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Wednesday, 24 February 2016

All are Welcome

A reflection on her own blog from Sally Coleman on the meaning of communion in the context of the Comfort Zone drop-in in Blackpool.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

A Theology for Methodist Action (MANW)

Peter Lumsden prepared this paper for the recent AGM of Methodist Action NW.


a. The over-riding principle: Justice


Why should we be concerned about the vulnerable?


It is because God is concerned about them. Whilst we recognize the universal call to love our neighbour, scripture particularly describes God's taking up the care and cause of widows, orphans, immigrants and the poor—those who have been called "the quartet of the vulnerable", those with least economic and social power. Today, this quartet could be expanded to include the refugee, the migrant worker, the homeless and many single parents and elderly people. God loves and defends those with the least economic and social power, and so should we.


Doing justice; God justifies things by restoring them to their true and full identity in Himself, as opposed to "retributive justice" which seeks only reward and punishment.


b. Recurring history: a call to support the vulnerable is followed by a slide to individualism and materialism




The seminal event in the history of Israel is the exodus from Egypt. It is during this period that the covenant between God and the people is recognised, and it is through this period that one can see God relating to and supporting a people who are, literally, homeless. From this time on then, two words, which can be translated as justice occur again and again through the OT. The first of these is Mishpat – translated as justice (RSV), and elsewhere as judgement. Its most basic meaning is to treat people equitably, thus acquitting or punishing every person on the merits of the case, regardless of race or social status. BUT mishpat means more than just the punishment of wrongdoing. It also means giving people their rights. The justness, or mishpat, of a society, according to scripture, is evaluated by how it treats those belonging to the quartet of the vulnerable; any neglect shown to their needs is not called merely a lack of mercy or charity but a violation of justice, of mishpat. That is what it means to "do justice."


The second word is Sedeq which can also be translated as justice, but often appears as righteousness. Today this is often understood in terms of private morality, such as sexual chastity or diligence in prayer. However, as used in the OT, sedeq refers to day-to-day living in which a person conducts all relationships in family and society with fairness, generosity and equity.


These two words roughly correspond to what some have called "primary" and "rectifying justice." Primary justice, or sedeq, is behavior that, if it was prevalent in the world, would render rectifying justice unnecessary, because everyone would be living in right relationship to everyone else. Rectifying justice is mishpat. It means punishing wrongdoers and caring for the victims of unjust treatment. When sedeq and mishpat, are tied together, as they are over thirty times through the bible, the English expression that best conveys the meaning is "social justice."




Jesus' teachings are in a direct line of prophetic witness from the earlier prophets of Israel. In his first recorded public statement he quotes Isaiah: The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me . . . he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners (Isaiah 61:1). Later, when asked by the lawyer 'who is my neighbour', he tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, the conclusion of which is that in keeping the commandments, love – practical, caring love – must be extended to all (Luke 4, 18-19). Further, there is no 'them and us'; we can learn from those not of our 'tribe'. And then Matthew recounts Jesus' words about care for those in need: "When I was in prison….when I was thirsty"….etc (Matthew 25, 35-40).; here we are shown that in serving and meeting the needs of others, we are in a real sense serving God, not just in an abstract way, but directly, in that in being human, we are part of that which is God.


Jesus consistently ignored or even denied exclusionary, punitive, and triumphalist texts from the scriptures in favour of texts that emphasized inclusion, mercy, and justice for the oppressed. Indeed his arrest, trial and death are the ultimate example of God, in Jesus, associating with all who are suffering.


Wesley and Methodism


Wesleyan theology is often associated with the idea of 'holiness'. For Wesley this was not a purely individual matter; the spreading of scriptural holiness entailed 'the transformation of the economic and political order'. Holiness was in fact nothing less than a new creation.


Towards the end of his life, Wesley may have concluded that the holiness project had failed; if so, he judged that to have been at least partly due to the growing material prosperity of Methodist people. His great lament was that as riches increased so there was a decline in holiness. Wesley's 'gain all you can' and 'save all you can' were often taken in isolation from 'give all you can'. Wesley even wondered if; … true scriptural Christianity has a tendency, in process of time, to undermine and destroy itself? For wherever true Christianity spreads, it must cause diligence and frugality, which in the natural course of things, must beget riches! And riches naturally beget pride, love of the world, and every temper that is destructive of Christianity. (Causes of the inefficacy of Christianity, Works VII: 290).


However, following this apparent failure of Wesley's social vision, further renewal came in the formation of the primitive Methodists (1811). Their aim was to return to the original vision of Wesley, concentrating on the rural poor, and stressing the political implications of discipleship. Perhaps under the influence of the 'prims', from the late 19th century through to 1945, Methodist Central Halls were built in the main towns of the U.K. These were multi-purpose in concept, with social and community activities as well as worship taking place. Some even rented out shop space at the front to bring in funds. During this period other Methodist organisations were created to safeguard the vulnerable, such as National Children's Homes (1869) and Methodist Homes for the Aged (1943).


The post-war period


In the second half of the 20th century as social conventions came under universal scrutiny, church attendance certainly began to decline, and by the end of the century, religion was essentially seen to be essentially a private affair. We should though remember that it was in this same period that a huge step in what might be seen as the mishpat of Britain occurred with the founding of the welfare state, being the culmination of the efforts of Temple, Tawney and Beveridge, to avowedly "slay the five demons of want, disease, ignorance, squalor, idleness". It is not without significance that as students at Oxford these three were encouraged to spend time with the poor in East London, an experience which had a lasting effect on them.


The concept of mishpat and sedeq, linking law and justice, can also be seen in the philosophy of Tawney who noted that morality has to have a divine connection, or underpinning, since without an absolute at its root, it drifts to relativism. Lord Denning, in 1953, also stated that the severance of ….law from morality, and of religion from law…..has gone a long way……. The severance has, I think, gone much too far. Although religion, law and morals can be separated from one another, they are still very much dependent on one another. Without religion, there can be no morality, there can be no law. He noted that many people see it's (the law) function is to keep order, not to do justice.


It is however difficult to argue with the contention that the concept of common good and good society has been subverted, if not quite replaced, by a rampant consumerism and individualism. Yet already the signs were there of a loss of these principles. Temple in 1942 wrote "Maximum output is not a true end of human enterprise; the end is fullness of personality in community; nothing economic is a true end". This has reduced the profile of the church in the arena of social justice, and has even brought it into conflict with government, perhaps most notably with the publication of Faith in the City in 1985. This report came in the year following the Anglican church's statement on mission, 'The five marks of mission '. Two of these are of particular significance for those concerned with social justice.


· To respond to human need by loving service

· To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation


More recently, as indices of poverty indicate an increase in the divide between rich and poor, the church has become more active in the area of social justice, with organisations such as Church Urban Fund providing support for grass-roots initiatives, and the Methodist Church, Baptist Union and United Reformed Church forming the Joint public Issues Team. The election of Pope Francis in 2013 has also seen a stronger message from the catholic church. In the very first mass he celebrated as pontiff, he said: "The message of Jesus is mercy… it is the Lord's strongest message." This has culminated in declaring 2016 a "holy year of mercy".


Methodist Action (MANW)


Methodist Action espouses the universal principles of 'doing justice' and of encouraging human flourishing, through neighbourly loving action; supporting and working with people, enabling them to move from crisis and need, to their full potential in the community.


For over thirty years, the Methodist Church in Preston and the surrounding areas have sought to assist in meeting the needs of homeless people or those at risk of homelessness. Those activities have been focused largely upon the services provided by Central Methodist Church in Fox street: in the early days in the form of a soup kitchen, developing into a night shelter (the Fox street shelter), and latterly through a community for 20 men housed in the lower ground floor of that Church. As the work has progressed there has been a movement away from front-line volunteer provision to facilities and staff operating at a professional level funded by local and central government grants.


Methodist Action was formed in 2009 by the Methodist church, initially to manage the work associated with Fox street. Since then its work has expanded beyond the original brief of homelessness and has taken a more holistic form. The current suite of projects reflects the changing pressures and areas of crisis which 21st century society is now experiencing including poverty, housing & mental health. The results of this at an individual level can be isolation, addiction, crime, lack of employment opportunities and potential disengagement from their community. The focus of Methodist Action is on the human person, providing directly, or facilitating through others, support to individuals and families in a variety of forms. This could be from a roof over their head, to a meal on the table. Primary support is given in order to address the immediate need, in order to encourage stability and allow time to address the root cause of the crisis, and recognising that such crisis could be experienced by any one of us. Support beyond initial crisis is a partnership, so that issues might be addressed with and by the person concerned. This might be achieved through co-ordinated working between different Methodist Action projects, or partnership working with specialist external organisations.


The charity retains its historic roots and governance structure in the Methodist Church, a church for whom social action is its blood. The framework for service provision and how it relates to its partners is also reflective of the principles of the Methodist Connexion, a connected community with different roles and responsibilities contributing to the whole.



In its ethos and in its work, Methodist Action It provides a living example of Jesus; it is a prophetic voice rallying a church and providing a focus for justice; and it is recreating the provision and support for the vulnerable which was such a strong feature of early Methodism.


Peter Lumsden

January 2016



The Justice Creed.... Brian McLaren can be found here