Off the Wall 8/7/15
The newly appointed Vice-President of the Methodist Church in Britain Conference has called for the Church to find its distinctive voice in her inaugural address.
Speaking to the Conference gathered at Southport late last month, Dr Jill Barber questioned 'Where is the Methodist voice?' Dr. Barber suggested that through a renewed focus on the four 'P's of Prophesy, Prayer, Passion and Protest Methodism can find its voice, speak out to make a difference and speak more effectively whilst embracing its distinctiveness and diversity.
Introducing the address Dr. Barber said, "Part of the problem of course is that we don't and can't speak with one voice. The strength of Methodism is that it is a democratic movement of people, with many different views about how we should work out our Christian discipleship. But we can't stay silent. God calls us to speak out. It is not easy grappling with how to live with contradictory convictions, but that is our calling."
“The Trade Union movement owes more to Methodism than it does to Marx. I am enormously proud of that. It draws many visitors to Englesea Brook, where I am the director of a Heritage for Mission project which focuses on the story of Primitive Methodism. One visitor memorably announced, 'I am anti-God, but a Methodist in my DNA.' It was a great conversation starter!”
Dr. Barber said that one of the questions she is frequently asked is, 'Where are the Methodist voices today?'
“What is our distinctive Methodist voice? And how can we gain confidence in sharing our own faith story? Part of the problem of course is that we don't and can't speak with one voice. The strength of Methodism is that it is a democratic movement of people, with many different views about how we should work out our Christian discipleship. But we can't stay silent. God calls us to speak out. It is not easy grappling with how to live with contradictory convictions, but that is our calling.”
“How can we find our voice? I believe this is a key challenge, if we are to make a difference to individual lives, and bring hope to a world whose future is threatened by violence and climate change.”
"Have we lost that passion for living out the gospel through social and political action? Is there a danger that we have privatised our faith, so that it makes us feel better as individuals, but we fail to relate it to wider community and global issues? I want to call on Methodists to get involved in local and national politics. To become a voice for change, challenging the politics of self-interest and upholding the politics of the common good."
According to Dr. Barber, equality and empowerment are at the heart of our Methodist identity.
“Lay people have a voice as well as ordained people. John Wesley accepted that women could have an 'extraordinary call'. In the early 19th century, when the Wesleyans banned women from preaching, it was the 'Prims' and Bible Christians who recognised that God pours out his Spirit on daughters as well as sons. Women were sent out as evangelists, speaking God's words in places that others sometimes feared to go.”
“For the early Methodists it didn't matter how young, or how old you were. 'If you know the love of God in your heart then stand up and share it brother! - or sister!' In the little hamlet of Englesea Brook, Sarah Smith, a farm labourer's wife, taught the children to read and she also taught them how to pray. She then started a prayer meeting in her cottage, led by the children. Six of those children went on to become itinerant ministers, including Ann Brownsword and her brother Thomas, known as the 'boy preacher'. The youngest person I have found on a Methodist preaching plan was 11 years and 8 months.”
Ending her address, Dr. Barber told the inspiring story of Dorothy Ripley whose prophecy, prayer, passion and protest saw her become the first woman to speak to Congress in Washington, speaking up for those who had no voice
Dorothy Ripley lived in Whitby, where her father built the first Methodist Church, and John Wesley was a frequent visitor. Dorothy experienced a call to preach, but as a woman, the church would not accept her. One day, while she was praying, Dorothy heard God calling her to go to America to preach freedom for enslaved people, and convict slave holders of their sin, so they would set people free. This was before the Anti-Slavery Society in England, let alone America, but Dorothy felt she had to obey God's call.
A single woman, with no money, she set out to walk to London to find a boat that would take her to America. Eventually, she found a Quaker sea captain in Bristol who would take her. On arriving in America, Dorothy decided she must go first to Washington, to tell the President what she planned to do.
Everyone thought she was mad, but she told them she had to obey God not man. Amazingly, Dorothy got an interview with Thomas Jefferson, and had the courage to ask about his own slave holding, urging him to have compassion for his 300 slaves. When she asked for his approval for her mission, he warned her that she would have an uphill struggle, but they parted 'in peace'.
The Dorothy decided to make her base in Charleston, the stronghold of Southern slavery. (Its legacy is still with us.And of course that place is very much in our minds. It was here, only last week, that nine people were killed in a racial attack at the African Methodist Episcopal Church.) For Dorothy, it was an immensely brave move, and she narrowly escaped several attempts on her life.
Dorothy must have made a tremendous impression on Jefferson, because in 1806 she became the first woman to speak to Congress. Apparently, she preached to a crowded audience with the same evangelical fervour as if she was at a camp meeting!
Dorothy saw herself as an evangelist. She travelled for over 30 years throughout America, and crossing the Atlantic at least 9 times. In 1818, we find her in Nottinghamshire, where she opened the first Primitive Methodist chapel in the county at Bingham, and was thrown into prison for open air preaching and inciting a riot. She was an amazing woman, who was not owned by the church, because her voice was too radical.
Dorothy Ripley was a woman of prayer, and lived by what she called the 'Bank of Faith'. She had a passion for sharing the love of God with others. She acted on God's call to love her neighbour, and spoke out for those who did not have a voice. She was prepared to challenge individual sin and sinful systems that enslaved people. She changed lives.
Read the full text of Dr. Jill Barber’s speech at http://www.methodist.org.uk/news-and-events/news-releases/we-must-find-our-voice-urges-new-methodist-vice-president
“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”