Thursday, March 31, 2011

Methodist Church . coop

The hare is running and the dogs have been released. That's right, the latest round of Methodist Council papers have been issued and people across the nation should be consulting with their fellow Methodists in advance of the next governing meeting of the Methodist Church.

Oh, sorry, I appreciate it doesn't work that way. Instead council ends up as an opportunity for individuals to get on their hobby horse or, as often happens, sit and nod as things appear and are passed.

I've a concern for Methodist Council. They provide oversight to the Methodist Church between the meetings of the Annual Conference (only members of conference are Trustees of the Methodist Church)and through this help shape reports and work that enable us to declare our commitment to the un-ending, unlimited love of God to all on this planet. Sounds wonderful, yet the discussions rarely happen.

Why? Because Methodist discursive structures are broken. Through a 'proud' luddite tendency within many church people, the opportunity for consultation and discussion, provided by blogposts and emails is lost. I don't know who my district rep to Council is and I don't know how to contact them. When I've raised this before some have been concerned that they are not there as 'representatives'. I'd disagree. I'd say you have to be a representative. You represent the concerns and interests of your district, and explain this from your own experience. However the 'we're not representatives' approach means council meets, discusses but (to a great extent) its in its own, well meaning, bubble.

However, my frustrations fit into something wider. There were a challenging pair of posts from Angela Shire-Jones, earlier this week, sparked Methodist Preacher to respond. Both were concerned with the gospel. Both were concerned with issues of growth and both wish a revived church. However, they disagreed on the mechanics. Angela wished a move away from business techniques, MP wished a move towards business techniques leading any reader to the ultimate question of 'can we serve God by listening to mamon!'.

For me it is a simple truth - we should be listening to business, but not just any business. Next year is the International Year of the Co-operator and I believer that the Methodist Church, to release it resources and live for mission, should be modelling itself on a co-operative model. The groundwork is already there, our structures and dilution of power are similar to many a cooperative model, however our people are not willing.

The Methodist Church has a great potential. Through our unique structure, that of being in Connexion with each other, we can truly be a big player. We can look beyond the walls of our church and into the global world we live in. We are a church set-up to examine globalisation because we are globalised. Yet, at the moment, we are guilty of abusing the structure. Connexion is seen, by those who know, as a bad word. Many others have no idea what it means and many more (as indicated in one of the reports) just don't care. But this lack of caring should be challenged.

Growing groups such as the National Trust, the Woodcraft Folk and the Scouts all are clear about their global (or 'big picture') perspective. They know they are part of something good. No-one wants to be part of a national, dull and boring society, they want something vibrant, relevant and engaging. The spectrum of god's grace isn't limited to any one style and yet there are some unique methodist attributes that can shine through.

They will only shine if we look to the business world, and co-ops in particular, and learn. Learn about long term strategic planning. Learn about responding to alterations in population. Learn to track, monitor and record what people attend/are interested in and are not. Learn to engage with donations in a positive way - we may give out of our faith but we should know where and how it is spent. Finally, we should learn from the co-operative model.

Co-operation works because it is all about everyone. The organisation doesn't exist to pacify any one individual , instead everyone from cleaner to CEO is a valued part of the organisation. As a co-op they have a say in how things are run. As a co-op they have democratic voice to ensure representation and as a co-operative they all share the dividend. It's cheesy but I'll finish with this. We must listen and learn from co-ops, as they bend and twist to represent basic values to hear today's population, but then we depart. Our dividend, from increased attendance, increased income and increased social action is even greater than a few pounds off your next shopping. It is simple - a sharing in building a community of grace that enables all to experience for themselves the beginnings of an understanding about what God's unending love looks, feels, breaths and sings like.


  1. A wonderful post (and I'm not even a member of the Methodists).

  2. Hi John,
    great post.
    I have worked for a cooperative in my past life in IT and agree with everything you say: Particularly
    "everyone from cleaner to CEO is a valued part of the organisation. As a co-op they have a say in how things are run. As a co-op they have democratic voice to ensure representation and as a co-operative they all share the dividend."

    It's a long time since I felt a valued part of the Connexion as a circuit minister, leave alone felt that I had a means of being heard.

    A word about my own post - I'm not against business or good management - but I am concerned about balance and perception - the image we give of ourselves to ourselves..

    I am with you wholeheartedy on the idea of a co-operative - Acts 2:44-47 springs immediately to mind.

    Such a governance structure would reduce the 'them and us' and the hermeneutic of suspicion that currently undermines our work as a Church. It would allow us to be equally incarnational in the places that we serve - without necessitating tier upon tier of management and unnecessary bureaucracy.

    In the name of Christ - preach it brother.

  3. John,

    I have read all the posts you mention (although I confess I am struggling to get through the 1.5kg of papers).

    In our district we do discuss the Council agenda and minutes at District Exec & report to Synod. The role of district representative is included in the District Directory. I have not yet been to a Council meeting without members of the District having been in touch beforehand about issues of concern to them. Judging from the input from other members I am sure I am not alone.

    I share many of the same concerns and will do my best to represent the views I have heard.

  4. @Dave - That is good and it's positive to hear that you share in the existing power structures but what proactive work do you do. The lay-person in the pew, how do they know the meeting is on and participate in sharing their thoughts and concerns?

  5. Paul Parker7:01 pm

    I too struggle with anyone who claims anyone from Church Council Member, through Circuit Meeting member up to Conference Delegates "aren't representatives". They seem to overlook that past Church Council the title seems to be "Circuit Meeting/District Synod REP" and that COnference has a Ministerial and Representative Session!

    The principle that through the lovely structure we have, I as a member of a church have a direct link up to Conference is something that I love about Methodism, and it makes me sad that this is often neglected.