Sunday, November 06, 2005

Connexionalism

The Methodist Church is in the process of addressing its’ pressing concerns of membership & financial returns. These are major issues that are affecting all Methodists, across the entire country – the connexion. This word, which is meant to illustrate the interconnectedness of all Methodist churches, is being lost in the debate. Instead it appears to be that the Methodist Structures are doing one thing and then telling the Methodist members what is going to happen. This shows a breakdown of connexion in the democratic sense. The establishment of the Methodist Church came about, in part, due to a rejection of the hierarchy of the Anglican Church and a wish to connect more with people on the ground. This basis of a more accessable structure, no bigger than it should be, has been illustrated by the power of both Conference and later Methodist Conference. This forum is one in which all members can present their views and can elect representatives to the various decision making bodies of the church. Yet how are we really selecting those that we send in the first place. Are they infact the people who have always done it and so can expect a letter from the Synod secretary suggesting they stand again? Or are we working as local congregations on at least a circuit level to examine who in the various congregations we wish to be presented to Synod to represent us? This is pivotal to the democratic side to the Methodist Connexion. It is all very good moaning about decisions we personally don’t like from the Connexioanl Team/Methodist Council etc but since Conference chooses them then if we are not participating in the structures then what right have we to really complain? As a friend said about the recent election, “don’t vote? Then don’t Bitch”. That said, as with any impostion of a hierarchy, being elected doesn’t then provide carte-blanche to do as you wish, instead we should all be taking an interest in what is going on and remaining engaged. Instead of just raising our hands to vote for people we should be probing them on how they voted, reacting to papers they have written and engaging in debate on whatever interlectual level we feel most comfortable. We are truly blessed tp have a church that is so accesable and easy to get involved in and we are all neglegant as members if we do not take this membership seriously by involving ourselves in the democratic life of the church on whatever level we feel “called”. For the meaning of this then look to youth Conference, MYC 2004 prompted the Methodist Year of Prayer. This was a body that was open to everyone but has a necessity of elected representatives from across the Connexion. It has seen young people feel appreciated and empowered as they see the results of what they have written and voted on come to fruition. The financial side of the Connexion will always be a contentious one. With 45% of your contribution going into connexional funds (of some shape of another) then they will be some disquiet. Why does the connexion deserve to get so much of the money we contribute to our local church? It all comes down to the idea of connexion that we are not just a church on a local level, we are a church with no walls – we are a people. This is like, in some respects, the idea behind the foundation of the welfare state. Give what you can because when the times are tough then there is support for you. There is also on-going work which no local church could ever afford to run on it’s own and needs financial help for. But why really does this mean we are a people? Because we are supporting projects and peoples all over the country to help deliver an outlook on life that we believe in. We all believe in the Methodist church and it’s teachings. The projects and people to whom the connexion contributes wish to enhance this in some way and so we can all help them. It means that a church with a regular attendance of 230 can ensure that a chapel with an attendance of 15 can continue to run as they grow together in their spiritual journeys. That by being a member we are not only committing to ensure our own patch is ok, that we are also committing to help the entire church grow and move forward. We want to help other communities build new churches , we want to aid partners overseas. We want to because we are not selfish. We have made a country a community by doing so. The spiritual side of the connexion is intermingled with the social side. This is one that can often see little examples, yet also is one that shows the strengths of the past MAYC programmes. This is because this has enabled thousands of young people to share in a spiritual journey. They have done this by organising on a national level, something that would be undoable on a local level, yet can fit into the work on the ground. This isn’t just for financial reasons though. It is because the feeling that the young person gets can inspire them as it provides a forum in which they can be themselves because “there are other people like me”. This means that young people are outside of their traditional setting, on a local level and find similar people from all over the country, an experience that few other organisations will provide. For all ages, what it also provides is a feeling that a variety of differing theological viewpoints can be embraced and encouraged because through open discussion we can all be supported along our spiritual journey. Yet where this can break down is on a circuit and district level. This seems like a sweeping generalisation, as not all circuits and districts do suffer from what is about to be outlined. The circuit interactions on more than an obligatory level can be lacking. Instead, the resources of the people who volunteer are taken up and when new ideas are tried out then they can then fail after a vital person leaves. Therefore meaning that the people “on the ground” are still as isolated as ever as they only see circuit and district level work at a short-term basis. Also, with numbers declining of certain age groups then the circuit and district can provide the space in which the proper emotional and faith support groups can grow up and work together to ensure that everyone feels welcome. Also with a lot of city centre churches catering to a mobile congregation then the circuit and district churches will have people living in them who don’t attend the local church, yet they could still integrate into the local Methodist activity outside of a once a week service. Ultimetly, the Connexion was identified as being in trouble because we have lost a true sense of what it means. The three differing reasons all come together to give the reasoning of the individuals responses to being in true connexion. By a realisation of this then the individual can ride out the changes in the Methodist Church, but can also feel fully involved in it. Therefore the changes might change, or they might not, but we will have rebuilt our true connexion.

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