07 September 2001

Methodist President has faith in the future of Christianity

The leader of the Methodist Church in Britain says that Christianity has a future because at its heart is the truth of God.

Responding to a widespread debate this week about the health of the Christian Churches in Britain, Rev Christina Le Moignan, President of the Methodist Conference, says: "It may look to people that Christianity is in decline, but we are only talking about Christianity's institutional shape. Our institutions and their influence may change enormously, but I don't think that Christianity can be 'vanquished' while its focus is on God."

There will always be a need for some form of community that has a relationship with God, says the President, "because where people are in touch with God, they will need to be in touch with each other".

"I don't like to see people around me living without the gospel of Jesus Christ. Where we fail as a Church, it is because we fail to communicate that gospel. Yet it is important to say at the same time that this gospel is that it is something which is not ours to change. It is not something that we can modify after taking soundings and changing it to suit a different market," she says.

The Methodist Church, recognising the rapid pace of change in Britain, has set priorities to respond better to the challenges it faces. These objectives, called 'Our Calling', set out the core areas of the work and life of Methodists.

Following the speech this week by Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor to a Conference of Roman Catholic priests, Methodist leaders recognised the shifting relationship between Christianity and wider society. But they said that the Church is working hard to address its place in a different world.

Rev Peter Sulston, Co-ordinating Secretary for Inter Church and Other Relationships, said: "We recognise that, along with all our ecumenical partners, we live in a rapidly changing environment. This poses significant challenges to our identity and morale, opportunities and hopes. We understand much that Cardinal Murphy O'Connor said on behalf of the Catholic Church in England and Wales."

He went on to say that the Methodist Church addressed the sort of concerns that the Cardinal has raised and at its annual Conference in 2000 adopted 'Our Calling', a focus on four key objectives in the life of the Church:

  • Worship The Church exists to increase awareness of God's presence and to celebrate God's love
  • Learning and Caring The Church exists to help people to grow and learn as Christians, through mutual support and care.
  • Service The Church exists to be a good neighbour to people in need and to challenge injustice.
  • Evangelism The Church exists to make more followers of Jesus Christ

With these objectives the Church has further identified two particular priorities:

  • To help children, young people and young adults to engage with God and to help the Church to engage with them.
  • To help people to enter into conversations about God and faith in all kinds of settings in ways that make sense to all involved.

Rev Peter Sulston went on to note that the Church particularly recognises that

  • Britain has become a multi-faith, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society.
  • Patterns of family life have become less stable and more diverse.
  • The authority and respect for many traditional institutions has diminished. People have found new ways of relating to them and to other sorts of groups and communities, taking account of increased pressures on time.
  • Explorations and expressions of spirituality have become diverse, drawing on many unrelated sources, often disconnected from traditional Christian wisdom.
  • Environmental degradation has become commonplace, offset to some degree by a developing ecological awareness.

While it is true that the influence of Methodism in British society has become more marginal, the Church is learning wherever possible to work with partners in new ways to increase its influence.

The Methodist Church is encouraged about the state of Christianity in Britain when, for example, the Government pledges to create more Church schools - as it has done this week. The success of the Churches, in partnership with other agencies, in influencing the Government to cancel international debt of the world's poorest countries shows that the Church still makes a difference.

There are about 330,000 members of the Methodist Church in Britain - and many more who attend Methodist churches but who choose not to become members. Worldwide there are about 70 million Methodists that are part of a growing Church.


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