Angela Shier-Jones has been on a roll with her blogging recently, though for any Methodist with more than a passing interest in the affairs of the church it will likely make painful reading. Sometimes, of course, pain is good and necessary and what she has been saying should be carefully attended to. Her post this morning struck several chords with me. I hope I’ll be forgiven for lifting an extended quotation.
I only have myself to blame. I allowed myself to be seduced by the theology of the priesthood of all believers, to be intoxicated by the idea of truly representative ministry, where lay and ordained sought to model the coming kingdom by their work together in the circuits and local churches. Circuit ministry was different from Parish ministry I believed: diakonia, collegiality and collaborative leadership - lay and ordained - was written into our structures. Connexionalism bound us together in an outlandish equality before you God. Small rural churches were deemed as important to the body of Christ as large suburban churches were: a probationer minister was paid the same basic stipend as the President of Conference. Yes there was a hierarchy of sorts, but it tended to be based on respect and seniority, earned through fidelity to the Gospel and the service of your people rather than granted by job title. We were all under the same discipline of the Church which called us to a life of scriptural holiness and social justice.
Of course this was all an ideal - and yes - Of course I knew this - I’m not THAT much of an idiot: but it did seem to me at one time that it was an ideal, a model, that the Church was still holding up and striving for: The reconfiguration of the representative session of Conference as a means of ensuring parity between laity and clergy being but one recent example.
But I think I was mistaken. The dream was mine.
I can find little evidence in what I read of our new structures, disciplines, and forms of ministerial oversight of a theology that can be reconciled with a search for truly representative ministry or with the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. To take but one example - gender equality : we have to concede that the number of women superintendents is declining, not increasing. Team focus has apparently led to a significant reduction of women in positions of leadership at Connexional level, and we are a long, long way from parity at District level. Have we unwittingly been walking backwards, by forging on with the management of our priorities without thinking through how this might impact on the practical outworking of our core doctrines?