Thoughts on the Methodist Covenant Service – Anthony Reddie

Anthony Reddie posted the following on 18th August 2020.

He points out the need to be careful in our use of familiar material in worship and even whether we should continue in its use. Tradition is not sufficient reason.

‘Speaking with Azariah France-Williams and others about his wonderful book ‘Ghost Ship’, I am reminded of the dangers of Whiteness as an unacknowledged generic theological and ecclesiological norm. I have NEVER spoken the words of the Methodist Covenant service because I have always found them deeply problematic. For a long while I couldn’t work out why I recoiled from speaking these words. Now as a Black liberation theologian I know the reason why is because they are steeped in privilege of patrician Whiteness. Black bodies have been colonised for centuries to the point where prior to the various Black power movements of the 20th century the notion of Black people having agency was an oxymoron. I remember as a young child sitting next to my Mum in church as she uttered these words of being ‘put to whatever use’ decreed by the White colonial God proclaimed by British Methodism and wondered how this applied to a poor Black woman who once literally broke stones with her hands for a White stone merchant in Jamaica in order to find the coach fare to travel home to see her dying elder sister before it was too late ( Andrea DA and Karen Hope that was your paternal grandmother Alvina). I didn’t have the words or the concepts to give voice to my anger at this exploitative framework that saw my family volunteering (no doubt under the guise that this was an expression of OUR discipleship) to clean the church floor prior to the 1978 Methodist Conference at Eastbrook Hall Central Mission but not good enough to be invited to the opening of the conference, when all the White people for whom the Covenant service of ‘being used by God’ didn’t include cleaning the floor, but were unsurprisingly invited and given seats of honour. And then remembering being scolded by the then General Secretary of the Methodist church for retelling the latter story at a Connexional event at Swanwick because presumably it was a worse crime to retell the story than it was that the only Black family in this church were deemed good enough to clean the floors but not good enough to sit in the balcony when Donald English was sworn in as President of the Conference. So the next time any of you have the unoriginal idea of asking me to stand for Vice President of the Conference again, please do remember this post and the stories contained within it and know that it will be a cold day in hell before I stand for such a post given the hypocrisy of White Christianity. Now, not only do I not recite the words of the Covenant service, I stay in my bed and not even dignify the service with my presence.’

Personal message from the President of the Methodist Conference, UK, the Rev Dr Barbara Glasson

Personal message from the President of the Methodist Conference, UK, the Rev Dr Barbara Glasson – https://www.methodist.org.uk/about-us/news/latest-news/all-news/a-personal-message-from-the-president-of-the-methodist-conference-the-revd-dr-barbara-glasson/

My hope is that the Methodist Church in the UK takes action to enable the inclusivity of ALL people. I have to repent personally of those times when I have, consciously or unconsciously, by action or inaction excluded anyone. I have to commit myself to listening to those who are excluded and to act or speak to enable their inclusion – TODAY.

I will not always succeed but that is no excuse for not aiming in the right direction, that of total inclusion, even if that puts me at odds with the church.

COMMUNION IN A TIME OF COVID – (Part 2)

COMMUNION IN A TIME OF COVID (Part 2)

Response to Part 1 has demonstrated, in part how we are constrained by legalism and tradition, what we can and cannot do without recognizing how our discipline, our regulation, is a human construct and doesn’t always relate to scripture. Another hymn:

The Church of Christ in every age
Beset by change but Spirit led,
Must claim and test its heritage
And keep on rising from the dead.
Fred Pratt Green (1903-2000) © 1971 Stainer & Bell Ltd

We are living in and through a crisis. Judaeo Christian religion has existed through as sequence of crises each giving rise to changes in theology, sometimes permanently, sometimes transient. The changes have been initiated by natural events or human action. Faith has survived but its expression has often altered almost beyond recognition. The hymn makes the point that every age has its own crises, challenges, opportunities which bring about change. In these the church should look at its heritage and test what is relevant in its particular age and circumstance. Sometimes the change will be so immense, so radical, that it is like death. Sometimes it is death. But at this season (Easter) and in this crisis (Covid 19) we need to hold onto the trust that there is something beyond the crisis but that the crisis may well be literally or metaphorically one of death. Our faith, however, speaks of resurrection. But this is not a one-off at one time but beyond each crisis the church has kept ‘on rising form the dead’.

And so to Communion again. So much is focused here, and the more important an event and its commemoration in society, the more it tends to be hedged round in constraint, formality and law. The name Pharisee might come to mind. An animal had fallen into a ditch. But it was a Sabbath. ‘Get it out’, says Jesus. Rules are not meant to have a negative but a life-enhancing effect – I paraphrase.

We have been trying to work out how, and if, we can have communion in which one person presides and another in another place receives, the link being virtual, a streamed service. Methodism at one point in time decided that this would not be legitimate. You need a Presbyter on site to Preside. We are saying that such presidency is not legitimate in a virtual environment. So that’s decided.

In 1987 a man was taken hostage, held for a number of years and for much of the time in solitary confinement. He was a Christian. Communion meant something to him. He had no bread no wine, no companion. I recollect he spoke of lighting a candle and for him this was a eucharistic moment. His name was Terry Waite and he was, then the Special Envoy of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie.

Our context is not as extreme. We have bread, we have wine (or as Methodists, grape juice). Some Christians, in isolation, have all of these. Some have company. Some might be able to ‘join’ a virtual service. What they don’t have is an ordained or authorized person to read the liturgy, to break the bread and share the wine. They just have themselves. Much like the first Christians in Acts 2:46 ‘Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home’.

We have our restrictions in place for the sake of church order and that is important, but as the story of the animal in the ditch testifies rules sometimes need to be broken, particularly if they are humanly made.

What we are currently saying seems to be that if I as a Presbyter living with three family members at a time of Covid want to share communion with my family that is totally acceptable. However, my neighbour who is not a Presbyter, Priest, who is without church authorization in any shape or form cannot. That cannot be right. Each household is the Body of Christ. Are we saying we cannot discern this Body?

These are not ordinary times. Like Terry Waite, many are in isolation. While holding to the rules of the church, where we must I see no conflict in a family who cannot access a church holding their own communion in the only way which is feasible – on their own, if virtual communion is not allowed or in circumstances when for one reason or another even that option is not open to them.

I sense a can of worms being opened … but ‘The church of Christ in every age, beset by change but Spirit led …Must keep on rising from the dead.

 

Inderjit Bhogal – The Wilberforce Way – interview with Clare Balding – BBC

This is pertinent to the situation that we live in. Today people in this country who are different live in fear. The best we can offer to those who are different from ourselves, in whatever way, is to enable them to feel accepted and welcome and not afraid.
https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000fpbq