The calling of the Methodist Church is to respond to the gospel of God's love in Christ and to live out its discipleship in worship and mission.
It does this through:
TOWARDS A CIRCUIT MISSION STATEMENT — January 2019
The Methodist Church | Shaw and Royton Circuit
The Rev Dr Adrian Burdon
I presented some reflections to the November meeting of the Circuit Leadership Team which outlined my understanding of the expression of mission and ministry of the churches in the circuit at that time. The Circuit Leadership Team welcomed the reflections and confirmed that they represented an appropriate assessment.
It is recognised that each of the churches is working with significant challenges, but also has significant potential.
It was agreed that I work present further thinking to the January meeting of the Circuit Leadership Team and begin to unfold some ideas about mission and ministry in the Circuit.
The Methodist way of being Church: Outward-facing mission
The Methodist Church recognises its calling is to respond to the gospel of God's love in Christ and to live out its discipleship in worship and mission. It does this through regular worship, learning and caring, service and evangelism. In partnership with others wherever possible, the Methodist Church will concentrate its prayers, resources, imagination and commitments on the priority to proclaim and affirm its conviction of God's love in Christ, for us and for the world; and renew confidence in God's presence and action in the world and in the Church. In 1999 the Conference of the Methodist Church in Britain adopted a significant statement on the nature of the Christian Church in Methodist experience and practice.
It is consistent with our statement about the nature of the Church, expressed in Called to Love and Praise, that mission and evangelism are central to the very existence and purpose of the Church. Participation in God's mission and the proclaiming of God's kingdom are at the heart of Jesus' message. His life represented and revealed the Kingdom of God in a way which was without precedent. Today, we see a world that is broken, sick and where injustice, poverty, discrimination, wars and oppression are daily realities for so many of God's people. It is to this world that we are sent with a mission. What we offer is what Christ offered. He offered that ultimate state of well-being intended by God for all humankind, expressed in the restoration of health, in the quelling of the forces of chaos, in forgiveness, in receiving the bread of God in the wilderness.
According to the Bible, the mission of God to the world, that is God's outgoing, all-embracing love for his creation, began with the act of creation itself. In a 'fallen', divided world it was focussed on one nation whose ancestor was Abraham. It continued through the many vicissitudes of Israel's history: storyteller, law-giver, prophet, agents in the story of the divine quest for responsive people. Yet with Jesus this mission was focussed in a new and powerfully creative way. Jesus spoke to, and, literally, touched people no-one else could or would speak to and touch. He visited their homes, even accepted their ministry. Through his mission, sick people were made well, sinners were forgiven, and the prejudices of religious people exposed as never before.
From the very first the church understood its true life to be Christ-centred and therefore God-centred... The church is a witness to divine grace. In the call of his disciples and the giving of the Holy Spirit, God committed himself to working with his people. The first Christians knew that they were called to participate in God's mission and to proclaim God's reign as Jesus had done. The worship of God through, and because of, the risen Jesus, characterized and created such a mission. The Church's calling remains the same.
The World Council of Churches has defined mission and evangelism as separate, but interrelated, actions and concepts. Mission carries a holistic understanding: the proclamation and sharing of the good news of the gospel by word (kerygma), deed (diakonia), prayer and worship (leiturgia) and the everyday witness of the Christian life. Evangelism, on the other hand, while not excluding the different dimensions of mission, focuses on explicit and intentional voicing of the gospel, including the invitation to personal conversion to a new life in Christ and to discipleship. Mission and evangelism are thus very closely linked and in many ways the word mission includes and implies evangelism. It is in this way that the world mission is used in this statement.
It is the conviction of Called to Love and Praise that the Church's vocation is to be a sign and witness, a foretaste and instrument, of God's Kingdom. This involves both evangelism and social action, and in our day especially, engaging with people of differing cultures and faiths. To evangelize is to share with others the good news of what God has done in Jesus Christ. To make numerical growth the primary object of evangelism is to distort the nature of Christian mission. The Gospel has to be both spoken and lived. The gospels show that 'good news and good works are inseparable', and that to preach the Kingdom of God involves a commitment to justice and peace. The Church is called both to 'make disciples' and to work for a loving, just and peaceful society which anticipates the Kingdom of God. This involves identifying with those who suffer, sharing their burdens and speaking out with them against the injustice they experience. The Church's commitment to justice need not, and must not mean conforming to the culture or society in which it is set. The Church's agenda, including its social and political concerns, derives ultimately, not from the world, but from the loving, disturbing, peace-making God revealed in Jesus.
The church in towns and cities: mission in a place of ambiguity
The location of the church in towns and cities has been a constant, yet ambiguous, theme in religious thinking and expression throughout history. Some Biblical images portray towns and cities as the stronghold, the marketplace for the exchange of good and the source of justice. The well-ordered town is offered as an expression of God's care for the nation, the image of salvation, of journey's end. Jerusalem is the hope for the future, the place where God will fulfil the promise and where community, justice and peace will be found. Abraham is said to have sought for a city that is the new Jerusalem, where the nations will find their healing and the lamb is enthroned in their midst. Other Biblical images portray the city as the expression of evil, where riches and power corrupt and the unscrupulous take advantage of the poor. Even the sanctuaries, holy place, were thought to be polluted. It was the great cities that were the enemies, warring against God, the people and creation itself. Insatiable in their seeking-after power, consuming the world, a succession of cities, Tyre, Nineveh, Babylon and Rome, were the face of evil. In the book of the Revelation, Babylon, standing in for Rome, is the great whore. Even Jerusalem cannot avoid the stigma, betraying its calling to be the city of God.
Today's towns and cities are the places where the focus of power becomes visible through the location of civic centre, banks and corporate offices, shops, theatres, libraries. Here the dealings which create the wealth of the towns and city are accomplished. The town centre is the market place where the business of the city is conducted and the crowds jostle in their coming and goings. The town centre, too, is the hub of the area. The roads go out into the area that serves the town or city. They form a web that links the scattered communities and concerns together. The town centre is the magnet that draws into itself the great diversity of humanity, a melting pot of new and old, of the familiar and the strange, of comfort and threat. The town centre is the cosmopolitan babel of the competing and clashing sounds of those who clamour or attention, sell their wares and create a space for their concerns. The town centre provides both a sense of identity and a place of shared experience in the market place of ideas and cultures
The town centre has its own rhythms, setting up a diverse pattern of need and opportunity. There are five groups of people who are found in the city centre. There are those whom come to work, some of whom exercise considerable power and influence. There is also those who keep the wheels of modern life moving, serving across counter, administering public service, managing teams of people and ensuring productivity, the invisible army of cleaners and night workers. Then there is the night scene in cafes, clubs and bars and the people drawn to the city centre through them. Again, the city centre is the place of the stranger, people who come and go, passing through, hurrying about their business, shoppers, and business persons. There are those who have come to live in the town and city centres, in converted warehouses and new apartment blocks, but mostly cut off behind secure entrances. Then there are those attracted by the anonymity, the poorest and most destitute in society, the homeless on the streets, the refugees, the asylum seekers, the alcoholics and the drug-users, each seeking refuge, warmth and some sign of recognition.
The church in the town centre is challenged to respond to the context into which it thrusts itself. In such an ambiguous context it is, surely, inevitable that the expression of church and its mission will be ambiguous. What does it mean to express the church's vocation as a sign and witness, a foretaste and instrument, of God's Kingdom amid such ambiguity? How does the church exercise its outward facing mission in this place?
The church in the suburbs: mission in a place of challenge
Around the edges of, and flowing between, our town and city centres are other areas of concern. Urban and suburban areas melt together and are the places of residence, of daily living, of coming and going, which makes up the stuff of everyday life. The church in such places is likewise challenged to respond to its context. It is a context every bit as complex as the town and city centre context. Here are found the commuters who travel out to other places and return at the end of the day to take their ease. Here also are those who come into the area to engage in their business, the teachers in the local schools, the small neighbourhood shopkeepers and tradespeople, the clergy who work in the area whilst living elsewhere. Here also are found those who no longer need to commute to employment, because they are now retired, or are unemployed, or are engaged in home-making and childcare. It is likely that within this category of people this primary location will be where they spend the bulk of their time. There will be some people for whom this is good news and has been a choice. For others, though, this limitation to location will be a challenge, a cause of loneliness, a source of frustration.
The marks of the Church in mission
There are some 'marks' of the church that are important for mission in these various contexts. The church is gift to the world, a sign of God's saving care for humanity. There is the gift of hospitality, welcome and fellowship. There is the gift of the Gospel, the living-out of God's encompassing love in Christ. The church is a priestly people, offering praise and prayer to God on behalf of the world, and seeking God's blessing on the ambiguity of a world which is both broken and blessed. At the heart of Christian is the ministry of intercession and being engaged with the life of the city allows prayer to be informed and articulate. In the anonymity of the city there is often a desire for a sense of belonging and the church can respond with the openness and hospitality of place and group. The need is for a safe place where the stranger is respected, listened to, and supported in their pilgrimage.
The mission of the church, outward facing, into the society around it, is a mission of prophetic living and grace-filled pilgrimage, expressed through the offering of faithful and constant prayer and worship, generous pastoral care and open-hearted hospitality. It is a mission which holds the area in prayer, which welcomes all who would come, and which reaches out over many a boundary to offer the love of God made known in Jesus Christ. It is mission which the announces the Kingdom and expects it to come close. It is a mission of accepting people and engaging with systems and social expressions as they are yet challenging them to be better still. It is the speaking out of the Gospel and the living out of the Kingdom.
It is the aim of this vision statement that members of the Shaw and Royton Circuit be inspired, enabled, empowered and equipped to be more actively involved in mission at all levels and in a variety of ways, including local, national and global. This commitment to mission is consistent with our Methodist way of being church and is undergirded by our self-understanding of what it is to be members of the worldwide family of Christians in the Methodist tradition.
A Vision for the Shaw & Royton Circuit of the Methodist Church
The churches of the Shaw and Royton Circuit are located in the centres of, around the edges of and between the two towns of Shaw and Royton. Between the six churches there is opportunity to engage with the world in a variety of contexts. Some churches find themselves amid suburban housing estates, others are on transit routes, others are located close to the town centres. Whilst there may be both subtle and substantial differences in the manner of mission and ministry between the churches of the Circuit, there is also a significant symmetry which holds the circuit together. The six churches, working together as the Circuit, surround the town of Shaw and Royton embracing them in love and prayer.
The key statement of mission and ministry outlined in this document is as expressed in the penultimate paragraph of the previous section.
The mission of the church, outward facing, into the society around it is a mission of prophetic living and grace-filled pilgrimage, expressed through the offering of faithful and constant prayer and worship, generous pastoral care and open-hearted hospitality. It is a mission which holds the city in prayer, which welcomes all who would come, and which reaches out over many a boundary to offer the love of God made known in Jesus Christ. It is mission which the announces the Kingdom and expects it to come close. It is a mission of accepting people and engaging with systems and social expressions as they are yet challenging them to be better still. It is the speaking out of the Gospel and the living out of the Kingdom.
The Shaw and Royton Circuit responds to this statement by committing themselves to be outward facing, engaged with the world in all its variety and the people in all their need. This is a commitment which is expressed through the conscious and positive decision to hold the towns of Shaw and Royton in prayer as an intentional part of the ministry of the Circuit. In engaging with the world and its people, and in holding them in prayer, the churches of the circuit will seek to speak and act prophetically, challenging injustice and imperfection, calling for the best, and offering care and support to all in need. This mission and ministry will be exercised from an inclusive posture, which accepts people as they are, whilst remaining at liberty to encourage change.
The churches of the Circuit are called to recognise their place and calling as the worshipping community within the Shaw and Royton Circuit. They are part of the critical community of people who gather week by week to engage in worship, to exercise fellowship and to offer prayer. They are challenged to be places of inclusive welcome where all who would come are given a fitting welcome and can receive appropriate care.
The consequences of these statements of vision for the Shaw and Royton Circuit and for the churches in the circuit are serious and significant. The communities which gather as the churches of the Circuit are communities of disciples on a faith-filled pilgrimage. The statements outlined in this document portray attitudes and intentions. This document outlines the way these attitudes and intentions find their present expression. The challenge is to express how these attitude and intentions might enable development of mission and continued response to the context of ministry in which we find ourselves.
The vision of continuing mission and ministry for the churches of the Shaw and Royton Circuit is the challenge to keep on engaging with the world around us and to maintain the open-hearted response to the needs that world expresses. It is the challenge to openness in seeking out partners, ecumenical and civic, with whom to engage in mission and service to the area in which we work. It is the challenge to a Christ-centred spirituality which undergirds, strengthens and motivates the encounter with the world. It is the challenge to recognise the Kingdom of God in our midst and to speak and act the words and actions of the Gospel. It is the challenge to be ready to respond in ways that we cannot yet imagine, in to situations that do not yet exist, alongside people we have not yet met.
It has been the purpose of this document to seek after and to express a vision for the Shaw and Royton Circuit. This document does not offer a "Mission Statement" in any traditional form, but does offer a vision expressed as a collection of principles, attitudes and challenges. It may well be that, from time to time, a "Mission Statement" could be produced out of these principles, attitudes and challenges, and it may be appropriate to do that in the very near future. It is, however, the principles, attitudes and challenges expressed in this statement of vision which may become the guiding principles for all that the Shaw and Royton Circuit and the churches of the circuit seeks to do and be into the twenty-first century.