30 March 2004

Time running out to find the 11th commandment

After taking to pubs, student unions, cafes and cinemas across the country, the Methodist Church's search for a possible 11th commandment ends tomorrow.

The campaign, aimed at uncovering the issues that matter to under-40s, has produced such wide ranging suggestions as 'Look after your planet', 'Thou shalt not watch reality TV shows', and 'Thou shalt live, love and believe'.

Rev Jonathan Kerry, the Church's Co-ordinating Secretary for Worship and Learning and spokesman for the initiative said: "The response has bowled us over - we had hoped for hundreds, but have already received thousands of entries, from all across the world. Dozens of papers, radio and TV stations have invited people to join in. Just as we hoped, this has really got people talking about what really matters in life to them, about the Bible and how to use technology to spark spiritual debate"

Mr Kerry said: "Some people have suggested that this has all been just a gimmick or a sign of desperation in the face of falling numbers - but the Church is serious about finding contemporary ways to communicate. Tablets of stone may have been fine for Moses, but 3000 years on we need to embrace new ways of getting in touch."

The 11th commandment competition is but the first of a series of initiatives designed to help Methodist leaders to understand better the culture of under-40's. Methodism may not have lost a whole generation, but it is certainly thin on the ground. What's going on?

Roger Hutchings, a member of the 20s and 30s Initiative, has been conducting meetings with small groups of young adults all over the country to find out: "I'm getting used to hearing some honest and tough talk, because there's no doubt that there's a serious cultural gap between the lifestyle and experience of many people in that age-group and the style of Methodism.  That cultural gap often extends to negative reactions to public worship, where both language and music seems to come from another age."

Mr Hutchings' work has, however, involved groups on both sides of the 'cultural gap'. He recently visited a group still operating a thoroughly traditional Methodist set-up, and commented: "They acknowledged that there is, even in a stable community like theirs, a widening gap between their accepted values and those of their neighbours and colleagues. This goes to the heart of the 20s and 30s Initiative.  Bridging that gap effectively to proclaim the gospel is becoming very, very tough, and Methodists around Britain are perhaps finding it easier to listen to and talk to each other, rather than listening carefully to what can feel like an alien society".

Roger Hutchings focus groups are due to continue in the coming months. Meanwhile, the 11th Commandment Competition closes 31 March, with the winners to be announced in the first week of April, just in time for Easter.

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