Towards a pastoral strategy for the United Reformed Church and the Methodist Church

This article was written jointly by the Secretary ofthe Methodist Conference, the Rev Nigel Collinson, and the GeneralSecretary of the United Reformed Church, the Rev David Cornick. Itis published in the latest edition of the URC magazine,Reform.

What can Britain's churches do to respond to the winds of changethat are blowing through Western culture? Are we going to miss themoment of opportunity because we are so tied to our buildings,structures and denominational ways of doing things? The Methodistand United Reformed Churches are issuing a bold and creative callto their congregations to step out of their traditional mind-setsand listen for God's voice.

We already share together in over 400 ecumenical partnerships ofmany kinds. It was only natural, therefore, that when the Octobermeeting of the United Reformed Church's Mission Council decidedthat it must conduct a review of its priorities for the nextdecades that it should think first of its relationship with theMethodist Church. So, the Council sent greetings to the MethodistCouncil and enquired whether there was any way in which the twochurches could build on and develop the considerable amount of workwe already share. The Methodist Council received the enquiry withenthusiasm, and asked that more work be done. The end result is apastoral strategy for the three nations we serve. We have nowreached the point where we invite the Methodist Church and theUnited Reformed Church to begin work towards an agreed pastoralstrategy. We hope this conversation will take place in every partof both churches and throughout the three nations we serve.

The strategy process now beginning is intended to givepermission for experiment, to help local churches, Methodistcircuits and United Reformed Church district/area councils torespond to the missionary challenges around them by sharing theirresources of people and buildings. In some places that might meanuniting congregations to form a better equipped centre for mission.In others it might mean planning to share our ministerial andpersonnel resources to enable better ministry to the communities weserve together. In yet other places it might mean pooling resourcesto bring new and exciting ways of being church into existence. Wehope the active partnership of United Reformed Church SynodModerators and Methodist Chairs of District, usually with otherchurch leaders in their area, will help the process. We pledgeourselves, with our colleagues, to continue to explore ways ofsharing work and resources where we are doing similar work to servethe Methodist Conference and the United Reformed Church GeneralAssembly. We believe that there is no limit to the creativity ofGod's people, and we are committed to ensuring that our structuresdon't get in the way of God's will. That is what a pastoralstrategy is really about.

It's not a closed shop, nor a veiled unity scheme. We know thatin some places in our three nations other churches will be naturalecumenical partners for both of us in local enterprises. We rejoicein that. What matters is enabling the mission we all share. Both ofus are partners in ecumenical conversation with other denominationsin our three nations. We hope that the work we already share andencouragement of work towards a shared strategy will enrich thoseconversations, and in no way detract from their significance. Thisstrategic thinking is but one way of recognising our responsibilityunder God to do all we can to co-operate to tell of God'stransforming, transfiguring love in Jesus Christ.

In 1974 Bishop Leslie Newbigin returned to Britain from alife-time of service to the world church and the Church of SouthIndia in particular. He went to minister in inner city Birmingham.When he came to reflect on his experience there he suggested thatmodern Britain was the most difficult mission field he had everencountered. Our churches know that only too well. It is not thatour people have lacked in faithfulness. It is not that the gospelhas been sold short in our pulpits and thinking. It is not that wehave lacked creativity in service to the world for Christ's sake.But the currents of thought which have taken root in Western Europein the last two or three centuries have pushed churches to themargins of society and made advocacy of the gospel verydifficult.

Our society continues to change yet at times of tragedy andincomprehensible evil, the church is expected to help the nationhandle its emotions and find a language to express theinexpressible. People feel in their deepest selves that life ismore than buying and selling, getting and spending, and they seemto know instinctively that evil will not see goodness off. Theyreach for something more, but rarely cross the threshold of thechurch.

It is not true, therefore, to say that people nowadays are notinterested in God or the deep things of life. In fact, one of theways in which our society has changed is that in recent years, manypeople of other world faiths have settled among us bringing theirown devotion and adding their own challenge to look at thingsthrough the lens of religious faith.

So still our God calls us to mission and engagement, to the ageold but ever new task of letting the good news of Jesus be heard,so that the world can be touched and transformed by grace and menand women find their true being as children of God. It is becausewe are so called, and because we are under no illusions about theexcitement and difficulties of our mission, that we commend thiswork towards a pastoral strategy to our two churches.

The Rev Dr Nigel Collinson, Secretary of the MethodistConference
The Rev Dr David Cornick, General Secretary of the United ReformedChurch

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