It was stimulating, instructive and a great pleasure to have Ruth Pickles visit Scotland so early in her year as Vice President of the Methodist Conference. Throughout her visit in October she shared her passion for Methodism and enthused about the way in which Scottish Methodists are re-discovering the value of meeting together in small groups.
The early class meetings set up by John Wesley, she said, reflected the whole Christian life of Methodists, not just segments of it. They were places of honest conversation where discipleship was deepened, members were mutually accountable and where prayer underpinned everything. “Somehow, today,” she argued, “our small groups in Methodism seem to have transmogrified into other things – less focussed on matters of faith and discipleship.”
Ruth recalled her own experiences of meeting in small groups, when she first became a church member and as a student in her university’s Methodist Society. These were hugely valuable times for her – “a chance to air doubts and ask questions and to wrestle with issues of faith. And I think if we don’t do that we’re denying people something really important.”
This ability to ask questions lies at the heart of Ruth’s theme for the year: “Learning as Disciples of Jesus”. In many Methodist churches, she says, “we don’t ask people what they think or enable them to challenge the preacher about what’s being said – not in a critical way but in a questioning way. Yet, to me, that’s the only way that people grow in their faith – by being able to ask questions and to hear each other’s points of view and to celebrate difference.”
Not only did Ruth put her ideas into practice when she led a series of small group discussions at Paisley Methodist Church (a session entitled “Glimpses of God”); she also praised the way in which the whole Scotland District is developing these ideas through the “Meet, Pray, Love” initiative. Facilitating a district-wide event on that theme in Perth, Ruth was delighted to meet over 80 people from across Scotland and to encourage discussion about how to develop small groups in local situations and to help existing groups to work even better.
“I think this programme is wonderful,” she said – “just so exciting. This is something I’ll be sharing with other people as I travel around the rest of the Connexion.”