So today, I’ve received at long last, concrete confirmation that all the Methodist processes required have taken place and I will be Ordained and received by The Methodist Conference into Full Connexion, on Sunday 28th June.
On that day, I will be given Holy Orders…literally Holy Commands that:
‘In his (God’s) name you are
to preach by word and deed the Gospel of God’s grace;
to declare God’s forgiveness of sins to all who are penitent;
to baptize, to confirm
and to preside at the celebration of the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood; to lead God’s people in worship, prayer and service;
to minister Christ’s love and compassion;
to serve others in whom you serve the Lord himself.
These things are your common duty and delight. In them you are to watch over one another in love.
In all things, give counsel and encouragment to those whom Christ entrusts to your care. Pray without ceasing.
Work with joy in the Lord’s service.
Let no one suffer hurt through your neglect.’
It is of course, an impossible task, and two years of Presbyteral probation have made this clear to me and those closest to me!
In many ways, this has in fact been a long time coming. I remember the day I felt the call of God in my heart – no magic, no voices, just a deep and surreal knowing (more about this next month!)
It feels like just last month when I was told at 5am in the morning, after candidating for the Ministry, that I had been accepted for pre-ordination training and would train for presbyteral ministry at Wesley House, Cambridge. Whilst there I spent three years at Wesley House including one year on attachment at Clare College and one year on attachment to Royston Methodist Church to learn what ministry on the ground was like. All in all, this has been a seven year + journey, from responding to a call to preach at 14, to this moment at 23 with just under two months left to go before becoming a Priest in the Church of God at Chester Cathedral at Petertide this year.
That sentence will have caused many to doubletake…not all Presbyters in the Methodist Church would call themselves Priests in the Church of God, but we are ordained into the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of God, not *into* the Methodist Church, and what is a Presbyter, if not a Priest? I don’t want to get bogged down into semantics, but for me it is very simple.
Whilst Methodists may not all subscribe to a theology of priesthood in exactly the same way other strands of the Christian Church does, it does accept that its Presbyters are true Presbyters in every sense, with the same calling, duties, authority and ‘place’ as most mainstream denominations. It is an inherent part of Methodist doctrine that we are both Catholic and Evangelical, Wesleyan and Primitive, and we would do well to remember that our Church, ‘The Methodist Church claims and cherishes its place in the Holy Catholic Church which is the Body of Christ. It rejoices in the inheritance of the apostolic faith and loyally accepts the fundamental principles of the historic creeds and of the Protestant Reformation. It ever remembers that in the providence of God Methodism was raised up to spread scriptural holiness through the land by the proclamation of the evangelical faith and declares its unfaltering resolve to be true to its divinely appointed mission.’ [Deed of Union, Section 2].
If there is any question I get asked more than any, it is ‘why are *you* a Methodist?’. To be honest, I don’t think that is really what people are asking, I think it’s more ‘*How* are you a Methodist?’…in short, I could say “see above”, but I could also sum up my whole reasoning by saying that I feel Methodism has a certain historical integrity before God and before the world. In its affirming of women’s ministry, its acceptance of LGBT clergy, its anti-slavery and anti-racism stance…of course, these do not mean that everyone in those categories has an easy life within this Church, certainly not – but in terms of legislation certain things have been in place to help prevent discrimination and exclusivity. Before you close this tab and get on with your day, no, I’m not saying that other denominations and Christian spiritualities lack this, I just feel that for me, this is one of the fundamental reasons for my being Methodist.
Unfortunately, some people fail to realise that there is more to being ‘Catholic’ than what one wears, and the mistake that is made too often is that appearance is seen to equal belief – if only it was that simple! Catholicity is about what one holds to be true over and against anything else, it’s about Orthodoxy and Truth not dress, or how many times one may make the sign of the cross during the Mass!
I am Catholic and Wesleyan, and to me these are simply two sides of the same coin.
For me, the Creeds, the Sign of the Cross, the centrality of the Eucharist, Holy Water, Clerical Dress, Holy Days, Saints, Incense…whatever…these are part of what it means to be Christian. I don’t think anything mentioned previously makes you more or less a Catholic.
What one believes about the nature of the Church, what takes place *during* the Eucharist, and what ordination means, are what make you a Catholic.
I believe that on Sunday 28th June, when hands are laid on my head by the President of the Conference [A successor to John Wesley] and the prayer ‘Father, send the Holy Spirit upon Jarel for the office and work of a Presbyter in your Church’ is said, I will be a presbyter, a priest, in the presbyterate of the very same Church of the Apostles and Our Lord Jesus Christ until and possibly beyond the day I draw my last breath, when, please God, ‘I am counted worthy at the last to enter into the joy of th[e] Lord’.
Of course, there are many people, many of them my friends and ecumenical colleagues who, due to their theology, see Methodist ordinations as invalid, or lacking due to the absence of a Bishop in apostolic succesion being present as president, and here the bitter taste of disunity lingers in the mouth. This comes as close as to our brothers and sisters in the Church of England, with whom we have a Covenant stating that ‘We affirm one another’s churches as true churches belonging to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ and as truly participating in the apostolic mission of the whole people of God. We affirm that in both our churches the word of God is authentically preached, and the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist are duly administered and celebrated..’. Of course, not all Anglicans take this view, and infact the Methodist Church in Ireland has managed to have interchangability of ministry with Anglicans there, but this is still a live issue in Great Britain.
Personally, I have wrestled with this issue for some time and find the position of many Anglicans difficult to accept both logically and theologically, but I feel a great sense of conviction in knowing that in the providence of God Methodism was indeed raised up by God and none other. Either we accept this, and therefore accept the Methodist Church and her Ministers even if accepting that it should last only for a time, or we reject this and call this great Christian movement a work of human hands and the result of mistaken vocation in the heart of Wesley and all the early Methodists…who can truly understand Wesley and think that he would have broken tradition without knowing deeply in his person that it was God’s will that he do so?
We can argue about episcopacy until the cows come home, but God will not let the Covenant we made before him stand for nothing. Both Methodism and Anglicanism need to work on this, and I promise as a Presbyter in God’s Church to do my part and encourage my flock to work and pray for greater unity.
To bring this post full circle then, I am a Methodist because I cherish deeply the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of God. I cherish my place in that, and Methodism’s place in that, and I long and look for, with hope for that day when the Church is indeed One and truly Holy and truly therefore, Catholic.
After my ordination, I will stand at the Altar for the first time on the 4th July and celebrate the mysteries of Christ’s Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist – the only thing I will not be celebrating is the disunity of my precious faith, which offers little grace or wisdom to a broken and hurting world where such disunity and division is rife.
A priest in the Church of God…a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek…that has nothing to do with dress, or sacramentals, but with belief and truth, and calling. What a joy, what a responsibility, what a privilege?!
May God give grace to all those to be ordained this petertide, whether as presbyters or deacons that we may live the Truth of the One True Faith, so that when Christ the Chief Shepherd comes in glory he may count us among his faithful servants.