Back to the Bible, forward to the world: Inaugural address of the Methodist President

  • Photo of Kenneth Howcroft giving his address here
  • Profile photo of Mr Howcroft here

In his inaugural address as President of the MethodistConference, the Revd Kenneth Howcroft spoke of the "desperate need"for the Church to "speak biblically to serve the present age." Heencouraged Conference representatives to turn outwards to face theworld with renewed self-confidence in their Methodistidentity.

Addressing the opening of the annual Methodist Conference inBirmingham, Mr Howcroft spoke of the challenge of communicating theGospel in contemporary society, saying; "We seem less and less ableto speak the languages of the people and cultures round us. We seemless and less steeped in the language and stories of theBible."

"But God has not finished with us yet!" he added, urging people tocelebrate all that Methodism is and could be.

"We are a Methodist people on pilgrimage. We are communities ofvery different people, sometimes multi-cultural and sometimesmulti-national, connected together in what we call a 'Connexion'.We come together in small groups and communities to help each otherexplore the grace of God. We gather round the bible and the tablein order to discover the presence of Christ amongst us in word andsacrament. We encourage each other and watch over one another inlove. What we have in common is that we all recognise our need ofand dependence on the grace of God: the God who loves us before weknow it; who saves us through Christ when we do not deserve it; whosanctifies our thoughts, feelings, intentions, words and actionsthrough the Spirit working within us when we are unable to do itfor ourselves; who comes to us, is made real for us, nurtures andguides us through various outward and visible and, therefore,sacramental signs."

The full text of the address follows:

What are we Methodists for?

People outside the churches often show that they do not know theanswer to that. Once upon a time it was easy: we were the peoplewho, as Colin Morris once somewhat unkindly put it, could becaricatured as saying "If it is fun, we are against it. If it is alot of fun, we are very much against it. And if it is whoopee …..we will write to the Methodist Recorder about it!". Now, though,people are not clear about what we are against, still less why weare against it - either because they do not understand, or becausethey are just not interested in what we are for.

People from other churches often do not know what to make of us,either. They do not know where to put us on the Christian spectrum.Sometimes they just seem politely puzzled. Sometimes they ask. "Areyou like Lutherans? Reformed? Baptists? Pentecostalists? Anglicans?Roman Catholics? Orthodox?". To which the answers are in somerespects like those of that character in The Vicar of Dibley "Yes,yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. And no".

We are and we are not like those others. But we are alsocharacteristically ourselves - even these days, when an increasingnumber of us are not born and bred as Methodists or Methodist byconviction; when many of us are perhaps Methodist because ithappened to be the nearest church where we liked the music, or itwas the first church where the coffee was drinkable. Yet even thesedays, you can still walk into a group of people and often just knowthat they are Methodist. It is almost indefinable. It is not justthe level of noise, or the almost idolatrous regard for committeesand the proper storage of tea cups (and I have always said that amajor part of discipleship is being prepared to drink tea and bebored for Christ in meetings!). It is something more.

So, what gifts do we Methodists bring to the party? What are wefor? Maybe part of the problem for other people is that we are nolonger clear about the answer ourselves (although the GeneralSecretary's coining of the phrase "A discipleship movement shapedfor mission" has got some of us thinking and arguing about thequestion again).

Once upon a time, though, we had an answer. It said that theMethodist Church "… ever remembers that in the providence of GodMethodism was raised up to spread scriptural holiness through theland by the proclamation of the evangelical faith and declares itsunfaltering resolve to be true to its divinely appointedmission".

No. Please. Don't glaze over. I know that sounds complicated andold-fashioned. It comes from a time before any of us were adults,even our distinguished predecessors in these presidential andvice-presidential roles here today! It is from the Deed ofMethodist Union 1932, when our current Methodist Church in GreatBritain was formed out of the main churches into which the originalMethodist movement in this country had splintered. Bear with me fora moment as we look at it again. Because it is still the basis ofour Church, our Conference, our Connexion. Yet do we still 'everremember' what it says? Do we know what our 'divinely appointedmission' is? And do we still have an 'unfaltering resolve to betrue' to it'?

What we are meant to remember is that we have been 'raised up' byGod. Who we are, what we do and what we are for is not a matter ofour own whims or choice. We are not a voluntary association ofpeople in that sense. Rather we are a group of people called andmade by God. The choice we have is whether we freely and gratefullyrespond to the grace of that calling.

Now it is theoretically, of course, entirely possible that in the18th century God called our predecessors into existence for apurpose that no longer exists in the 21st century, and so God isgently letting us slide out of existence again. Let me say rightnow that I do not believe that this is the case. It is not that Godis refusing or just forgetting to raise us up. There may beoccasions when we ignore our calling and forget to let God raiseus. But God has not finished with us yet!

So, what is it that we are meant to be doing (and are doing inmany places and in all sorts of ways; some of them extraordinary,but many of them ordinary, involving ordinary people in ordinarysituations, and all the more wonderful for that)? To paraphrase thesentence I quoted a moment ago, it is about demonstrating andproclaiming by who we are, what we do and what we say thatChristian faith in the sense of a living relationship with JesusChrist is good news for people.

To put that another way it is about "spreading scriptural holinessthrough the land". That phrase in the Deed of Union echoessomething that goes back to John and Charles Wesley and theearliest Methodists. In the Large Minutes of the earliest MethodistConferences we find:  

Q. 3. What may we reasonably believe to be God's design in raisingup the Preachers called Methodists?  A. Not to form any newsect; but to reform the nation, particularly the Church; and tospread scriptural holiness over the land.  

So, a small task to begin with: reforming the nation (or, as weshould now say with regard to the areas under the jurisdiction ofthis Conference, the nations). We tend not to use phrases like'reforming the nation' these days. That may be because we have lostconfidence in ourselves and our Christian conscience. Or it may bebecause we have learnt that, if we do talk like that, people willimmediately assume that we are not just talking politically, butadvocating party politics, because sadly the politics of power seemto have become the all-controlling way of looking at theworld.

But this was true to some extent in Wesley's day as well. He oftenprotested that he did not want to enter political debates. Yet hedid have things to say about the state of what we would callsociety. He asked whether Oxford with its University was aChristian city. He asked a question which has suddenly becomecontemporary again as to whether this is a Christian country. Theformer Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, recently said thatif you mean by that that the cultural and moral background of thecountry and its institutions have been influenced and shaped byChristian faith and values, the answer is clearly yes, it is aChristian country. But if you mean that it is a nation ofbelievers, the answer is clearly no.

Wesley would have agreed.  In his 1744 sermon "ScripturalChristianity," he asks, "Which is the country, the inhabitantswhereof are 'all … filled with the Holy Ghost?' Who one and allhave the love of God filling their hearts, and constraining them tolove their neighbour as themselves? Why, then, let us confess wehave never yet seen a Christian country upon the earth". As theAmerican scholar Henry H Knight III summarises it, Wesley  "..wants evidence of hearts and lives characterized and motivated bylove. The evidence he sees points in the opposite direction: theaccumulation of riches coupled with a lack of generosity,unnecessary wars, the slave trade, uncharitable conversation, andlifestyles that reflect neither love for God nor neighbour."

Those things sound familiar, don't they? But changing them isdifficult. Having hearts and lives characterised and motivated bylove is not just something that happens inside a privateindividual. The values and dynamics running through theinstitutions and structures of society need to allow that love toflourish and to be expressed in action. That means that thosevalues and dynamics, which St Paul calls the 'principalities andpowers' need to be constantly sanctified or, again as St Paulimplies, they will have a tendency to become demonic.  On theother hand, living in a country whose institutions and structuresdo not prevent religious believing and godly living does not ofitself ensure that people are transformed and enabled to believeand act in a way motivated by God's love. To extend Wesley'scomment about people's inner life and their life in organisedMethodist groups to their life in society as a whole, having theform or structures of godliness is not enough: people still need toseek its transforming power.

Is reforming the world beyond us now? Yes, and rightly so, if whatwe are interested in is demonstrating our status, our power and ourself-importance rather than looking to co-operate with the love andwill of God; or if we see ourselves as a group that is set overagainst a society that is by definition wrong, as if we were notourselves part of that society.

Christians have sometimes been criticised for being so concernedwith heaven that they are no earthly use, although to be so wouldbe a travesty of a faith which places so much emphasis on thecreation of material things and on incarnation (heavenly thingsbeing made flesh).

A better formulation might be that we are "in the world but not ofit". But even there we need to recognise that we are too often "ofthe world" but not "in it": not engaging with the rest of societybecause we do not want to admit that we are affected by the samevalues and problems that we see in the rest of it. If we arehonest, we are not meant to be a perfectly 'saved' and 'holy' groupof people who have the answers to questions and problems that therest of society does not even recognise.

At our best, we are sinners who are seeking to allow ourselves tobe made more holy and to live in more godly ways. Moreover, werecognise that in particular practical situations it is hard todiscern what ways are more godly, because of the complexity andconfusion or our rapidly-changing world. So we care not only aboutthe need to help people have the dignity of work orself-responsibility, but also about the need to provide food banksto ensure that none is forced to go hungry in a world of waste andplenty. We care about how both Jews and Palestinians might flourishin the lands that are supposed to be holy, not least in the waythey relate to each other. We care about how human beings mightlive life in all its fullness in traditional or fresh expressionsof relationship that reflect a wide range of human sexualities. Butwe recognise that none of us is likely to fully understand thepractical answers to these things. We recognise that we often havecompeting and even contradictory convictions about them because ofour different histories and perspectives.

One of the most significant things that our Faith and OrderCommittee has produced was a report a few years ago entitled"Living with Contradictory Convictions in the Church". Looking atsome of the debates we have coming up, it might repay re-reading.   As Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 13puts it, we are all looking and seeing dark shadows in a distortingmirror. It is only as my bit of vision rubs up against yours thatwe start to see the Spirit's vision amongst us. And rubbing ourvisions up against each other takes a lot of care, a lot ofhumility and a lot of respect.    

It is as we engage in this process, share its fruits and invitepeople to join us in it that we have something to offer the world.It is as we allow ourselves to be guided and transformed by Godthat we contribute to the reforming of the nation.

It is important at this point to recognise that we cannot do anyof this on our own. The second small task that Wesley sets out forthe Methodists is reforming the Church. Now, let's be honest, mostof the time that feels like an even harder task than reforming thenation. If our own experience of seeking to discern how God wishesto reshape our Connexion so that we are fit for God's purpose inthe 21st century is anything to go by, then doing the same for oursister churches is well nigh impossible. Some would say that theCovenant with the Church of England proves the point. Yet there arealso great examples in places like Cumbria and Leeds and elsewhereof the Spirit energising us and our partners in worship and missionas we seek to discern the will of God together and to co-ordinateour responses.

For we cannot do everything on our own. Yet the fact that wecannot do everything does not mean that we can do nothing. We aresometimes too quick to complain about the effortless superiority ofothers, and too slow to recognise our own effortless sense ofinferiority. Wesley wanted the Methodists to be a distinctivemovement within the wider body of Christ. He emphatically did notwant them to be a sect, in the sense of a deviant and exclusivegroup which existed apart from and often set over against otherparts of that body.

We therefore rightly emphasise that we are a church, part of theChurch of Christ. As a group of people seeking to be made intoGod's holy people (h-o-l-y) we are wholly Church (w-h-o-l-l-y) butnot the whole of the Church (w-h-o-l-e).  We need each other.More importantly, Christ needs all of us so that the whole worldmay be brought to believe and know God. That urgent, evangelical,sacramental, missionary purpose is the reason that John's Gospelshows Christ praying that his whole body be one; and why St Paulshows that the different parts of the body with their differentroles and characteristics can only function as parts of the wholenot as separate entities. So for as long as we do not co-operateand remain separate from each other we are refusing to letourselves be transformed by the grace for which Christ prayed. Thatought to make us and our ecumenical partners drop to our knees insackcloth and ashes.

I grew up in a Methodist church in a town centre. Of course, somethings - well, alright, lots of things! - about the Church drove meto distraction. They still do! In my teenage years I leant more andmore towards atheism. Then I was challenged to become a member ofthe Church, and something inside me made me say 'yes', despite allthe doubts and questions. In a sense, the doubts and the questionswere a sort of springboard to faith. I still wanted to discussthem.

So it was that both as a student and back in my home town I beganto get involved in ecumenical discussion groups because - well,because that was where you could discuss things! I tended togravitate away from those who taught absolute certainties which youjust had to accept without thinking.  Perhaps that is where Ibegan to discover that I was a Methodist after all! I think that itwas another of my predecessors, Gordon Rupp, who said that JohnWesley wanted his Methodists to have their hearts strangely warmed,but if he were to discover that their heads were now strangelyempty, he would be revolving in his grave. Please tell me that heis not revolving yet! Is he?

It was an older Roman Catholic layman who really helped mediscover that I was a Methodist. He was acting as a sort of mentorto the group back home. I learned a great deal from him. But themost important lesson was when he suddenly turned to me in thegroup and said "You are starting to sound like me. What does yourtradition have to say about this?": and I did not know. So I wentto find out. I started reading the Wesleys: and I discovered thatall this Methodist stuff made sense of what I was feeling after andexperiencing.

So I discovered that I was a Methodist through ecumenical contact.It has been the same ever since. It is often people of othertraditions who are clearer about what is distinctive and valuablein our own than we are ourselves. I now say to people of othertraditions that I need them to be the best Roman Catholics orAnglicans or United Reformed  or Pentecostalists (or whatever)that they can be in order to help me be a better Methodist; andthat I hope that me being the best Methodist that I can be willhelp them be better Orthodox or Baptists (or whatever).

I say that because that is how we all become better Christians;and because the body of Christ needs all of us. As St Paul mighthave put it, the Methodist foot cannot say that it is not part ofthat body simply because it is not and does not wish to become anAnglican hand. The Pentecostal eye cannot say to the Anglican hand"I have no need of you"; nor can the Roman Catholic head to theMethodist feet. The body of Christ cannot be just all one thing orall another thing as it engages in worship and mission.  Itneeds all of us, all of its parts. It needs each of us to be whoand what we best are. But it also needs all of us to allowourselves to be transformed together into who and what Christwishes us to be.

If we allow God's love to touch us through Christ in the power ofthe Spirit, and we start to love God in return, we shall findourselves being challenged to love the people and things that Godloves, including those other parts that make up the body of Christ,with whom we disagree or do not get on. So, just as in a communionservice we offer to God in thanksgiving the gifts of God's creationin the form of bread and wine, and we receive them again as evengreater gifts representing the body and blood of Christ, we needsimilarly to offer the gifts of ourselves and each other asindividuals and churches, and we receive ourselves and each otheragain as the body of Christ.

So we need to be more Methodist, and we can be, because God israising us up as Methodists and, as I said earlier, God has notfinished with us yet. We need to be more ecumenical, and we can be,because that is what being Christ's body in the world requires. Thetwo are not opposed to each other.  The love of God constrainsand compels us.

So, is it madness to say that part of our calling is to reform theChurch? Yes, if by that we mean that we arrogantly know what isbest for the body of Christ (and that all the other parts of thebody should agree with us and act like us and, preferably, givebeing themselves and join us). The answer is "no", if by it we meanthat we have the faith to put ourselves into the hands of theliving God, with all the gifts we have been given, all thedistinctive characteristics we have gained, and all the things thatwe are good at. Put ourselves into the hands of the living God."We'll praise him for all that is past, and trust him for allthat's to come", as the hymn puts it. That way we are a communityof openly broken people who are open to be raised to life. We areallowing ourselves to be transformed or re-formed by grace. And ifwe do that in a way which is connected with the rest of Christ'sbody (and, remember, connexion is a good Methodist word, and one ofthose things that we are supposed to be good at) then ourre-formation should flow into the life blood circulating throughothers as well.

On the other hand, if we do not allow ourselves to be re-formed bygrace in a way which connects us with the rest of Christ's body,the result is dis-ease, a lack of wholeness and, dare I say it, adeficiency of holiness, both for us and for the rest of thebody.

That takes us back to the questions of who we are and what we arefor. Our identity and purpose. It also takes us back to holiness.The third task in that statement I quoted earlier was "to spreadscriptural holiness over the land".  The term 'holiness' tendsnot to get a good press these days. We all know what it means to be'holier-than-thou', even if we struggle to explain what it means tobe 'holy'. So what do we mean by 'holiness'?

Do not worry, help is at hand! Methodism is blessed in thiscountry by having a considerable number of eminent professors oftheology, particularly in the field of biblical studies, who alsoengage with the life of our church and put their skills at itsdisposal. In 2010 two of them, one lay and one ordained, MornaHooker and Frances Young, wrote a book together called Holiness andMission. They point out how odd it is for those terms to gotogether, because holiness is normally thought of as separating andwithdrawing from the world, whereas mission involves going into itand engaging with it. It seems to me that the danger of thinking ofthem in that way is that you start to despise the world from whichyou withdraw (even if you only withdraw from it for an hour on aSunday) and then you can only go out into it in order to attack itrather than love it.

Morna Hooker and Frances Young point out that that way of thinkingdoes not seem to reflect very well how God treats the world or whatGod is like. The God we see in Jesus is a God of justice andcompassion, a righteous and loving God. God is not a God who standsapart, but a God who creates and recreates, identifying withhumanity and getting involved with the creation. That is what itmeans for God to be 'holy'. That is what we see in Jesus. That iswhat God hopes for and requires of his people in the world. InLeviticus 11 verses 44-45 God in a sense introduces himself to hispeople, pointing out that he has taken the initiative inestablishing a relationship with them, a relationship in which hewill be their God and they will be his people. He then asks them toconsecrate themselves in order for them to be holy as God is holy:God says "You shall be holy as I am holy".

So we are meant to be allowing ourselves to become more godly,reflecting in so far as we are able God's character andco-operating to the extent that we are able with God's creative andtransformative love for the world, for which he was prepared togive his only Son. If you want to see the holiness of God inaction, as it were, look at Jesus. If you start to relate to Jesus,then you will find yourself drawn closer to him, transformed intobeing parts of his body both as individuals and as churches; and inthe power of the Spirit you will find that holiness working in youthrough what you are, what you say and what you do.

St Paul makes this point again and again. In Philippians 2:6-11 hedescribes what we might dare to call Christ's 'mindset': unlikeAdam, who was made in the image of God but tried to make himselfinto God's equal, Christ was in the form of God but did not regardequality with God as something to be exploited for his own benefit.Instead, he emptied himself, poured himself out in love for others,even so far as dying on a cross for them like a slave. Paul saysthat that 'mindset' is what God exalts. And it is that 'mindset'which he says we should share as individuals and ascommunities.

It is fascinating that it is to that passage which John Wesley inPhilippians turned in his sermon on "The New Birth" when he wishedto define what he meant by scriptural or gospel holiness. He saysthat scriptural holiness  " .... is no less than the image ofGod stamped upon the heart; it is no other than the whole mindwhich was in Christ Jesus…" He goes on to say that that involvesall of what we would call our instincts, feelings, emotionaldispositions, ways of thinking and spiritual sensitivities beingbrought together, made whole and made holy. It makes us respond toGod thankfully and lovingly in turn. And, says Wesley, if we startto love God, we shall naturally end up loving the rest of the worldas well. We will not be able to help it. God's love will not letus.

There in a nutshell you get holiness and mission combined.Methodism began, in a sense, as a holiness movement within thewider Church. It also began as a mission movement within the widerChurch. What was distinctive about it was the way in which itcombined the two. I believe that at our best it is stilldistinctive of us now. If it isn't, then what are we?

If you were wondering what difference it makes to add the word'scriptural' to the word 'holiness', part of the answer is that itsimply reminds us that the Bible is our constant reference pointfor showing what Jesus is like, and therefore what the holiness ofGod is like. But notice that the emphasis is on having the mindthat was in Christ Jesus rather than just on being able to quoteone or two biblical texts.

This brings me to what I believe is a desperate need in ourcurrent situation. It is also something which I believe ourtradition has had a gift for in the past. It is what I shall call"speaking biblically to serve the present age". That is not thesame as just being able to quote biblical texts, although knowledgeof  what the scriptures say is important. But the texts in theBible were written down a long time ago. Not only are they writtenin different languages, they come from different cultures. Peoplemight be the same, but the circumstances of life then weredifferent. Shepherding and farming, for example, were different.What people understood by 'family', and what they expected familylife to be, was different. The ways in which they thought andtalked about their own experience and about God weredifferent.

Yet God is still God, despite the passage of time. People arestill people. The gospel message in and through the scriptures canbe and still is the word of life for them. Moreover, people stilltry to make sense of what is happening to them, of who they are andof their purpose in life. But many no longer use the language orstories of the Bible to do it. They have different points ofreference. They use other words and pictures and stories. What ismore, they do not all use the same ones. Our contemporary societyis fragmented into any number of cultures and sub-cultures, eachwith its own language and way of looking at the world. With all thesocial media and technical aids now available, there is a hugeamount of talking, but how much real communicating? I may beshowing my age, and I do try and use some of the technology, butsometimes it feels like the babble of Babel. [And if thatscriptural reference passes you by, it serves to illustrate mypoint!].

What we need to be able to do is to speak biblically in thecontext of our contemporary cultures, and in language that thosecultures can understand. That involves us in understanding bothwhat the bible is saying in its time and place, and also how peopletalk about what is important about life in contemporary society.Then as we begin to make connections between the two, we canencourage others to start making the same connections and so beginto hear God speaking to them. It is what that great person whocould inhabit Greek, Roman and Jewish cultures, St Paul, did whenaccording to the Acts of the Apostles he stood in the public squarein Athens, talked about one of their altars, quoted the way theirown poets and philosophers looked at the world and then introducedthe Christian gospel of resurrection into it.

It is also what we find Jesus doing when he tells stories offarming and shepherding and hiring workers in the market place,stories which reflect everyday situations his hearers knew, butwhich also pointed them to God, who was very close to them. One ofthe fascinating things in the gospels is the way that they show theeffect that Jesus had on people. They recognise that the grace ofGod is working in and through him and that it gives him a specialquality. Jesus seems to have so digested and absorbed the knowledgeof God in the scriptures that by grace they have become part of hisbeing. As another Methodist Professor of New Testament, Jimmy Dunn,put it, when dealing with particular issues, Jesus's habit was oneof "pressing behind the immediate issue to the deeper questions ofmotive and right..., refusing to take the easy way out in testingcases of applying the most immediately obvious ruling, and diggingdeep into the law to discern the divine rationale [justice] in itsparticular commandments. To do the will of God was still theprimary goal, even if that will could not be discerned simply byreference to the Torah [Scriptures]".

In this way, Jesus was recognised as speaking as God. He calls us,his followers, to share, to the extent that we are able. in thegrace of speaking in God's name. There is a huge need for that inthe world and the Church today.

My worry though is that we are becoming less and less able tofulfil it. We seem less and less able to speak the languages of thepeople and cultures round us. We seem less and less steeped in thelanguage and stories of the Bible. So how are we to help otherpeople make connections and start to hear God speaking to them? Atour best we have always had a gift for recasting and re-expressingthings in changing circumstances. You can see the fruits of that itin all sorts of places, not least in our hymns and songs whichbring together people's contemporary experience and the word of Godexpressed through scripture .

We need to do the same again. If we say and do now what we havepreviously said and done, despite the fact that circumstances havechanged, we are lost. On the other hand, if we simply speak totoday in today's language and reject where we have come from andthe way in which things were said before in different times andplaces, we are in danger of making ourselves into the creators, thecontrollers and the content of the gospel message, rather thanpeople who have the "mind of Christ Jesus", to return to thatphrase.

Yet in each generation we Methodists have been good at:

  • reading about God the Holy Trinity in the Bible;
  • recognising that the workings of God's grace in the contextsand situations described in the Bible are also happening in ourexperience (with appropriate adjustments for the change incontext);
  • reflecting on that in prayer, celebrating it in worship, andletting it energise us in mission; and (as part of that)
  • we've been good at re-expressing it in the languages ofcontemporary cultures so that others may also recognise God's gracein their situations and in their experience: in the language ofMatthew's Gospel that you heard earlier in this session, that meansbeing able to bring both old wisdom and fresh expressions of it outfrom the treasury as we need them.

I believe that this is still our genius, our gift. I believethat we are still doing it in all sorts of places and ways. It isjust that we do not honour or celebrate it as much as weshould.

When I was a schoolteacher, the Head of English once said in asixth-former's report "If X is to get on, he needs to read aboutthe books, think about the books, talk about the books, and, ifpossible, read the books!". So do we with the Bible! You want aslogan? Back to the Bible and forward to the world!

So maybe this is what Methodists bring to the party. We linkholiness and mission as we link the world of the bible with ourcontemporary world. We are a Methodist people on pilgrimage. We arecommunities of very different people, sometimes multi-cultural andsometimes multi-national, connected together in what we call a"Connexion". We come together in small groups and communities tohelp each other explore the grace of God. We gather round the bibleand the table in order to discover the presence of Christ amongstus in word and sacrament. We encourage each other and watch overone another in love. What we have in common is that we allrecognise our need of and dependence on the grace of God: the Godwho loves us before we know it; who saves us through Christ when wedo not deserve it; who sanctifies our thoughts, feelings,intentions, words and actions through the Spirit working within uswhen we are unable to do it for ourselves; who comes to us, is madereal for us, nurtures and guides us through various outward andvisible and, therefore, sacramental signs.

We then seek to embody that grace to others, playing our part inthe re-forming of the nation, the re-forming of the church, and thespreading of scriptural holiness over the land. What we are for istherefore what we have always been for. We are for holiness andmission, and have been given the grace by God to speak biblicallyin order to serve the present age. Can we go on doing it? Since Godhas not given upon us yet, by God's grace yes, we can!