Methodist Conference from the Fringe

Over the course of the last few days I have focused on the daily happenings that surrounded the ‘business’ of the day. I put the ‘business’ in quotes because it doesn’t feel like the worship services feel like business, but there are decisions and church-changing events going on in them (in particular, the ordination services). Outside the 9-7 hours that conference is in session some groups put on ‘Fringe Events’ that offer opportunities to the show what is going on in the wider church. There are sometimes as many as 3 on in one evening, so one can’t go to them all. I got to go to 2: the Methodist Sacramental Fellowship and Inspire Network.

I have had a deep appreciation of the Sacraments and am interested about the Methodist Sacramental Fellowship, so I chose to go to this one. The evening wasn’t about the fellowship, so I spoke to the leader about that. The programme for the evening was a paper written by a PhD. candidate who spoke on the often maligned Wesley Quadrilateral. He asked the question, is this the best way for Methodists to think theologically? His final answer, along with a minority in American Methodism at least, is no. He questioned whether the conference may be the best to decide the church’s theology (no, in the speaker’s opinion) and then turned to Billy Abraham’s canonical theism. I have tried to understand Abraham for years and have had no luck, but it was clearer with this speaker than I have heard. The speaker, who wishes to adopt this model, explained it as not a return to the bible but the canonical approach that gave us the bible and the creeds (I am sure I am losing something in the summary here). I questioned him as to whether or not Abraham’s approach is too far to the fringe of Methodism to provide a Methodist approach (Abraham’s also too disparaging of Wesley). I would probably lean more toward Abraham’s approach, but not sure it would settle all conversations. I would have to read more of Abraham, but I think I will leave that for another day.

On another note, my friend Dave went to their fringe event last year and found them less than friendly. He blogged about his experience here. I would say they listened to him, and it was much more enjoyable than the experience Dave had. I didn’t go out to eat with them, but they made sure I had plenty of opportunities to come. I would say well-done to them for taking on board what Dave said.

The second event I attended was on the Inspire Network. Inspire promotes a vision of mission-spirituality that wants to see a return of the old bands from early Methodism. This is one of the most exciting things I have heard. It was disappointing that so few turned up (a colleague from North Lancs observed that the Fresh Expression event was serving a hot meal). Inspire addresses many of the issues I have seen within Methodism’s attempts at church growth (e.g., it believes that hoping to attract people to Sunday morning or programmes will no longer work as it simply doesn’t come up on people’s minds, nor will simply getting people in the building work). But, it also gave me a better (and less judgmental!) way of looking at the surrounding events at church. The bands aren’t for everyone, or at least not for everyone at this moment. Inspire recognises that people make contact and relationships through worship and then through housegroups (classes) and that can lead to joining a band. The band also provides a way of spirituality that seeks to engage in mission. It wants to keep the twin ideas of Action and Spirituality together. I do hope this is something the Methodist Church will promote, but if Wednesday’s attendance is any show, it might be the more narrow way.

It was difficult making the fringe events after the long day, but it was worth it. I recommend any conference goers make an attempt to get to some even after the long day.

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