I’ve been thinking recently. (Well, ok, I think most, if not all, of the time – I do sleep on occasion though! But anyway.) I’ve written in the past about how I feel, as my studies go on, that I have become more and more comfortable with being a Methodist, despite being one seemingly by accident. And this remains decidedly true – looking at the historical development of Methodist worship practices just last week reminded me of the positive aspects of the Preaching Service, and also that my love of liturgy was not completely out of kilter with the Methodist story of worship. But at the same time I am constantly reminded of how Anglican I can seem to some of my sisters and brothers here at Wesley, indeed how Anglican I really am.
I have mentioned elsewhere about how I grew up in the Church of England, and how my dad is still a vicar in the Anglican church. And recently I seem to have been spending a fair amount of time with some of the community at Westcott, the Anglican theological college across Jesus Lane from us. By which I mean time conversing and socialising rather than just sitting in lectures, supervisions and occasional worship together. In part this is because I spend time on Twitter and those of my friends here who tweet are Anglican, in part it is because Westcott run a regular coffeeshop-type-thing which I go to when I can (and which Wesley doesn’t do – I am already plotting for next year!) I would not do these things, though, if I weren’t comfortable doing them – and I must here recognise that while I am comfortable at Westcott, with its more catholic outlook and style, I would possibly not be so comfortable doing such things at its more evangelical Anglican counterpart on the other side of town, Ridley (and this is not because I do not like people at Ridley, for I know some truly wonderful people there, but more a case of preferred style and theological starting point).
All this leaves me sometimes feeling more than a little confused, and others as well – I’m sure my Methodist colleagues sometimes wonder why I’m not at Westcott, and I know that some of my Anglican colleagues wonder the same thing as well. At Wesley I often play up my Anglican background (and the Anglican background of the Wesleys), while at Westcott I will play up my Methodism – though I also play up the possibility of a return to “the dark side” at some point in the future. This all came to a head this afternoon.
This afternoon I began a new set of lectures, for a Paper on “Church & Sacrament”. This is taught by a member of staff at the Roman Catholic college, Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology, and one from the URC’s Westminster College. To get a picture of the background of the class, and to make a point about bearing one another’s perspectives in mind in class conversations, they began my asking us to identify ourselves by denomination – starting with Anglicans. At which point I had to ask, “Do you mean those training as Anglicans, or those who feel part of the Anglican church?” I then described my predicament, that I grew up in the C of E, that I feel part of the Anglican Communion, but I am here studying as a Methodist Student Minister and am also part of that denomination. In the end I used a phrase I have been trying out recently and which I am becoming more convinced speaks of where I feel I am denominationally – “Anglo-Methodist”.
I am, I cannot deny that I am, Anglican in background, and also in the centrality I place on sacramental, eucharistic, liturgical worship, my preference for shorter sermons (except when I’m preaching, of course, when I’m happy that the preacher go on for hours!), and my tendency to think of local churches as grounded rather than gathered. But, I cannot see myself as desiring (at least currently, who knows what the future may hold) or being willing to be a minister in the Church of England. I believe strongly in the Connexional nature of Methodism. As an overt liberal, radical even, I am happy being part of a denomination where there is (or at least seems to be) more willingness to struggle together over issues rather than pronounce those of differing views as not really part of the church (or at least wishing they weren’t). I would also have strong reservations being a minister in an established church.
I will always hold a special place in my heart for the good old Church of England (as the Church Mouse would call it), will always enjoy the company of Anglican Ordinands, ministers and their families (not just the one I come from), anticipate the future possibility of co-consultancy with an Anglican brother or sister once I am ordained, and gain great inner peace and joy from choral evensong or a festal Mass. I am, and always will be in some ways, Anglican. But I feel very strongly that, here and now, I am a Methodist. I look forward to being ordained on behalf of the whole Connexion, having had my name agreed to by Conference, I hold firm to the Arminian principle that God has not fixed in advance His elect for salvation, and I will sit and listen attentively as the word is effectively and lovingly expounded for as long as is necessary.
As we end the 8 days of The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity I look forward to the day when the Anglican-Methodist Covenant results in genuine unity. In the meantime that unity will have at least one full representative – me. I am the Mendip Nomad, and I am an Anglo-Methodist.