Crisis of Denomination

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.

Travel well,

The Nomad

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About MendipNomad

I'm a nomad both physically and denominationally, but I'll always call the Mendips home. Currently a Methodist Presbyter (Minister) in Cornwall. I love sport, film, tv, socialising, politics (both US and British), and, yes, being part of the church.
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9 Responses to Crisis of Denomination

  1. Sounds like you’ll be ideal for a LEP then!

  2. I sympathise with your sentiments. Having spent 13 years in an ecumenical chaplaincy setting before coming to Westcott, I feel like I have a very mixed heritage. Good isn’t it?!

  3. Pingback: katielou » Blog Archive » O worship the Lord…

  4. PamBG says:

    Very interesting post. A response from a Wesley House alumna.

    I grew up fundamentalist Lutheran in the US. Fundamentalist Lutheranism also included being very strict and detailed about the set liturgy (deviation from the set liturgy was not allowed because the set liturgy contained “correct theology”). I love traditional liturgy, I understand the liturgy’s elements, and its crescendo, apex, decrescendo and denouement.

    The other half of my family is Roman Catholic and I studied theology at a Roman Catholic university a short time into the post-Vatican II era and the colloquial Mass. At university, I saw a church that was comfortable with its liturgy which was able to live in and celebrate that liturgy in a non-fussy way.

    I hope that this understanding helped me to prepare and lead good worship during my three years as a circuit minister.

    Now temporarily in exile back in the US, I realize just how British Methodist I am in the core of my being (I use the term British Methodist because I have found the UMC to be an entirely different thing). And, for me, it’s the radicalism, the 300 years of social justice, the conviction in our DNA that God is Good (no matter how conservative or liberal a person’s theology) the family history that somehow combines the evangelical understanding of a personal commitment to God and the catholic understanding of the importance of the Church.

    Also, do not underestimate the ability of a Methodist minister to construct a prayer or a service that is appropriate to the occasion which is something that an Anglican cleric does not have. I did have an LEP when I was in Circuit. My Anglican colleagues on the ground were wonderful to a man and woman. However, don’t expect everyone in Anglicanism to take you seriously. There will be those who treat you as if you are ignorant, uneducated and superstitious.

    • mendipnomad says:

      Hi Pam BG, and thanks for the thoughts. 2 quick thoughts, which come early(ish, at least for me!) in the morning and so may seem more defensive than is necessary:
      1. I would want to argue that clergy, just like everyone else, come with different skills and graces no matter what denomination – I know some very skilled Anglican liturgists and prayer writers/developers, and I know some Methodists who can’t do it at all.
      2. There are those in all denominations who will see others, including the clergy and other denominations, as ignorant, uneducated and superstitious – I’ve been accused of it, at a very low level, in Methodism over both my liberal theology and my love of liturgy. When it comes to Anglicanism I would hope to face less of it than some Methodist ministers might because I am an Anglican, as well as a Methodist. I was baptised an Anglican, confirmed an Anglican, and, had I not moved and then joined a Methodist church by circumstance, would have served on a PCC. In an Anglican LEP I would hope to be able to bridge the gap by being both a real Anglican and a real Methodist (just as the Wesleys were).

      • PamBG says:

        I agree with both your points. And I truly have my own emotions about being “between denominations”. I’ve actually become an associate member of a mainstream Lutheran denomination back in the US whilst remaining in full Connexion with British Methodism. It may not be the same experience, but your words also speak to my, different, experience.

  5. Rev Tony Buglass says:

    Just found your blog, by way of connexions and Methodist Preacher – very good. I enjoyed this comment particularly, as it affirms some of the strengths I see in Methodism (which gets enough knocks from both inside and outside, but it does have a lot in it which is good). I didn’t grow up in Methodism; apart from baptism and some Sunday school, I grew up outside the church. I came back through school friends and a good youth group, and was converted while in the 6th form. I began as a fundamentalist, trained at Cliff before candidating, and have been on the journey towards an intelligent or intelligible expression of my faith ever since. My wife is Anglican, and since our kids grew up has gone back to the CofE (having tried to be Methodist, and not been able to be at home here). I do worship with her in our parish church when possible, and enjoy it. I love choral worship, and appreciate the liturgy, although I am most at home in a Methodist preaching service, and cannot accept Anglican ideas of episcopacy and establishment. But I do love the fellowship which I enjoy in which those disagreements don’t matter, and our diversity can enrich us. Is that a foretaste of the Kingdom? I hope so!

    • mendipnomad says:

      Hi Tony, welcome and thanks for the comments (including those I’ve read on other sites). I hope you continue to find the stuff I post interesting – if nothing else it will give some sort of idea of what us Student Ministers get up to nowadays!

      • Rev Tony Buglass says:

        Thanks for the welcome – I’ve now bookmarked the blog, and will visit regularly!

        On a different but related tack, I moderate a Yahoo egroup for Methodist ministers, which is intended for presbyters, deacons, and those in ordination training. It works by email, and there are over 200 of us. We discuss theology, liturgy, CPD, and all those things of interest to Methodist ministers (to whom it is restricted – nobody gets in without my approval). That includes footie, music, beer, circuit stewards and what we’d like to do to them, superintendents and how to survive them/how to survive if you are one, etc, etc, etc. It might be of interest to you and indeed some of your fellow students. If you (or anyone in Cambridge) is interested, you have my email – drop me a line, and we’ll take it from there!

        Re your other comment – I’d have preferred Hebrew to Homiletics, too; I did Hebrew as part of my BA, all those years ago, but that was in Bristol University rather than Wesley College. I continued with Hebrew with Ivor Jones at the college, because we did one of the Dead Sea Scrolls together. Long time ago…

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