THE DEVELOPMENT OF METHODISM IN SCOTLAND
CONSULTING ON THE OPTIONS
At the Spring 2010 Synod of the Methodist Church in Scotland a 4-person Project Team (“the team”) was established to look into The Development of Methodism in Scotland. The team was asked to undertake a year-long consultation process so that the District might discern and commit to its future vision and strategy. The team has been briefed to provide a “root and branch” review, and to formulate proposals for the April 2011 Synod that have broad support across the District.
The first phase of the project involved gathering views from all members of Synod. There were over 100 people at the Spring Synod who participated in a brainstorming session about the future direction of the church. The ideas offered were very wide-ranging but they may be grouped into a number of different areas:
- The nature of our mission: many comments concern a renewed emphasis on prayer, on meeting in small groups, of listening to God, of committing ourselves afresh to radical discipleship.
- The use of our buildings: there is a growing sense that our buildings are not generally fit for purpose, that they do not invite and inspire, that they need to be radically overhauled so that they can be better and more fully used. Some are questioning whether we need to own buildings at all.
- New patterns of ministry: the partnership between lay and ordained ministry that has been a feature of Methodism needs reviving and extending. Some question the need for so many ordained ministers; others want to see more emphasis on leadership training and the ministry of the whole people of God. The forms of worship also need to be reviewed with different styles, times and places of worship explored. A greater emphasis on pastoral ministry is sought by many, and some suggest we need to move to a model of virtual communities.
- An emphasis on youth. The “missing generation” is a concern to many people, but the solution is far from clear. A frequent cry is to let young people be heard; some suggest training youth workers, others pitching worship at young people (even if they are not currently there), others holding separate youth events.
- Mission in the local context. Engagement with the local community is considered vital. That engagement will take different forms in different places, but sharing ideas and good practice is important. Given the dispersed nature of our churches, many think that our Circuit and District structures don’t well serve this aspect of mission.
It was clear from Synod that there was a wide consensus about the need for change, but that further work was required to determine the nature, scale and speed of the change required. The team therefore began its work by preparing a questionnaire that was sent to all Synod attendees, with responses sought by the end of June 2010.
Phase 1 consultation
The questionnaire, which was accompanied by a briefing paper, asked 5 key questions:
- Is Methodism sufficiently different from other churches to justify our independent existence in Scotland?
- What do you recognise as the distinctive features of your local church and circuit?
- How might we better live out our Methodist “charisms” within our churches and circuits?
- The evidence suggests a church that is struggling … There are good things going on in pockets across the District, but the overall picture is bleak … Is this a fair, an accurate picture of the District?
- Do you agree that radical change is the only option, and that it is urgently needed?
The team received 23 responses to the questionnaire, which have been summarised and placed (alongside all the other material from the project) on the website: www.methodistchurchinscotland.org.uk. In summary the responses were as follows:
- Methodism is considered sufficiently different from other churches to justify our independent existence in Scotland by 54% of respondents, but 31% questioned whether our distinctiveness necessarily requires us to continue as a separate denomination.
- A number of distinctive features of Methodism were recognised by respondents, each being an emphasis rather than a peculiarity of Methodism, and emphases that vary in a local context. The most commonly mentioned features were: outreach and service; cells or small groups; open and welcoming churches; lay preachers; interconnectedness; and “4 alls” theology.
- There were many and varying suggestions as to how we might better live out our Methodist “charisms” The most commonly mentioned were: trying new ways of making disciples; reassessing our buildings; more emphasis on living in the local community; more small groups; being more ecumenical; more prayer; exploring new forms of worship; and caring for one another.
- 71% of respondents agreed with the picture that was painted of a church that is struggling. A smaller group (21%) either partially agreed or suggested that, even if true, it would be better to accentuate the positive. Only 2 respondents specifically disagreed that the overall picture is bleak.
- All respondents agreed that change is needed, and 74% agreed that change is needs to be radical and urgently undertaken.
The team would like to thank all those that responded to the questionnaire. The responses have been helpful both in confirming the aims and objectives for this project, and in inspiring us to be open to the possibility that God ‘s Spirit is calling us to make fundamental and radical changes to the way that we operate as Methodist people in Scotland.