Next steps


NEXT STEPS FOR THE METHODIST CHURCH

1. Helpful Bible passages

 
2. Hymns to explore

Also see the section of Singing the Faith headed Reconciliation, Healing and Wholeness (#646-657).
 

3. Prayers

(Gathering prayer)

Lord of life, we come to you.
Lord of all, our Saviour be.
Come to bless and to heal
with the light of your love.

Catherine Walker, StF 651 – can be spoken or sung, unaccompanied if helpful; perhaps as a response to other prayers and reflections.

(Thanksgiving and petition)

Caring God,
you come to us as Mother and Father,
revealing the many facts of your love
in the traditions of all people.
The world is large
but you are larger,
able to work by the Spirit’s power in every place.
Thank you for making us part of something much greater and very wonderful,
loved members of an extended and varied family.
Make us one in your love.

Anon [Easter Offering Service, 1986]
© Christian Education Movement www.retoday.org.uk
reproduced with permission

Also see Additional prayers
 

4. Reflections

The Report God in love unites us invites Methodists to develop their understanding and practice about marriage and relationships. We are invited to do this in a way that enables us to hold together as a Christ-centred community of equal persons who have differing convictions on these matters. It asks us to take the next steps on a pilgrimage of faith in this area that has lasted at least 25 years, recognising that our understanding of marriage has been changing over a far longer period even than that. The Report argues that, nowadays, mutual help and comfort have far greater emphasis than before in our understanding of marriage.

A. Encountering change

Rosemary Wakelin’s hymn One human family God has made (StF 687) explores the need to “risk the path” Jesus trod. This is the uprooting call to discipleship:

But still ahead, the Christ leads on
and calls his Church to move
from love of power to power to love. . .

In an interview for Singing the Faith Plus, Rosemary observed that even Jesus “doesn’t come out of Bethlehem fully formed; he learns on the way. He had to grow up, taking in experiences and widening his own.” She cites Jesus being challenged by the Syrophoenician woman (Matthew 15: 21-28).

The Wesley brothers’ understanding of discipleship also developed over time. Already an active and diligent Christian, on 21 May 1738 Charles Wesley received a wholly fresh experience of God’s grace and love. His great hymn Where shall my wondering soul begin? (StF 454) marked a staging post – a fresh beginning – on his spiritual journey. It begins with an overwhelming sense of “How am I going to manage this?”, which is a question many of us can often identify with, and moves to a confident affirmation of Christ’s arms that embrace all (verse 4).

Arguing that Jesus’ example demands a change of attitude, which allows others to have space and enables all members of the human family to be who God intended them to be, Rosemary Wakelin explores this imperative further in The world we thought we knew is changing fast (StF+ website). Here she sets the activity of a “dynamic, pilgrim God” against our reluctance to change:

The world we thought we knew is changing fast,
And longingly we cling to what is past –
That settled life which made no great demand
Our foretaste of the hoped for promised land.

Likewise: Jan Berry’s Deep in the darkness a starlight is gleaming (StF 625), and Joy Dine in her popular hymn God who sets us on a journey (StF+ website):

When we set up camp and settle
to avoid love’s risk and pain,
you disturb complacent comfort,
pull the tent pegs up again.

B. The challenge of inclusion

The recommendation by the Marriage and Relationship Report to allow same-sex marriages to be solemnised in Methodist churches (where the local managing trustees approve), and to be welcoming of committed relationships out of marriage, is a call to inclusion that will take many of us well beyond our faith-informed comfort zone. This is a demanding call, as all calls to inclusion are – from ongoing demands to address inequalities between women and men to campaigns for American civil rights and the deconstruction of South African apartheid, all of which have harnessed biblically supported arguments on either side of the case.

Sometimes we underestimate the challenge, even enormity, of what we sing and pray for. In the uplifting moment of singing Marty Haugen’s joyous words “all our welcome in this place” (Let us build a house where all can dwell, StF 409), for example, how easily do we put to one side our irritation at the screaming toddler in worship, or unreflective dismissal of those teenagers who demand more say in our church life, or the changes that will be required to our property in order to make it fully accessible?

Real inclusion often raises heavy concerns. For instance, it was decided not to include Shirley Erena Murray’s hymn “For everyone born, a place at the table” in Singing the Faith because the text’s welcome to “abuser, abused, with need to forgive” could prove difficult and extremely hurtful to anyone who has been in a situation of abuse.

Jesus addressed issues of inclusion head-on, as in the encounter with the Syrophoenician woman (above) or, implicitly, in his parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37). In Mark 10: 13-16, he invites children to be brought to him for blessing – a story which Leith Fisher unpacks. Leith suggests that, as we become more sophisticated, some of us (and not just the old as he implies) develop an instinctive caution – backing away from what feels risky – which means that “we seldom see God’s presence everywhere”. (Says Jesus, ‘Come and gather round’, StF 510)

Ally Barrett’s more recent May this place be one of nurture (StF+ website only) offers further and pertinent insights into how we build God’s kingdom here and now. See also In this house all people will be welcome (StF+ website).

C. Contradictory convictions

It will be important to reflect on what in practice is meant by holding “contradictory convictions”, as the Marriage and Relationships Report proposes. This involves holding to a range of positions in an area of Christian commitment, acknowledging that all are derived from sincerely held interpretations of Scripture.

A similar approach has evolved within the Church of Scotland, which has been addressing the same issues as this Report. The Church of Scotland’s Theological Forum uses the term “constrained difference”, which implies an “embodied avoidance of polemic”. It “understands that the current debate is not one between those who love Scripture and those who deny it. It recognises that each of [these perspectives] rely on Scripture but use it differently.”

The Forum’s conclusion is perhaps helpful for Methodists when considering the practical implications of “contradictory convictions”: “. . . we permit each other in good conscience to interpret Scripture differently but to keep any such interpretations in check by what we understand as the substance of the faith”.

For Methodists, God in love unites us refers to Romans 14: 1 – 15: 7 and expresses the “substance of the faith” in terms of five scriptural fundamentals. These remain in place even for Methodists holding contradictory convictions:

  • God’s radical love
  • The inclusivity of God’s grace
  • A divine call to justice
  • God’s holiness and righteousness
  • The Covenant relationship between God and God’s people

In When our view are varied (StF+ website), Gary Hopkins prays for the respectful sharing of viewpoints and opinions within the Christian community. And the final verse of Michael Forster’s lovely hymn Let love be real, in giving and receiving (StF 615) is especially supportive of holding opposing views together in love:

Let love be real, with no manipulation,
no secret wish to harness or control;
let us accept each other’s incompleteness,
and share the joy of learning to be whole.

Michael’s hymn also echoes words from 2 Kings 10: 15 that were important to John Wesley (though used more usually in the context of ecumenical discussion): “Give me your hand, along the desert pathway, / give me your love wherever we may go” (v.1). Compare this with the biblical words that head Wesley’s sermon, A Catholic Spirit: “‘Is your heart right, as my heart is with your heart?’ And Jehonadab answered: ‘It is.’ [Jehu said], ‘If it is, give me your hand.’”

D. We are not alone

The call to hold contradictory convictions requires us to continue our pilgrimage in faith, but in a way that is more than just about taking a walk together. We may indeed walk and wander alongside those with whom we disagree, profoundly in the knowledge that the risen Christ walks with us – just as he accompanied his disciples on the Emmaus Road (Luke 24: 13-35). However, what matters even more is how we get along when our contradictory convictions are embodied in practice. The challenge may be great and, within worship, it will push us to re-examine the words we say and sing.

We will be required to reappraise “what it is in Christ we share” (God is here! As we his people meet to offer praise and prayer StF 25); and the implications of Charles Wesley’s Love Feast hymn, Come, and let us sweetly join Christ (StF 646), will shift as we commit to “join our hearts and hands” and “build each other up”:

Hence may all our actions flow,
love the proof that Christ we know;
mutual love the token be,
Lord, that we belong to thee.

As we engage, grapple, and speak the truth in love, maybe we will reclaim for ourselves John Wesley’s final reported words, Best of all is God is with us, the inspiration for Andrew Pratt’s hymn (StF 610). In the deep comfort of this knowledge, “hearts are challenged, strangely warmed”:

faith is deepened, courage strengthened,
grace received and hope reformed.

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