PRESBYTER'S RAMBLINGS FOR MAY:
Wesley Day Approaches.
As I sit down to write this piece I am conscious that it is ANZAC Day and that this celebration is a significant memory in our Nation's creation mythology. This month however, we will be celebrating an occasion that forms part of Methodisim's creation narrative. Methodism celebrates Wesley Day on the Sunday closest to the 24th May. We will be recalling the Aldersgate event, when John Wesley felt his heart strangely warmed whilst listening to Luther's preface to Paul's epistle to the Romans. We know the story well. He felt the assurance of his salvation. Incidentally Wesley Day coincides with Pentecost this year.
John Wesley's Aldersgate experience followed shortly after his brother Charles' similar experience. John was in a period of melancholy and Charles thought going to listen to Moravian Preacher Peter Boehler at Aldersgate that evening would help. As indeed it did.
Methodism does however predate Wesley's warmed heart. John and Charles with others formed the Holy Club of Oxford
They meet together, prayed, studied the scriptures and did works of charity. Their piety was fodder for their peers' derision. They were belittled by Oxford bullies who called them Methodists after their methodical approach to their religion. This name stuck and while the Methodist movement incorporates many denominations with many different names it remains a collective name for Churches who trace their tradition back to John and Charles and whose numbers sit around 80 million worldwide. In the third world those who numbers are steadily growing.
Methodism while borne out of the Church of England its worship is characterised as less ritualistic, although the United Methodist Church in the United States of America is somewhat ritualistic with some congregations that are Anglo-Catholic. Methodism is also characterised by its use of sacred music. Charles Wesley wrote a great many hymns for the new movement.
As Methodists we are an evangelical church but evangelical in the catholic sense. In Protestantism, denominational traditions can be characterised as catholic or reformed. The Anglican, Lutheran and Methodist Churches are catholic in orientation whilst others notably Congregational, Churches of Christ and Presbyterians are reformed. One of the charges levelled at John Wesley was that he was bringing back Popish practices into the Church of England.
John Wesley is important to both Anglicans and Methodists. In our New Zealand Anglican and Methodist Covenant, both churches are committed to celebrating John Wesley on or close to the 24th May.
Our relationship with Anglicans is interesting. There are attempts, around the world, to bring the Methodist and Anglican traditions into a closer relationship. Ireland has worked through a process that has seen the ministries of both Churches enter into full communion. The United Kingdom is now working through a similar process to unite their ordained ministries. A similar move is in its infancy in New Zealand (NZ)
The process being followed in the United States of America (US) is significantly different to the process we propose to take. Two significant differences between NZ and the USA is that both Churches there have Bishops ( we in NZ Methodism have Presidents) and in the USA, the United Methodist Church is considerably larger than the Episcopal Church.
Traditionally in New Zealand we have worked closely with the Presbyterian Church. Our worship styles are in many ways similar.
Although the Methodist authorised Holy Communion liturgy is more in line with Anglican, Roman Catholic. Lutheran and even the Orthodox traditions. Our governance structure is also closer to Anglican than Presbyterian.
Our social gospel however has more in common with the social teachings of the Roman Catholic Church than either the Presbyterian and Anglican churches.
Methodism has had for many years a commitment to ecumenism and is able to find partners across the denominational divide. This is one of our strengths.
As Wesley himself said-
If your heart be as my heart, take my hand.
This month we celebrate being Methodist when we remember how our hearts might be strangely warmed.