15 September 2020

A new Methodist year

At the beginning on a new Methodist year, the Revd Richard Teal  reflects on the challenges of life in recent months and the path ahead.

May I express my profound thanks and appreciation to you for all the cards, letters, emails and gifts which you have kindly forwarded to me since I became President. I cannot begin to express my profound gratitude. The Ex-President Dr Barbara Glasson shared with me on a number of occasions how I would feel the prayers and love of the Methodist people and how right she has been. Thank you.

September is the beginning of a new Methodist year. Everything starts up again after a welcome break during the few weeks of summer. Not this year! We are in different times. Covid 19 has affected us all, whoever and where ever we are. When the virus has   cleared away will everything go back to normal? At this stage we don’t know if we will be totally rid of this virus in the future and what about the poorer countries of the world?

Some churches have been hugely creative during these last few months doing things they never thought possible. Other churches have done very little. Ministers have been learning new skills and ministering in differing ways whilst others have felt totally overwhelmed. Whatever our situation, many of us have stopped what we have normally been doing and have reflected deeply. Stopping and reflecting amidst our ever increasing frenziness is a good thing. One of the great leaders in the Old Testament is Nehemiah. We tend to think of him as a man full of activity and action. Remember how he amazingly rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. When he arrived in the city he didn’t start work immediately because he didn’t know where to begin. He didn’t organise people straight away to start work on this huge building project. He stopped, observed and listened and only then did he know what to do and the rebuilding started. He didn’t rush to respond to the devastation  he found in Jerusalem, he took time to listen and discern before knowing what to do.

Is this where we are as the Methodist Church at the moment? Do we really know where we are going as we move from disorientation to reorientation? I believe we need to be like Nehemiah and do some deep and real listening to where the spirit of God is leading us. This is not to be passive or inactive, but to do some vital theology together as a Church. Real theology is not a learned experience. Real theology is thinking with the mind of Christ.  Henri Nouwen once wrote, ‘The Christian leader thinks, speaks, and acts in the name of Jesus, who came to free humanity from the power of death and open the way to eternal life’. If this is true then that deep listening to God is to discern how God is acting in this time of COVID 19 in our personal lives, the Church, society and the world and to really listen is to discern where is he leading us and to follow.

This is no easy task, since God’s presence is often a hidden presence and through deep listening and reflection that presence is discovered. The huge concerns of COVID 19 can make us deaf to the gentle voice of God, so as a church, together we are called to help people to hear that voice. Christian leaders today have to discern the signs of our times which are counter cultural and deep listening to Christ, is required. Christ did not cling to power but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant. We live in a competitive and ambitious world but to discern the mind of Christ for our times is to seek that discernment in another place where hope is to be found.

We commence a Methodist new year in a very different way to what we expected a few months ago. If by the end of the year as a church we have reverted to our usual ways and practises we have missed a huge opportunity to move from disorientation to reorientation in a new age. So, may we use this time to discern the mind of Christ for His Church as we listen deeply together in these concerning days, knowing always that as we do, we are indeed a community of resurrection and in the words of our founding father ‘The Best of all is God is with Us’.

Richard J Teal, President of the Methodist Conference.

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