Thursday, February 03, 2011

hears from the recent Methodist Student Meetup

Is work with students ‘core business’? We need to consider how what we do reflects ‘Priorities for the Methodist Church’ and our ecclesiology. There is a pastoral and spiritual need to be involved in student work, but similar things apply to others in the same age group or in other spheres of life beyond HE/FE. Is our primary aim to sustain the Church (particularly, to nurture its future leadership)or to be engaged in a significant sector of our society?

Times moves swiftly in Methodist circles. Seven years ago a paper was passed which removed Connexional level support for students. Mixed inbetween 'there is SCM and CUCCF' and 'financial reality' came the simple truth that time, effort and money for students just wasn't worth it.   Since then things have moved on - the Youth Participation Strategy has delivered a diverse and reinvigorated programme and Methodist students have done their own thing.

Last w/end around 50 students gathered in Birmingham for a special meeting of Methodist Students. Organised by students and attended by the President of Conference, this was a chance to see if a phoenix could be about to rise. I caught up with President of Bangor Methsoc, Paul Parker, to find out what went on:

I am a second year Theology Student at Bangor University in North Wales.  I am the President of Bangor Uni Methsoc, a very small society open to literally anyone, but many of whom have links with the Methodist Church.  I have always grown up in Methodism, although spent a few years within the Anglican Tradition and have a Note to Preach.

Where did the idea for the event come from?
Very much from the ground.  Birmingham Methsoc had the idea to restart a national event of methodist students, (athough NMSC is most definitely open to anyone with any connection to Methodism e.g. through a Methodist Chaplain, even if they belong to a different tradition).  Birmingham planned and ran the whole thing.

Why did you (personally) choose to attend?
I was really keen to support the event, personally being a Methodist can be quite lonely, much of the Christian-Student environment is Evangelical in its tendencies and so a was looking forward to meeting with other people of similar mind and in similar circumstances.  Also I wanted to support the Birmingham guys; it takes a lot of commitment to put on a National Conference and I did not want it to go to waste.  Finally I was attracted by the President of Conference as a keynote speaker.  I would stress, though, that I would have decided to go even if she had not been speaking.

What was a highlight of the event?
Can I have 2 highlights?  Firstly all the moments of fellowship we shared together.  The chats that we had with each other were incredibly encouraging.  We face similar challenges; relationships with other Christian organisation of a narrower mindset, low membership, concerns about committee elections etc and it was fabulous to be with people who understood that.  Secondly Alison's first sessions was incredible.  We had a very open discussion with her, and her thoughts on the future of the church were truly inspiring.  Sadly to try and condense that session into prose would not do it justice!

What surprised you about the event?
The Worship!  Don't get me wrong, I like worship at weekend conferences, but often find them strained and tedious.  This was not the case this weekend.  The range of media for worship was superb, and I loved being able to meet with the Living God through silence and chant.  it was a great spiritual refreshment I was not expecting!

 What was the value in having a Methodist named events ? Surely we live in a post-christian/post-denominational age...
This is a very interesting question and one we discussed at great length at a few junctures of the weekend.  Extensively so in the session considering what we did next.  The first assertion is that it was not a "Methsoc" event, because there are so few of those around anymore, so the language chosen this year was "Methodist Students" and included any uni student with any form of connection with a Methodist Chaplain.  In reality the vast majority of people at the weekend did attend Methodist congregations and there was a sense that using Methodist at all deterred those didn't, but would have been greatly valued.  At the same time, a specifically "methodist" even in the loosest sense is valuable.  Our motley gang could never aim to be anything like SCM (as one example) in trying to be that large and that diverse.  Also this weekend, and hopefully subsequent weekends looked at the future of British Methodism quite specifically.  Having a specifically Methodist event gives us license to do so!

Personally I am one of six students in a far older congregation, and to be with people my age who had experiences of Methodism, who were coming from a similar place was very helpful.  Mundane things like not having to explain the itinerant nature of our Ministers, what a Local Preacher or the Preach Plan are, how we are governed connexionally etc was quite nice.
  But I am conscious that our Methsoc members who were not there, and are not Methodists would have found the worship and Alison's thoughts on prayer and silence of great value.

Could the national conference be made more ecumenical?  Yes, it could, but for me it would lose something.  There is a sense that we would be biting off more than we could chew however I think it is vital that our Methsocs and our Methodist Chaplains are working ecumenically and invariably that will feed into NMSC events.

This answer does not have a tidy conclusion or a neat summary.  We left the conference acknowledging the difficulty in terminology and pitching the "target audience" of the event.  But we all left enthused and will recommend it to our non-methodist Methsoc companions now we are back!
What message does Methodism have for students today and how can it deliver that?
As a Methodist looking out to the rest of my Uni Methodism can offer a message of inclusiveness.  I love that we aim to be an inclusive church where anyone is welcome.  We aim to replicate that in Methsoc, and I think there is something really important in the church opening their doors and welcoming anyone and everyone who enters through them, I think students who do can find a real blessing; they can find acceptance, love, they can find a place where they are not judged and they can meet with the Living God.

As a Methsoc - how does the Methodist Church  i) Locally  ii) Nationally support you in the work you do 

Locally we are supported very well!  The Chaplain, who is a Deacon working part time with us and part time in another area of ministry is incredibly supportive and of great value to us!  The local church is also incredible.  The Circuit has funded a number of our activities and there is an amazing group of church members who cater for our Sunday Lunches.  For many of us the local church is a great family, and we know that they love Methsoc and totally behind it.

We get less support nationally.  We attended Methodist Youth Assembly but apart from that have far less interaction with Methodism on a national level.  In some ways 
(although by no means every) we feel overlooked on a national level.  There are few Methsocs left, and their numbers are low.  Chaplaincy work is a tad more successful but still quite small.  This is unlikely to change, there has been a downward trend on students professing a link with Methodism at universityand on one level we wonder if people even know we are here. 

Will there be any future events or was it a one off?
Definitely future events!  Durham Methsoc have already offered to host the event next year and Cambridge have signaled they are keen to host 2013.  Also a great sense of fellowship grew over the weekend and we are looking to continue that over the year; facebook is a great tool for keeping each other in the loop, and Cambridge have invited Bangor to visit one weekend.  We have all come back and raved about how great the weekend was; this was just a beginning!

So it looks like there could be future self-organised events for students. This is good progress, however it can only be good progress if it doesn't sit in isolation.  The event was with a fortnight of Student Christian Movement's annual conference and it would take a very dedicated conference-goer to attend both.  I'd suggest future events should be better planned.  But don't let this take away from a simple fact - students self organised and got together to share, learn and grow.  All within a denomination that is both inspiring and frustrating, and one that aims to be connexional yet had cut support for that specific group off. Indeed it is clear example of how death can lead to new life. I would hope that a few successful groups later pressure can be put for beginning connexional support for student work...but only after the younger age range is sorted first.

Denominations are a great resource for creating communities around the country, however some of the truly inspiring moments are created when students come together at a national event, loosing denominational ties, to pray, worship and campaign for justice and one denominations relative success shouldn't inspire a wild spate of sectarianism - instead it should challenge all to re-evaluate what the value of ecumenical work is and how best to support those who find faith through a particular church, and those who find faith through specifically ecumenical worship.



  1. Anonymous11:50 am

    I should comment that there were at least six people at NMSC who are also attending SCM conference - including two of the trustees of SCM who identify as Methodist. Although it is important to acknowledge that the two shouldn't clash, this enabled us to talk about SCM and its value - and why we are a different group of students, some of which are also members of the ecumenical student body.

  2. Rachel Cavill12:23 pm

    Brilliant, it's great to see some national gatherings of Methodist Students getting off the ground again.

    As someone who was in at the end of Methodist Student Link, it was very sad to see it go, especially when our events were getting reasonable numbers and those who came always seemed to value them.

  3. Anonymous - Great to hear about the conversations occuring. While suspecting that was the case, I also thought it worth just raising the question..... ceratinly I think the role of denominations is underplayed and is a source of strength that many fail to grasp.

    P.S - Would be great if you left your name next time!

    Rachel - It is good news and I hope it starts putting pressure and builds support both for Methodist and beyond as students are a key oppertunity

  4. Gutted I couldn't go! I really feel like I missed out on something. Can't wait til the one in 2013!

  5. Charlotte Thomson1:44 pm

    Hi John, sorry, I only clicked anonymous because it was quick, and I hadn't realised it was actually your blog after I had done so! The church is a small world. . .

    But no, seriously, it was made very clear that our aim was not to become SCM and while the conference being the week after was unfortunate, I think people who were going to SCM had already booked. I also tried to persuade more people to come (naughtily, as it was after the deadline, but it was worth a try).

    Hattie and I also ran a pre-emptive SCM prayer workshop with resources so all in all I think the two conferences complimented each other.

  6. Nothing to do with Methodism, but a plea to kindly make the default font on your posts a little bigger, please. My eyes are struggling...

  7. Sam Gibson7:23 pm

    What is a 'denomination' in this context? I think the problem with ecumenical gatherings is that sometimes they aim to brush aside genuine theological differences and different traditional emphases. This can, I think, sometimes impoverish the conversations students have - though thankfully this isn't the case in SCM. When students are aware of their own church tradition(s) they are more likely to engage theologically in a sophisticated and open-minded way with other traditions.

    The converse example is UCCF, which whilst claiming to be ecumenical (in the sense of 'for all Christian students') actually has a statement of belief which is basically from the Calvinist tradition. We would do well not to repeat the mistakes of previous generations in subscribing to an ecumenicalism which ignores the real gifts different histories find. Perhaps we should concentrate on drawing those narratives together? Over the weekend I discussed with a few people the overlap between my own radical Anglo-Catholic tradition and the Wesleyan movement - it was fruitful, fascinating, and we understood each other better as a result.

    I also think it's vital for students and young Christians to organise from the grassroots level and not be subject to disapproving murmurs from even the most egalitarian hiearchies!

  8. Sam Gibson9:22 pm