Methodist Church of Great Britain

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Methodist Church of Great Britain
The Methodist Church with "orb and cross" logo
Classification Protestant
Orientation Methodist
Governance Connexionalism
President Roger Walton[1]
Vice-President Rachel Lampard[1]
Associations
Region Great Britain
Channel Islands · Isle of Man · Gibraltar · Malta
Headquarters Methodist Church House
25 Marylebone Road
London NW1 5JR
Origin 1932 (Methodist Union)1
Merger of
Congregations 4,650 (2014)[2]
Members 202,000 (2014),[2] 575,000 total adherents
Ministers 1,760 (stipendiary)[2]
Aid organization All We Can
Publications Methodist Recorder
Official website methodist.org.uk
1. The Methodist movement started in the 18th century

The Methodist Church of Great Britain is a Wesleyan Methodist church in Britain and the mother church to Methodists worldwide.[3] The church is a member of the World Council of Churches, the World Methodist Council and other ecumenical associations. In July 2014 it had approximately 202,000 members in 4,650 congregations and 575,000 adherents in total.[2][note 1]

Methodism began through the work of John Wesley (1703–1791), who led an evangelical revival in 18th-century Britain. A priest in the Church of England as were his father and brother, Wesley adopted unconventional and controversial practices, such as open-air preaching, to reach factory labourers and newly urbanised masses uprooted from their traditional village culture at the start of the Industrial Revolution. His preaching centred upon the universality of God's grace for all, the effect of faith on character and the possibility of perfection in love during this life. He organised the new converts locally and in a "Connexion" across Britain.

Following Wesley's death, the Methodist movement became a separate church, with its own ordained ministers; it is called a Nonconformist church because it does not conform to the rules of the established Church of England. In the 19th century, the Wesleyan Methodist Church experienced many secessions, with the largest of the offshoots being the Primitive Methodists. The main streams of Methodism were reunited in 1932, forming the Methodist Church as it is today.

Methodist Circuits, containing several local churches, are gathered into thirty-one districts. The supreme governing body of the church is the annual Methodist Conference; it is headed by the President of Conference, a presbyteral minister, supported by a vice-president who can be a local preacher or deacon.

History[edit]

A large, grey stone church with two entrances either side and a steeple on the right.
Wesley Memorial Church in Oxford, the city where the Wesley brothers studied and formed the "Holy Club"

The movement which would become the Methodist Church began in the mid-18th century within the Church of England. A small group of students, including John Wesley, Charles Wesley and George Whitefield, met at Oxford University. They focused on methodical study of the Bible and living a holy life. Other students mocked them, saying they were the "Holy Club" and "the Methodists", being methodical and exceptionally detailed in their Bible study, opinions and disciplined lifestyle. Eventually, the so-called Methodists started individual societies or classes for members of the Church of England who wanted to live a more religious life.

The main Methodist movement outside the Church of England was associated with Howell Harris in Wales.[5][6] This was to become the Calvinistic Methodist Church (today known as the Presbyterian Church of Wales). Another branch of the Methodist revival was under the ministry of George Whitefield, resulting in the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion.

A bronze statue of John Wesley dressed in robes and preaching bands in the foreground, with a Georgian chapel in the background
Wesley's Chapel was established by John Wesley in 1778 to serve as his London base. Today it incorporates a museum of Methodism in its crypt.

The largest branch of Methodism in England was organised by John Wesley. It is a tribute to his charisma and powers of oratory that "Methodism" is commonly assumed to be Wesleyan Methodism unless otherwise stated. Theologically, Wesley held to the Arminian view that salvation, by God's grace, was possible for all human beings, in contrast to the Calvinistic ideas of election and predestination that were accepted by the Nonconformists of 18th-century England.

Engraving of Wesley standing on a plinth and preaching to a crowd.
John Wesley preaching outside a church. A 19th-century engraving. Methodists were forbidden from preaching in parish churches.

As Wesley and his colleagues preached around the country they formed local societies, that were given national organisation through Wesley's leadership and conferences of preachers. Wesley insisted that Methodists regularly attend their local parish church as well as Methodist meetings.[7] In 1784 Wesley made provision for the governance of Methodism after his death through the 'Yearly Conference of the People called Methodists'. He nominated 100 people and declared them to be its members and laid down the method by which their successors were to be appointed. The annual Conference has remained the governing body of Methodism ever since, with various modifications implemented to increase the number of preachers present, to include lay members (1878) and later women (1911).

Although Wesley declared, "I live and die a member of the Church of England",[8] the impact of the movement, especially after Wesley's clandestine ordinations in 1784, made separation from the Church of England virtually inevitable. The estrangement between the Church of England and the Wesleyan Methodists was entrenched by the decision of the Annual Conference of 1795 to permit the administration of the Lord's Supper in any chapel where both a majority of the trustees and a majority of the stewards and leaders allowed it. This permission was extended to the administration of baptism, burial and timing of chapel services, bringing Methodist chapels into competition with the local parish church. Consequently, known Methodists were often excluded from the full life of the Church of England accelerating the trend for Methodism to become entirely separate from the Established Church.

For half a century after John Wesley's death in 1791, the Methodist movement was characterised by a series of divisions, normally on matters of church government (e.g. Methodist New Connexion) and separate revivals (e.g. Primitive Methodism in Staffordshire, 1811, and the Bible Christian Movement in South West England, 1815). The second half of the nineteenth century saw many of the small schisms reunited to become the United Methodist Free Churches and a further union in 1907 with the Methodist New Connexion and Bible Christian Church brought the United Methodist Church into being. Finally with the Methodist Union of 1932 the three main Methodist connexions in Britain—the Wesleyans, Primitive Methodists and United Methodist Church—came together to form the present Methodist Church. Some offshoots of Methodism, such as the Salvation Army and Church of the Nazarene, remain totally separate organisations.

According to historians such as Elie Halevy, Eric J. Hobsbawm and E. P. Thompson, Methodism had a major impact in the early decades of the making of the English working class (1760–1820).

Doctrine and practice[edit]

A Methodist minister, wearing a cassock with bands, presides over the Lord's Supper

Services[edit]

The Methodist Church includes a variety of approaches to public worship. Like other historic Christian churches, the Methodist Church has official liturgies for services of Holy Communion, Baptism, Ordination, weddings and funerals. These and other services are contained in The Methodist Worship Book, which was published in 1999.[9] Ministers, preachers and other worship leaders are not required to use the book, but it is a guideline for the structure of church services and contains prayers and responses.

A distinctive liturgical feature of Methodism is the use of Covenant services. Methodist churches annually follow the call of John Wesley for a renewal of their covenant with God. It is common for each congregation to normally hold an annual Covenant Service on the first convenient Sunday of the year, and the Wesley Covenant Prayer is still used.[10]

Singing the Faith is the current hymn book published by the church. It contains a varied collection of hymns and contemporary worship music, with many written by Charles Wesley.

Core beliefs[edit]

A summary of Methodist doctrine is contained in the Catechism for the Use of the People Called Methodists.[11] Some core beliefs affirmed by the Methodist Church are as follows:

  • The belief that God is all-knowing, possesses infinite love and goodness, is all-powerful, and the creator of all things.
  • God has always existed and will always continue to exist.
  • God is three persons in one: Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
  • God is the master of all creation and humans are meant to live in a holy covenant with him. Humans have broken this covenant by their sins, and can only be forgiven if they truly have faith in the love and saving grace of Jesus Christ.
  • Jesus was God on Earth, in the form of a man who was crucified for the sins of all people, and who was physically resurrected to bring them the hope of eternal life.
  • The grace of God is seen by people through the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives and in their world. (Personal holiness)
  • Close adherence to the teachings of scripture is essential to the faith because scripture is the Word of God.
  • Methodists are part of a universal church and must work with all Christians to spread the love of God.
  • Baptism and the Lord's Supper (Holy Communion) are the two sacraments instituted by Jesus:
    • Baptism is a sacrament involving the submersion or, more commonly in the Methodist Church, sprinkling of water which cleanses the stain of original sin. It also symbolises being brought into the community of faith; the Church practices infant baptism as well as baptism of adult converts.
    • The Lord's Super is a sacrament in which participants eat bread and drink wine (Methodists use non-alcoholic juice) in memory of the Last Supper. The Catechism states, "Jesus Christ is present with his worshipping people [...] As they eat the bread and drink the wine, through the power of the Holy Spirit they receive him by faith and with thanksgiving."[11]
  • People can only be saved through faith in Jesus Christ, not by any other acts of redemption such as good deeds.

Wesleyan theology stands at a unique cross-roads between evangelical and sacramental, between liturgical and charismatic, and between Anglo-Catholic and Reformed theology and practice. It has been characterised as Arminian theology with an emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit to bring holiness into the life of the participating believer. The Methodist Church teaches the Arminian concepts of free will, conditional election and sanctifying grace. John Wesley was perhaps the clearest English proponent of Arminianism.[12] The church teaches that salvation is entirely a work of God alone with no work by which it can be earned (monergism), and that one cannot either turn to God nor believe unless God has first drawn a person and implanted the desire in their heart (the Wesleyan doctrine of prevenient grace).[13]

It is a traditional position of the Methodist Church (as of many others) that any disciplined theological work calls for the careful use of reason by which to understand God's action and will, especially from reading the Bible. Methodists have also emphasised the importance of Scriptural holiness, which entails more than personal piety; love of God is always linked with love of neighbour, a passion for justice and renewal in the life of the world. John Wesley made much of the process of sanctification, occasionally even seeming to claim that individuals could achieve "Christian Perfection" in this human life.

Doctrinal standards[edit]

The Methodist Church understands itself to be part of the Holy Catholic Church and it recognises the historic ecumenical creeds: the Apostle's Creed and the Nicene Creed,[14] which are used during services of Holy Communion.[9] It is a Protestant and evangelical church. Although Methodist practices and interpretation of beliefs have evolved over time, these practices and beliefs can be traced to the writings, hymns and sermons of the church's founders, especially John Wesley and Charles Wesley. The Methodist Church does not have a strict set of doctrines, comparable to that of the Westminster Confession, but it does possess broad doctrinal standards.

The formal doctrinal standards of the Methodist Church of Great Britain are as follows:

The Methodist Church claims and cherishes its place in the Holy Catholic Church which is the Body of Christ. It rejoices in the inheritance of the apostolic faith and loyally accepts the fundamental principles of the historic creeds and of the Protestant Reformation. It ever remembers that in the providence of God Methodism was raised up to spread scriptural holiness through the land by the proclamation of the evangelical faith and declares its unfaltering resolve to be true to its divinely appointed mission. The doctrines of the evangelical faith which Methodism has held from the beginning and still holds are based upon the divine revelation recorded in the Holy Scriptures. The Methodist Church acknowledges this revelation as the supreme rule of faith and practice. These evangelical doctrines to which the preachers of the Methodist Church are pledged are contained in Wesley's Notes on the New Testament and the first four volumes of his sermons.

— Deed of Union[14]

Positions on social and moral issues[edit]

Life issues[edit]

The Methodist Church takes a moderate anti-abortion (pro-life) position, stating that the termination of any form of human life cannot be regarded superficially.[15] It believes that a foetus should progressively be accorded rights, as it develops through its stages of gestation, culminating with full respect as an individual at birth. It does maintain that abortion is a permissible choice in a small number of very specific cases i.e. where the mother's life is at risk, where there is risk of "grave injury" to the physical or mental health of the mother, in cases of rape or incest, and where the right of the unborn child to be healthy and wanted may not be met.[15][16] The Church believes its members should work toward the elimination of the need for abortion by advocating for social support for mothers. It states that "abortion must not be regarded as an alternative to contraception, nor is it to be justified merely as a method of birth control ... but should remain subject to a legal framework, to responsible counselling and to medical judgement."[15] Methodists support the use of "responsible contraception" and family planning as ways to prevent unwanted pregnancies.[15]

The Methodist Church strongly opposes assisted suicide and euthanasia: "The final stage of an illness is not one which need represent the ultimate defeat for the doctor or nurse, but a supreme opportunity to help the patient at many levels, including those relating to emotional and spiritual well-being ... Dedicated workers in this field of care, including specialised hospices, demonstrate that it is possible to deal with all the symptoms which cause problems to the patient ... Euthanasia, assisted dying – both are artificial precipitation of death. Many Christians believe this idea is wrong. An approach to death as outlined above makes euthanasia inappropriate and irrelevant."[17]

The Methodist Church supported the campaign to abolish the death penalty in Great Britain and since then has totally opposed its reintroduction.[18]

Sexuality and marriage[edit]

Within the Methodist Church, members have a broad range of views about human relationships and the nature and purpose of marriage.[19] The church condemns "all practices of sexuality, which are promiscuous, exploitative or demeaning in any way".[20] In his 1743 tract, Thoughts on marriage and a single life, John Wesley taught that the ability to live a single life is given by God to all believers, although few people are able to accept this gift.[21]

In 1993 the Methodist Conference, the governing body of the Methodist Church, met in Derby and passed six resolutions covering issues related with human sexuality (known as the "Derby Resolutions" or "1993 Resolutions"). Among these, the conference reaffirmed the traditional Christian teaching of "chastity for all outside marriage and fidelity within it".[20] The Methodist Church defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.[19] The Derby Resolutions also agreed that the church "recognises, affirms and celebrates the participation and ministry of lesbians and gay men" and allows the ordination of openly gay ministers.[20]

The Methodist Church has a mixed position on the blessing of same-sex couples. In 2005 the Methodist Conference meeting in Torquay decided to allow its ministers to bless same-sex relationships, subject to local approval.[22][23] The 2005 conference affirmed that the church should be "welcoming and inclusive" and not turn people away because of their sexual orientation.[23] However, in 2006 the Methodist Conference reversed this decision and decided not to allow formal blessings, although ministers were allowed to offer informal private prayers.[24][25] The 2013 conference set up a working party to oversee a process of "deep reflection and discernment" before reporting back to the conference in 2016 with recommendations about whether the definition of marriage should be revised.[26][27] In 2014, the conference decided in favour of allowing ministers to celebrate same-sex couples who have entered into a civil marriage.[26] Also in 2014, "the Conference resolved that its previous ruling that there was no reason per se to prevent anyone within the Church, ordained or lay, from entering into or remaining within a civil partnership, should also extend to those entering into legally contracted same-sex marriages".[28] The denomination has also stated that Methodists can enter into same-sex marriages and that "prayers of thanksgiving or celebration may be said, and there may be informal services of thanksgiving or celebration".[29] In 2016, the church voted to "'revisit' its position on same-sex marriage with members expressing a desire to endorse same-sex relationships".[30]

Regarding transgender people, the denomination has stated that, after transitioning legally, transgender people "are permitted to marry a person of the opposite gender under current marriage law".[29]

"Outcome" is the representative group of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) Methodists. It aims to strengthen the Methodist Church's position as an LGBT-affirming denomination. The group wants the church to allow same-sex marriage ceremonies.[31]

Alcohol[edit]

In 1744, the directions the Wesleys gave to the Methodist societies required them "to taste no spirituous [i.e., distilled] liquor ... unless prescribed by a physician."[32] Methodists later took a leading role in the temperance movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries, and Methodism remains associated with teetotalism in the public mind.[33] Methodists saw alcoholic beverages, and alcoholism, as the root of many social ills and tried to persuade people to abstain from these.[34] Temperance appealed strongly to the Methodist doctrines of sanctification and perfection. At one time, ministers had to take a pledge not to drink and encouraged their congregations to do the same.[35] To this day, alcohol remains banned in Methodist premises.[33] In fact, the Methodist Church uses unfermented grape juice in the sacrament of Holy Communion. However, the choice to consume alcohol outside of church is now a personal decision for any member.[33]

Poverty[edit]

From the start Methodism was sympathetic towards poor people. In 1753, John Wesley bemoaned, "So wickedly, devilishly false is that common objection, ‘They are poor, only because they are idle’."[36] In a Joint Public Issues Team report issued with the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Church of Scotland and United Reformed Church, the Methodist Church regret this misconception is also prevalent today.[37]

Daleep Mukarji, Methodist Vice-President in 2013 and former Director of the charity Christian Aid,[38] said economic inequality was more prevalent in the 21st Century UK than at any time since World War II. Twenty-five per cent of UK residents experience relative poverty, disproportionately many are children.[39]

Working with others, people of faith or no faith, we need to work for justice, inclusion and development that benefits the poor and marginalised here in the UK and across the world. This requires that we be prepared for the education, organisation and equipping of our members so that we build the necessary energy and commitment to see changes in our society. (...) We must hold our leaders, the structures and systems accountable so that we see that the weak and vulnerable are given a better deal. (...) Many Methodists in our local churches and circuits have outstanding programmes that serve people in need. At this time when poverty, deprivation and neglect seem to have got worse we should do more. (...) Our Methodist church is known for our service, our commitment to social justice and our willingness to act to transform society. Daleep Mukarji[39]

Mukarji said the UK government stigmatises poor people which aggravates their troubles. Mukarji believes "In the context of so much despair, inequality, injustice, death and shocking treatment of our fellow human beings we must never give up." Rich people became richer while poverty sometimes increased. Unjust structures prevent people escaping poverty and deprivation. There is need for justice and for redistricting resources more equally, this is in the interest of better off people too because poverty causes alienation and civil unrest which can destroy nations. More than half a million British people require help getting basic food and regularly use food banks. Growing unemployment, underemployment, rising food and fuel prices while incomes fall will likely increase food dependency.[39]

Organisation[edit]

Further information: Connexionalism
A typical Methodist chapel in Chellaston. Individual churches are grouped into circuits to which ministers are appointed.
The Methodist chapel in Haroldswick is the northernmost church in Britain. The Methodist Church has a strong presence in the Shetland Islands.

Methodists belong to local churches or local ecumenical partnerships (usually meeting in a building called a "chapel"), but also feel part of a larger connected community, known as "The Connexion". This sense of being connected makes a difference to how the Methodist Church as a whole is structured. The Church also supports several associate charities.

Annual conference[edit]

The Methodist Church is characterised by a strong central organisation, yet a lack of a powerful "hierarchy". The central governing body of the Connexion is the Methodist Conference, which meets in June every year.[40] It represents both ministers and lay people (non-ministers) and decides church policy.[40] Issues may be brought before the Conference in the form of "memorials", which are formally examined and discussed. The conference may release statements on moral, social and doctrinal issues— such as the church's stance on abortion[15]—and is understood to have authority to speak on the church's behalf.

The conference is a gathering of representatives from each Methodist district, along with some who have been elected by the conference and some ex officio members and representatives of the youth assembly. It is held annually in three sessions, for the presbyterate, the diaconate and a representative session including lay representatives.[40]

The conference is presided over by the president of conference, a minister (presbyter), supported by a vice-president who can be a local preacher (lay person) or deacon. The president and vice-president serve a one-year term, travelling across the Connexion and preaching at local churches.

Districts, circuits and charities[edit]

The Connexion is divided into 375 circuits[2] governed by the (usually) twice yearly Circuit Meeting and led and administrated principally by a 'superintendent minister'. Ministers are appointed to these rather than to individual churches. Most circuits have many fewer ministers than churches, and the majority of services are led by lay local preachers, or by supernumerary ministers (retired ministers who are not officially counted in the number of ministers for the circuit in which they are listed). The superintendent and other ministers are assisted in the leadership and administration of the Circuit by lay Circuit Stewards, who collectively bring their own skills and abilities, and together with the ministers form what is normally known as the Circuit Leadership Team.

The circuits are grouped in thirty-one districts[41] covering Great Britain, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands each supervised by a District Synod and a District Chair, except the new London District, created in September 2006, which has three chairmen with a 'Lead' Chair. Northern Ireland is part of the Methodist Church in Ireland.

The Church is closely associated with several charitable organisations; namely, Action for Children (formerly NCH and before that the National Children's Homes), All We Can (formerly the Methodist Relief & Development Fund) and Methodist Homes.

The Methodist Church also helps to run a number of schools, including two leading Public Schools in East Anglia, Culford School and The Leys. It helps to promote an all round education with a strong Christian ethos.

Central Halls[edit]

The Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, is the former headquarters of the Methodist Church, today used as the location of many of its Conferences.

Some large inner-city churches—known as Central Halls—are designated as circuits in themselves, Westminster Central Hall in central London being the best known. About a hundred Central Halls were built in Britain between 1886 and 1945, many in a renaissance or baroque style. In their heyday they presented low-cost concerts and shows to entertain the working classes on Saturdays, encouraging them to abstain from alcohol, as well as hosting church congregations on Sundays. However, many were bombed during the Second World War, and others declined as people moved out of the city centres; today fewer than 20 remain in use as churches. Others such as the landmark buildings Methodist Central Hall, Birmingham and Grand Central Hall, Liverpool have been sold and adapted as retail or nightclub venues.[42]

Ministry[edit]

Presbyters and deacons[edit]

Christ's ministers in the church are stewards in the household of God and shepherds of his flock. Some are called and ordained to this occupation as presbyters or deacons. Presbyters have a principal and directing part in these great duties but they hold no priesthood differing in kind from that which is common to all the Lord's people and they have no exclusive title to the preaching of the gospel or the care of souls. These ministries are shared with them by others to whom also the Spirit divides his gifts severally as he wills.

— Deed of Union[14]

In 2005 there were around 3,600 ordained ministers in the Methodist Church.[43] The church recognises two orders of ordained ministry: that of presbyter (literally "elder") and deacon.[44] Both may be referred to as ministers in official documents,[44] although this is more commonly limited to presbyters. Presbyters are styled "The Reverend", while "Deacon" is used as a title by members of the diaconate. Deacons also belong to a community of deacons in the Methodist Diaconal Order, which is both a religious order and an order of ministry.[45]

John Wesley ordained and sent forth every Methodist preacher in his day. His superintendents preached and baptised and ordained.

The two orders are equal in status, with presbyters and deacons each serving a distinct role in the ministry of the Church. Deacons are called to a ministry of service and witness: specifically to "assist God's people in worship and prayer" and "to visit and support the sick and the suffering".[45] Presbyters are called to a ministry of word and sacrament: "to preach by word and deed the Gospel of God's grace" and "to baptise, to confirm, and to preside at the celebration of the sacrament of Christ's body and blood."[45] Presbyters are itinerant preachers, residing in a circuit for usually five years before transferring to another.

Methodist presbyters and deacons are usually given pastoral care of several local churches in a circuit. Ordinary ministers are in turn overseen by a superintendent minister, who is the most senior minister in a circuit (see above). Unlike many other Methodist churches, the British church does not have bishops. A report, "What Sort of Bishops?" to the Conference of 2005, was accepted for study and report.[note 2] This report considered if this should now be changed, and if so, what forms of episcopacy might be acceptable. Consultation at grassroots level during 2006 and 2007 revealed overwhelming opposition from those who responded. As a consequence, the 2007 Conference decided not to move towards having bishops at present. Many Methodists believe that the function of 'bishop' is already part of the church's structures—though called by different names.

Without bishops, the Church does not subscribe to the idea of an historical episcopate, but it does affirm apostolic succession. In 1937 the Methodist Conference located the "true continuity" with the Church of past ages in "the continuity of Christian experience, the fellowship in the gift of the one Spirit; in the continuity in the allegiance to one Lord, the continued proclamation of the message; the continued acceptance of the mission;..." [through a long chain which goes back to the] "the first disciples in the company of the Lord Himself ... This is our doctrine of apostolic succession" [which neither depends on, nor is secured by,] "an official succession of ministers, whether bishops or presbyters, from apostolic times, but rather by fidelity to apostolic truth".[46]

Local preachers[edit]

A notable feature of British Methodism is its extensive use of "local preachers" ('local' because they stay in the same circuit, as opposed to 'itinerant' preachers who move to different circuits, in the case of presbyters.) They are lay people or deacons who have been trained and accredited to preach and lead worship services in place of a minister. However, local preachers cannot ordinarily officiate at a Communion service. Local preachers are thus similar to lay readers in the Church of England.[47] It is estimated that local preachers conduct seven out of every ten Methodist services, either in their own circuit or in others where they are invited as "visiting preachers".[47]

Local preachers have played an important role in English and Welsh social history, especially among the working class and Labour movement. Recent prominent public figures who preached include George Thomas, Speaker of the House of Commons from 1976 to 1983, and Len Murray, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress from 1973 to 1983.

All candidates for ordination as a presbyter in the Methodist Church are required to be admitted as Local Preachers before they can be accepted as candidates or begin their training.[47]

Ecumenical and interfaith relations[edit]

St Matthew Church, Rastrick, is an example of a local ecumenical partnership where Methodists and Anglicans work and worship together as one congregation.

The Methodist Church participates in various ecumenical forums and associations. The church is a member of the three national ecumenical bodies in Great Britain, namely Churches Together in England, Cytûn in Wales and Action of Churches Together in Scotland, plus Churches Together in Britain and Ireland. From the 1970s onward, the Methodist Church has been involved in over 900 "local ecumenical partnerships" (LEPs) with neighbouring denominations,[43] usually with the Church of England, the Baptist Union or with the United Reformed Church.

It also participates in the Conference of European Churches and the World Council of Churches. The church has sent delegates to every Assembly of the World Council and has at various times been represented on its Central Committees and Faith and Order Commission.[48]

The Methodist Church is one of the Covenanted Churches in Wales, along with the Church in Wales, the Presbyterian Church of Wales, the United Reformed Church and certain Baptist Churches.[49]

In April 2016 the World Methodist Council opened an Ecumenical Office in Rome, Italy. Methodist leaders and Pope Francis met together to dedicate the new office.[50] It exists to offer a resource in the city of Rome for the global Methodist family and to help facilitate Methodist relationships with the wider Christian Church, especially the Roman Catholic Church.[51]

Anglican-Methodist Covenant[edit]

In the 1960s, the Methodist Church made ecumenical overtures to the Church of England, aimed at church unity. In February 1963, a report, Conversations between the Church of England and the Methodist Church was published. This gave an outline of a scheme to unite the two Churches. The scheme was not without opposition, for four Methodist representatives; Kingsley Barrett, Meadley, Snaith and Jessop, issued a dissentient report. Through much of the 1960s, controversy spread in the two Churches. Central in the debate was the need for Methodist Ministers to be ordained under the Anglican historical episcopate. Critics claimed that this would be re-ordination and proponents of the scheme struggled to find a form of words to disguise this fact.

Discussions finally failed when the proposals for union were rejected by the Church of England's General Synod in 1972.[52]

Discussions were renewed in the mid-1990s, with a series of Informal Conversations held in 1995 and 1996. These meetings concluded with the publication of a Common Statement in December 2000 which highlighted common beliefs and potential areas of cooperation between the two denominations.[52]

In June 2002, the Methodist Conference voted by a large majority to seek the opinion of each District Synod and Circuit Meeting on the proposals in An Anglican-Methodist Covenant. At its meeting in July 2002, the Church of England General Synod voted by a very substantial majority to commend the proposed Anglican-Methodist Covenant to its dioceses for discussion. Finally, the Anglican-Methodist Covenant was signed at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster 1 November 2003 in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II. This Covenant affirms the willingness of the two churches to work together at a diocesan/district level in matters of evangelism and joint worship.

Controversy over report on Zionism[edit]

Following the submission of a report entitled 'Justice for Palestine and Israel' in July 2010, the UK Methodist Conference was reported to have questioned whether 'Zionism was compatible with Methodist beliefs'.[53][54] Christian Zionism was broadly characterised as believing that Israel 'must be held above criticism whatever policy is enacted', and conference called for a boycott of selected Israeli goods 'emanating from illegal settlements.'[55] The UK's Chief Rabbi described the report as 'unbalanced, factually and historically flawed' and charged that it offered 'no genuine understanding of one of the most complex conflicts in the world today. Many in both communities will be deeply disturbed'.[53][54]

Worldwide Methodism[edit]

St. Andrew's Scots Church, Malta is a joint congregation (local ecumenical partnership) of the Methodist Church of Great Britain and the Church of Scotland situated in Valletta. There are also Methodist Churches in the Crown Dependencies of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands (each forming a district).

Methodist Churches in Northern Ireland are part of the Methodist Church in Ireland, a separate Connexion which is historically associated with the British Methodist Church.

Methodism is a worldwide Protestant movement with around 80.5 million adherents (including members of united and uniting churches).[56] Its largest denomination is the United Methodist Church[57] which has congregations on four continents (though the majority are in the United States).[58] Almost all Methodist denominations meet together quinquennially in a conference of the World Methodist Council, with its headquarters in Lake Junaluska, North Carolina.[56]

Methodist Recorder[edit]

The Methodist Recorder is an independent weekly newspaper that examines events and current affairs within the Methodist community in Great Britain and the Wider World. It has been published continuously since 1861, absorbing its major rivals the Watchman in 1883, the United Methodist in 1932 and the Methodist Times in 1937.

On 13 February 1992 the Recorder published its 7,000th edition and the following year published its first April Fools' Day joke, claiming that there would be a "complete standardisation of Methodist worship" which would require local preachers to wear a "uniform" and be trained in clowning and juggling.[59]

In 2012 the paper was priced £1.95 per edition. Although not available online, the Recorder maintains a basic website offering subscription details and a brief outline of the newspaper's contents.[60] The editor is; Moira Sleight. The Methodist Recorder is available on a memory stick free of charge for blind and visually impaired people from Galloway's Society for the Blind.

A full archive in both bound copies and microfilm is available from the Methodist Studies Unit of the former Westminster College, Oxford, which is now part of Oxford Brookes University in Oxford[61] Public access is free of charge (by prior appointment) and a small charge is made for reproduction.

The former chairman of The Co-operative Bank, Reverend Paul Flowers, has been a regular contributor, including a spell as the art critic, writing the Gallery Notes column. He has also been part of the reporting team for the title at the Methodist Conference.[62]

Work with young people[edit]

As of July 2015, 32,000 children and young people visit a Methodist service every week,[2] and some Methodist churches work with young people in their communities. Work with young people is overseen by the Children and Youth Team, originally called the Methodist Association of Youth Clubs (MAYC). Once a year, young people have a chance to meet and discuss church issues at 3Generate (formerly Methodist Youth Assembly - 2010) and are represented throughout the year by the Methodist Youth President, a paid young person, and other representatives, who are elected to represent the Methodist Children and Youth at events such as the British Youth Council, the World Methodist Council, as well as the annual Methodist Conference. At the 3Generate conference in November 2015, more than 600 young people and leaders gathered for a weekend of different activities and training,[63] which is double the number on the 2014 event.

Methodist associations[edit]

Although not part of the official structures of the Methodist Church of Great Britain, there are a number of fellowships and societies for Methodist interests. One of these is the Wesley Historical Society whose branches hold regular meetings and publish journals recording the history of Methodism. These are useful sources of information.

The Voice of Methodism Association (Charity registration 233722) was formed at Westminster Central Hall on Saturday 25 January 1964, to oppose the proposal to join together the Anglican Church with the Methodist Church (see above). Opposition at the time was described as ‘formidable’.

From around 1967 onwards, the Anglican-Methodist unity scheme began to run into problems. There was strong opposition from Anglo-Catholics, and the Voice of Methodism campaigned against it. Following initial alarm that the Scheme would begin in 1965, voting was delayed until 1969. There were many arguments over the ‘Service of Reconciliation’. In asserting the Historic Episcopate, the doctrine of the Priesthood of All Believers, stated in the 1932 Methodist Deed of Union,[14] was being denied. The debate became acrimonious, reaching a low point with the publication of the book 'Anglican-Methodist Unity: Some Considerations Historical and Liturgical' by Margaret Deanesly and Geoffrey G. Willis. The Voice of Methodism brought a Chancery Court case against the Methodist Connexion. It was claimed that the degree of opposition expressed in the Methodist District Synods and Circuit Meetings did not represent the true depth of feeling against the Scheme in the pews. Around a tenth of the Church left. At the votes taken in July 1969, the Methodist Conference accepted the Scheme, but insufficient support was given in the Anglican Convocations and, despite several attempts to revive it, the proposals lapsed.

The 'Voice of Methodism Association' was taken into administration by the Charity Commission in 1992. A renewed trust was formed by the Charity Commission in 2002. This renewed trust seeks to support unity between Christians without uniformity. It has continued to campaign against attempts to merge the Methodist Church with the Church of England on grounds that all current schemes for merger compromise Methodist doctrine. The charity also gives small scale grants to support Methodist churches and encourages Church members to preserve the distinctive Methodist identity.

Methodist Evangelicals Together[edit]

Methodist Evangelicals Together is the recently (2007) adopted name for Headway, an association of evangelically minded Methodists. Headway was formed about 20 years ago when the Methodist Revival Fellowship and Conservative Evangelicals in Methodism merged. It has over 2000 members, including some 400 ministers, and exercises increasing influence. The journal, METConnexion, has articles covering a wide range of topics.[note 3]

Architecture[edit]

The octagonal Methodist chapel in Heptonstall.

In the early days of Methodism, chapels were sometimes octagonal to avoid conflict with the established Church. The first was in Norwich (1757). It was followed by Rotherham (1761), Whitby (1762), Heptonstall (1764) and ten others.

The Heptonstall chapel is the oldest in England in continual use.[64] The building featured in the BBC Four series "Churches: How to read them". Dr Richard Taylor named it as one of his ten favourite churches, saying: "If buildings have an aura, this one radiated friendship."[65]

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ The larger figure comprises the "community roll"—all people known to have 'active links' to the church, including members. Additionally, the 2009 British Social Attitudes Survey found that around 800,000 people, or 1.3 per cent of the population, identified as Methodist, but many do not have 'active links' with the church.[4]
  2. ^ Proposals can be found in: What sort of bishops?: Models of episcopacy and British Methodism
  3. ^ METConnexion magazine Editorial

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Presidency". The Methodist Church in Britain. Retrieved 3 July 2016. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Methodism in Numbers – Statistics at a Glance" (PDF). methodist.org.uk. The Methodist Conference. July 2015. Retrieved 23 December 2015. 
  3. ^ Jr, Charles Yrigoyen (25 September 2014). T&T Clark Companion to Methodism. A&C Black. p. 73. ISBN 9780567290779. British Methodism therefore holds an inescapable chronological priority in the history of world Methodism and it has also often been accorded a courteous priority of esteem, being regard still as the 'mother church' by Methodists from many parts of the globe. The story of the origins and development of Methodism in what is now the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, therefore, is the story, first, of an eighteenth-century movement which gave birth to the whole Methodist enterprise and then of a nineteenth-century church whose influence reached out across the world through the missionary endeavors of the various British Connexions within and beyond the British Empire. 
  4. ^ Religion in the United Kingdom#cite note-BSA Table 1983-2010-35
  5. ^ Gwyn Davies, A Light in the Land, Christianity in Wales 200–2000, 2002, Bryntirion Press, ISBN 1-85049-181-X, pp. 70–79.
  6. ^ Richard Bennett, Howell Harris and the Dawn of Revival, 1909, English translation 1962, Banner of Truth, ISBN 1-85049-035-X
  7. ^ Rev. Philip S Watson, Anatomy of a Conversion, 1984, Francis Asbury Press (now Zondervan), ISBN 0-310-74991-3, p. 26.
  8. ^ Baker, Frank (2000). John Wesley and the Church of England (2nd ed.). London: Epworth. p. 1. ISBN 978-0716205388. 
  9. ^ a b The Methodist Worship Book (Presentation Edition. ed.). Peterborough: Methodist Publishing House. 1999. ISBN 1858521203.  See 'Contents', pp. i-v; 'Holy Communion', pp.114-229.
  10. ^ "A covenant with God". The Methodist Church in Britain. Retrieved 22 May 2016. 
  11. ^ a b A Catechism for the Use of the People Called Methodists. Peterborough: Methodist Publishing House. 2000. ISBN 9781858521824. 
  12. ^ John Wesley, Sermons on Several Occasions for further detail.
  13. ^ J. Steven Harper, "The Way to Heaven: The Gospel According to John Wesley", (1983), ISBN 0-310-25260-1
  14. ^ a b c d The constitutional practice and discipline of the Methodist Church. (PDF) (Seventh edition, 2013 revision. ed.). The Methodist Conference. 2013. ISBN 978-1-85852-383-5. Retrieved 12 February 2014. 
  15. ^ a b c d e "Abortion and Contraception". Methodist Church in Britain. Retrieved 26 December 2013. 
  16. ^ "A report on the status of the unborn human" (PDF). methodist.org.uk. Methodist Conference. 1990. Retrieved 19 February 2016. 
  17. ^ "Euthanasia" (PDF). Methodist Church in Britain. Retrieved 26 December 2013. 
  18. ^ "Criminal Justice". Public Issues. Methodist Church in Britain. Archived from the original on 18 June 2013. Retrieved 26 December 2013. 
  19. ^ a b "Frequently Asked Questions - Marrriage and Relationships". Methodist Church in Britain. Retrieved 4 May 2016. 
  20. ^ a b c "Human Sexuality". Methodist Church in Britain. Retrieved 4 May 2016. 
  21. ^ Wesley, John. The Works of the Reverend John Wesley, A. M. pp. 539–544. 
  22. ^ Bates, Stephen (30 June 2005). "Methodist leaders vote to bless gay couples". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 May 2016. 
  23. ^ a b Robinson, B.A. (2005). "The Methodist Church in Britain and homosexualuty". ReligiousTolerance.org. Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. Retrieved 4 May 2016. 
  24. ^ "Methodist Church Votes Down Same-Sex Blessings". Christianity Today. 28 June 2006. Retrieved 4 May 2016. 
  25. ^ "Methodist Church votes on same sex marriage". Outcome. 28 June 2006. Retrieved 4 May 2016. 
  26. ^ a b Drake, Gavin. "Methodists may bless but not marry same-sex couples". www.churchtimes.co.uk. Church Times. Retrieved November 30, 2015. 
  27. ^ "Methodist Church begins mass consultation on gay marriage". Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 2016-05-20. 
  28. ^ "Methodist Conference receives report on same-sex marriage". www.methodist.org.uk. Retrieved 2016-08-09. 
  29. ^ a b "Frequently Asked Questions - Marriage and Relationships". www.methodist.org.uk. Retrieved 2016-07-09. 
  30. ^ "Methodist Church to 'revisit' gay marriage stance". Retrieved 2016-08-09. 
  31. ^ "Same-sex Marriage". Outcome. Retrieved 4 May 2016. 
  32. ^ Methodist Episcopal Church (1798). "Directions given to the Band-Societies. December 25th, 1744.". Doctrines and Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church. with explanatory notes by Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury (10th ed.). p. 150. 
  33. ^ a b c "Alcohol". Views of the Church. The Methodist Church in Britain. Retrieved 26 December 2013. 
  34. ^ Phil Carradice. "The temperance movement in Wales". BBC. Retrieved 26 December 2013. 
  35. ^ Wright, Christopher J. H. (2003). Truth and Spirituality Today - Book 4. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 21. ISBN 0199148422. 
  36. ^ "Wesley's Forgiveness". Journal of John Wesley. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Retrieved 11 April 2014. 
  37. ^ The lies we tell ourselves: ending comfortable myths about poverty
  38. ^ "Gordon Brown and Rowan Williams praise Christian Aid's departing Director". Christian Aid. Retrieved 28 February 2014. 
  39. ^ a b c New Vice-President urges Methodists to fight poverty
  40. ^ a b c "The Conference". Methodist Church in Britain. Retrieved 27 December 2013. 
  41. ^ "Membership". Methodist Church. Retrieved 8 January 2015. 
  42. ^ Moore, Keith (30 August 2012). "What happened to the Methodist central halls?". BBC News. Retrieved 13 May 2015. 
  43. ^ a b "Methodist Church". World Council of Churches. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  44. ^ a b "Ministers, Presbyters and Deacons: Signalling Vocation, Clarifying Identity". Methodist Church in Britain. Retrieved 30 December 2013. 
  45. ^ a b c "Deacons and Presbyters". Methodist Diaconal Order. Retrieved 27 December 2013. 
  46. ^ Jay, Eric G. The Church. John Knox press: 1980, p.229
  47. ^ a b c "Local Preachers and Readers: Sharing Two Ministries" (PDF). Methodist Church in Britain. Retrieved 12 February 2014. 
  48. ^ "World Council of Churches". The Methodist Church in Britain. Retrieved 24 June 2013. 
  49. ^ "Covenanted Churches in Wales". Methodist Church in Britain. Retrieved 30 December 2013. 
  50. ^ "World Methodist Council opens new ecumenical office in Rome". en.radiovaticana.va. Vatican Radio. 6 April 2016. Retrieved 21 May 2016. 
  51. ^ "About the Methodist Ecumenical Office Rome". Methodist Church in Britain. Retrieved 21 May 2016. 
  52. ^ a b "Common Statement of the Formal Conversations between the Methodist Church of Great Britain and the Church of England" (PDF). Methodist Publishing House and Church House Publishing. 2001. Retrieved 3 February 2014. 
  53. ^ a b "Chief Rabbi slams Methodist report". Jewish Chronicle. 2010-06-23. Retrieved 2014-07-05. 
  54. ^ a b "Fury as Methodists vote to boycott Israel". Jewish Chronicle. 2010-07-01. Retrieved 2014-07-05. 
  55. ^ "Justice for Palestine and Israel" (PDF). Methodist Church in Britain, Official website. July 2010. Retrieved 2014-07-05. 
  56. ^ a b "Who We Are". World Methodist Council. Retrieved 21 May 2016. 
  57. ^ World Methodist Council (pub.) (2007). Handbook of Information 20072012, pp. 261–278. Cornerstone, Waynesville
  58. ^ "Structure & Organization: Organization". The United Methodist Church. Retrieved 1 July 2012. 
  59. ^ http://www.methodistrecorder.co.uk/history.htm
  60. ^ http://www.methodistrecorder.co.uk/
  61. ^ http://www.brookes.ac.uk
  62. ^ [1]
  63. ^ "3Generate". methodist.org.uk. Methodist Church in Britain. Archived from the original on 31 March 2016. Retrieved 21 May 2016. 
  64. ^ Heptonstall Trail, A Calder Civic Trust publication, 1996
  65. ^ "Richard Taylor, Rider Books". 

Further reading[edit]

  • Brooks, Alan. West End Methodism: The Story of Hinde Street. London: Northway Publications, 2010.
  • Dowson, Jean and Hutchinson, John (2003) John Wesley: His Life, Times and Legacy [CD-ROM], Methodist Publishing House, TB214
  • Heitzenrater, Richard P. (1994) Wesley and the People Called Methodists, Nashville: Abingdon Press, ISBN 0-687-01682-7
  • Hempton, David (2005) Methodism: Empire of the Spirit, Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-10614-9
  • Hempton, David (1984) Methodism and Politics in British Society, 1750–1850, Stanford University Press, ISBN 0-8047-1269-7
  • Jones, David Ceri et al. The Elect Methodists: Calvinistic Methodism in England and Wales, 1735–1811 (2012)
  • Kent, John (2002) Wesley and the Wesleyans, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-45532-4
  • Madden, Lionel. Methodism in Wales: A Short History of the Wesley Tradition (2003)
  • Turner, John Munsey. John Wesley: The Evangelical Revival and the Rise of Methodism in England (2003)
  • Turner, John M. Modern Methodism in England, 1932–1996 (1997)
  • Warner, Wellman J. (1930) The Wesleyan Movement in the Industrial Revolution, London: Longmans, Green.

External links[edit]