Postcards from England: Keeping it in the family

Today I had the privilege of visiting UK Methodist headquarters at Methodist Church House, and meeting with a bunch of people from their Discipleship & Ministries team (including Jude, Graham, Richard) and the Scholarship, Research and Innovation team (Stephen and Allan) along with a number of others.

The conversations were rich and wandered around a host of topics – including data and statistics, evangelism, contemporary challenges facing churches in both our countries, leadership development and more.  It was a pleasure to meet with the team, and the connection between the Methodist church and our own Uniting Church (a venture formed when Methodist, Congregational and a large portion of the Presbyterian churches united in 1977) is strong. It felt like our churches are family (which of course, they area).

I had the privilege too of addressing the Connexional Team meeting, and sharing a little of what’s happening in the Queensland Synod of the Uniting Church. Naturally I couldn’t help but share a little of my own (potentially incorrect!) theory of change along the way. You can read it here. Incidentally, I had shared these thoughts with Mike Moynagh during a visit to the Church Missionary Society’s Pioneer training HQ (see yesterday’s postcard) and he wanted to add a layer below “Hope” (you’ll have to read it to understand). He suggested that dissatisfaction (or what we might called a ‘holy discontent’) is the foundational layer of any attempt to bring meaningful change – and that hope comes next.  It’s an interesting idea and I’ll give this some more thought.

On the surface at least, there’s a lot in common between the situation in which the British Methodist church finds itself and our own. Many of the challenges are similar, many of the opportunities are similar. The context, of course, is different – but not so different that we couldn’t explore our respective stories and approaches.

A couple of bits and pieces that particularly caught my attention:

  • The Venture FX project has seen the church here invest heavily in a bunch of new pioneering initiatives – taking the church into genuinely new places and seeking to establish new church communities. Many of the projects continue, and those are important in their own right, but along with the viability of the particular projects themselves, the church is trying to pay attention just as much to the lessons learned along the way for future initiatives that might be quite different in character. The capacity to build a culture of innovation across the church might well depend on how well the VFX experience can be processed – and that challenge (building a church culture that welcomes innovation) is a big one.
  • I heard briefly a story of Trey Hall at Birmingham and some work he’s doing with the team there. What caught my attention was the use of the term “progressively evangelical” to describe something of the theology and character of Trey. Quite often we might describe those with an evangelical heart as being of a more conservative (theologically) character, but this story reminded me that this need not be so. That evangelism need not be the exclusive domain of a particular group within the church – but is something for all of us. Planting new churches can be something that the whole church (in all its theological diversity) can work towards. I’ve made a mental note next time I’m in the UK (that’s not me dropping a subtle hint by the way!) to go and visit Trey.
  • That sometimes our systems and practices (such as frequently changing senior leaders) can mitigate against establishing a culture of innovation
  • That research partnerships with external bodies (such as Universities for example) can help us understand ourselves in ways that we might (internally) be blind too
  • That fresh expressions is a powerful approach to bringing a new dimension to both a church’s own life and its capacity to welcome the wider community – but it works best if it sits within a ‘mixed economy’
  • There’s an interesting shift in the way that ministers are training and released that’s being spruiked by Michael Moynagh. From a more traditional Select->Train->Deploy approach, to Discern->Encourage->Support. I’m interested to dig into this a little more.
  • British Methodism runs a youth assembly called 3Generate. The Youth Assembly (and its leadership) have a genuine place in the life and structure of the church…so it’s more than just a conference/camp/retreat

It was, as I said, a real privilege to visit Methodist House.  I tried not to think about John Wesley himself in a portrait on the wall behind me looking down with a bemused expression as I shared from the colonies…but the team were very gracious and welcoming. I’ll be interested both to unpack a little more of what I heard today, and to stay in touch with their story as it develops in the years ahead.

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