Oversight and Trusteeship in the Methodist Church
The following article is by Revd Dr Jonathan Hustler, Secretary of the Conference
Absorbed in the routine of my daily duties, I have to confess that I do not reflect as often as I might on the wonderful privilege that it is to be a member of Christ’s Church. Just occasionally, it strikes me. It did as I was working on this piece and I listened to one of the podcasts, which are published fortnightly by the Connexional Team. Rather as in the pages of the Recorder, stories of Methodists making a real difference in their communities inspire and encourage. They remind me that the Methodist Church is a remarkable gift to the world. Approximately 170,000 members in Britain, each in her or his own place, live out their discipleship to the best of their ability and do that not as isolated individuals, even though it might feel like that at present, but as members of a body dedicated to the purposes of God.
However, the Church is not only defined by what it does; it is defined by what it is. The great 20th-century ecumenist Lesslie Newbigin talked about the Church as a foretaste, an instrument, and a sign of the life of God. The way in which we live and organize ourselves anticipates the life of heaven, contributes to the will of God being done, and points to the fullness of life that God offers to all creation. In order to do that, our structures are those that enable us to celebrate our being God’s people, place us responsibly and effectively in the world, and enable us to invite others to share the joy that is ours and to know the love of Christ for themselves.
That, at least, is the rhetoric. Sadly, it does not always feel like that; sometimes it appears that the very structures that should enable that glorious reality to be apparent are those which impede it. In various ways, questions have been asked which might be summarised as:
- Do the administrative responsibilities we have to carry so burden us that we cannot express our joy in being God’s people?
- Are we effective and responsible as a charitable body (which is the legal context in which we seek to do God’s will)?
- Does our organisation make us effective in mission or hold us back?
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