secretary of the Conference

Jesus, Thy servants bless,

Who sent by Thee proclaim

The peace and joy and righteousness

Experienced in Thy name,

The kingdom of God

Which Thy great Spirit imparts,

The power of thy victorious blood

Which reigns in faithful hearts.

 

Our souls with faith supply,

With life and liberty;

And lo, we preach and testify

The things concerning Thee,

We live for this alone,

Thy grace to minister,

And all Thou hast for sinners done

In life and death declare.

 

Charles Wesley (1707-88)

Gracious and holy Father,

give us wisdom to perceive you,

intelligence to understand you,

diligence to seek you,

patience to wait for you,

eyes to behold you,

a heart to meditate on you,

and a life to proclaim you;

through the power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen

 

St Benedict of Nursia (c480-c540)

 

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

 

 

Presbyters

 

Alan Ashton

Joyce Butcher

E Gordon Capstack

Geoffrey Cooke

John D Davies

Tom Duerden

Stuart Holmes

Eric Jones

James Mills

John E Minor

Ross Peart

Anthony Pepper

Thomas M Smith

Gordon Spittlehouse

Brian White

John Y Wong

Ian D Young

 

 

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

Amen

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