Methodist President has faith in the future of Christianity

The leader of the Methodist Church in Britain says thatChristianity has a future because at its heart is the truth ofGod.

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

There will always be a need for some form of community that hasa relationship with God, says the President, "because where peopleare in touch with God, they will need to be in touch with eachother".

"I don't like to see people around me living without the gospelof Jesus Christ. Where we fail as a Church, it is because we failto communicate that gospel. Yet it is important to say at the sametime that this gospel is that it is something which is not ours tochange. It is not something that we can modify after takingsoundings and changing it to suit a different market," shesays.

The Methodist Church, recognising the rapid pace of change inBritain, has set priorities to respond better to the challenges itfaces. These objectives, called 'Our Calling', set out the coreareas of the work and life of Methodists.

Following the speech this week by Cardinal Cormac MurphyO'Connor to a Conference of Roman Catholic priests, Methodistleaders recognised the shifting relationship between Christianityand wider society. But they said that the Church is working hard toaddress its place in a different world.

Rev Peter Sulston, Co-ordinating Secretary for Inter Church andOther Relationships, said: "We recognise that, along with all ourecumenical 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 MurphyO'Connor said on behalf of the Catholic Church in England andWales."

He went on to say that the Methodist Church addressed the sortof concerns that the Cardinal has raised and at its annualConference in 2000 adopted 'Our Calling', a focus on four keyobjectives in the life of the Church:

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

With these objectives the Church has further identified twoparticular priorities:

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

Rev Peter Sulston went on to note that the Church particularlyrecognises that

  • Britain has become a multi-faith, multi-ethnic andmulti-cultural society.
  • Patterns of family life have become less stable and morediverse.
  • The authority and respect for many traditional institutions hasdiminished. People have found new ways of relating to them and toother sorts of groups and communities, taking account of increasedpressures on time.
  • Explorations and expressions of spirituality have becomediverse, drawing on many unrelated sources, often disconnected fromtraditional Christian wisdom.
  • Environmental degradation has become commonplace, offset tosome degree by a developing ecological awareness.

While it is true that the influence of Methodism in Britishsociety has become more marginal, the Church is learning whereverpossible to work with partners in new ways to increase itsinfluence.

The Methodist Church is encouraged about the state ofChristianity in Britain when, for example, the Government pledgesto create more Church schools - as it has done this week. Thesuccess of the Churches, in partnership with other agencies, ininfluencing the Government to cancel international debt of theworld's poorest countries shows that the Church still makes adifference.

There are about 330,000 members of the Methodist Church inBritain - and many more who attend Methodist churches but whochoose not to become members. Worldwide there are about 70 millionMethodists that are part of a growing Church.