Further thoughts on online communion

I have appreciated the engaging conversations I have had with colleagues and friends about online communion since I published my last post. I have heard some strong arguments from those who want to celebrate the Lord’s Supper online. In light of those exchanges I thought I should clarify and expand a bit on what I wrote last week.

This is a complicated question without an easy answer, and I see it as a genuinely debatable topic. I have offered reasons as to why I would rather not administer communion online, but I am not saying online communion is “wrong.” That’s far too simplistic.

Much depends on one’s theology of communion. Those with a memorialist view of the Lord’s Supper have fewer hurdles to overcome than Catholics or Anglicans, for whom online communion is officially prohibited. If you are in a denomination that has prohibited online communion for theological reasons then it would be wrong to go against your doctrine and denominational authorities.  The Wesleyan-Holiness churches are in a bit of a mediating position, affirming the real presence of Christ at the table in a spiritual manner, so it is not surprising to see some diversity of opinion.  As I said in my last post, my own denomination’s doctrinal standards do not preclude the possibility of online communion, so I affirm that my fellow Free Methodist pastors have liberty to celebrate online communion.

I believe God is going to honour the sincere intentions of his servants as they navigate this strange time, so I do not doubt that God can work through online communion. I don’t see it primarily as a question of whether or not God can work through online means. Of course God can work through any means or no means at all. I would not hesitate to say that God is working through our innovative and creative uses of technology.  My question is more specific: are online means of communication are a fitting vehicle for celebrating the Lord’s Supper in particular?

A few people thought I was skeptical of the idea of online community, but I affirm that online community can be meaningful and transformative. In online teaching I have seen some people develop much stronger relationships than they might have done in a classroom. On the other hand, someone can be physically present in a community and not connect well with those around them. So online community can be genuine, though I would say in-person community remains the ideal because the body is an essential part of our humanity. The size of the community obviously makes a big difference; a house-church or small group can replicate more of their embodied community online than a large church can. I would also say that there are some aspects of the Lord’s Supper which could translate through an online medium better than others. But regardless of the size of the community, it’s not possible to have a physically gathered community, and I prefer to wait until that is possible, rather than share communion online.

I am confident that God is at work in spite of our physical distance from one another, and it may be that God is going to renew the church in the midst of this chaotic situation. My hesitation about the Lord’s Supper online does not stem from a lack of confidence in God’s ability to work in a strange time or under unusual circumstances. Church renewal has often taken place in strange and unexpected ways! God is working and will work in myriad ways, even now.

But that’s also a reason that I feel I can refrain from the Lord’s Supper for a time: we have many other spiritual practices and disciplines at our disposal. That is one of the notes struck by Brent Peterson in the video below.  Peterson is a liturgical theologian and dean of the school of theology at Northwest Nazarene University.  He adds some other aspects to the discussion that I haven’t addressed in my posts.  I appreciated his congenial and thoughtful reflections.

Again, this is a debatable question and we are trying to answer it in the midst of an extremely challenging and unique situation. I hope my comments can be received as a friendly contribution to an ongoing conversation, rather than an attempt to tell others what they should do. Pastors: you know your context and your congregation and you know your own motivations, so you should follow your convictions and do what you feel is required, knowing that God is going to work no matter how we approach this issue.

 

Online Communion: Why I don’t want it

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted normal church life in profound ways, and it is raising  significant pastoral and theological issues. Before COVID 19, online communion was a fringe question which very few had entertained, let alone practiced. Now that we cannot be physically present together, many churches are experimenting with various ways of celebrating the Lord’s Supper through social media.

Ryan Danker has written this clear and convincing case against communion in United Methodist tradition, based upon UMC doctrine and liturgy, identifying three key elements that must be present for the Lord’s Supper: the elements of bread and wine, the gathered community, and licensed or ordained clergy.

I largely agree with Danker, but my own Free Methodist articles and liturgies are not so clear, particularly on the importance of the gathered community, and my sense is that Canadian Free Methodist pastors tend to develop local communion rituals rather than using the liturgies supplied in our Manual. The Manual mentions the importance of ordained ministers administering, but it is not an absolute requirement, and it also discusses the Lord’s Supper as a “community event” (chapter 7, page 7) but the question of whether that community must be physically gathered is not addressed.

Whether they approve of online communion or not, I suspect that many churches will be revising or clarifying their rubrics for the Lord’s Supper in the aftermath of this crisis.  As it stands, I would say online communion is an open question for Free Methodists, and each of us in pastoral leadership must reflect carefully on it before we proceed.

It is not my intention to criticize what others are doing. This is a time of unprecedented challenge, and I appreciate the innovative and energetic way that so many pastors and church leaders are adapting. Nor do I expect other FM pastors or other evangelical Wesleyans to approach this the way I do.

Having said that, I wanted to outline why I am reluctant to embrace the practice of online communion. The most decisive issue for me is the necessity of a physically gathered community.

The Lord’s Supper is a physical practice – an embodied enactment and re-presentation of the gospel. It involves our physical senses as well as our spiritual senses. Wesleyans believe Christ is really present in the Lord’s Supper, though we interpret the real presence as a “spiritual presence.” But the emphasis on “spiritual presence” is not meant to drive a wedge between the spiritual reality and the physical signs. The physical signs point to spiritual reality and are means through which God himself communicates with us. The physical and spiritual are inextricably bound up together. And it is our Lord himself who bound them together.

This goes to the heart of our understanding of the Lord’s Supper as what Wesley called an “instituted” means of grace. It is a specific practice ordained by God as a means through which we experience and respond to his presence. God is present to us through a wide variety of means, and there is no limit on the ways God’s grace can reach us. Indeed, God does not “need” the means of grace. And yet, by Christ’s command and promise, God has willed to be present to us at his table in a particular and unique way. There is something special that happens at the Lord’s Supper that does not happen through other spiritual practices. And again, the physicality of the Supper is an essential aspect of this particular or instituted means of grace.

Here is where I think several other issues come into play: theological anthropology (and the doctrine of creation by extension), Christology, and soteriology.  To put it in an all-to-brief nutshell: Our physical bodies were created by God as an essential aspect of our humanity, and part of God’s good creation, which God has redeemed through the bodily work of the incarnate, crucified, and risen Christ. The Christian hope is for the redemption of our physical bodies through resurrection, following the pattern of Christ.

The essential physicality of God’s economy of salvation is reflected in the way Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper. At the table, God ministers to us in a way that reflects this plan of creation and new creation; we encounter and respond to God’s presence through our physical bodies – through actually taking and eating and drinking.

But that encounter and response is not just about bread and juice or wine, which we might have at home. It is also sharing that bread and cup with God’s people, and about being drawn together as the community of God’s people – persons whose participation in the kingdom includes our physical bodies.

In other words, the Lord’s supper is essentially social and communal. Yes, it is a means through which each of us personally encounters and responds to God’s presence. But it is also a means for which the whole community encounters and responds to God’s presence. As we gather around one table and feed upon the one loaf and the one cup which is the body and blood of Christ, the Spirit draws us together and makes us one.

I can see how some would make an argument that we could preserve the symbolism through a video conference. You could have a pastor breaking the one loaf and holding up the one cup at one table, and each person in their own home partaking of the elements individually. Still, those elements are not being served from the same table, and something is lost there.

But the deeper issue is the absence of physical presence together. The physicality of the Lord’s Supper is not just about the bread and wine but about the physical community of believers who gather in a particular place, around one table, to partake of the elements together.

As people created and redeemed for embodied fellowship with God and one another, our  physical presence together is essential to our gathering as God’s people, and therefore to our celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Our practice of “virtual” gathering is the best we can do under the current conditions, but it will never be a Christian assembly in the fullest sense of the word, because we are not bodily present together.

This has implications beyond the Lord’s Supper. Based on what I’m saying here, the church cannot fully be the church unless we can physically gather together. There are lots of things we can do, and there are many ways that we can continue to live out our mission in the world and build one another up in the faith. But the lack of embodied gathering is a fundamental impediment to the life of the church. I’m not saying the church has ceased to be the church in the present time, but I think we should acknowledge that the life of the church is severely inhibited and that the church is suffering profoundly through our physical separation from one another.

If that is the case, then our fasting from the Lord’s Supper is a fitting expression of lament for our present exile from one another. Refraining from receiving the Lord’s Supper underscores our longing to be together again as the gathered people of God. I do not think we should continue as if nothing is lost, and as if we can do all the same things we could do if we were physically together.

I recognize that others, even within my own denomination, will interpret this issue differently. I’m still processing my thoughts and I recognize that this is a very complex challenge. I may need to write some more about it!

I expect that some people will find online communion to be a meaningful experience. But I don’t think it’s what the Lord Supper ought to be.

Three Days of Wesleyan Events at Tyndale

In addition to our annual Wesley Studies Symposium, every third or fourth year Tyndale welcomes the Wesleyan community for a conference aimed at ministry leaders.  Past events have featured Ben Witherington, Leonard Sweet, and Timothy Tennent.  This year we are again hosting a ministry conference, back-to-back with our symposium, and preceded by an evening worship service the night before the conference.

Here are the details:

April 19 – Evening Worship Service

At 7 pm on Sunday, April 19, a Salvation Army band and the worship team from Oakwood Wesleyan Church will lead us in an evening of worship featuring a message from Dr. Gustavo Crocker, General Superintendent of the Church of the Nazarene.  No registration is required.

April 20 – Wesley Ministry Conference

Dr Crocker will be the keynote speaker at our fourth Wesley Ministry Conference on April 20, 9 am – 3:30 pm. The theme for the day is The Whole Gospel in a Fragmented World: Transformational Holiness for Effective Mission, and Dr. Crocker will be supported by Dr. Joel Thiessen, who runs the Floushing Congregations Institute at  Ambrose University where he teaches. Registration is $50 ($25 for students).

April 21 – Wesley Studies Symposium

Dr. Thiessen will remain with us as the keynote speaker for the Wesley Symposium on Tuesday April 21. The day begins at 10:00  with Dr. Thiessen’s lecture, “Signs of Life and Vitality in Canadian Churches: Drawing on Data to Inform Practice.” The rest of the papers are listed in the full program, available now.  Registration is $30 ($20 for students).

Two Recommendations: Witnesses of Perfect Love and Transatlantic Methodists

These two new books will be of interest to those who study Methodist theology and history.

witnessesofperfectloveFirst, Amy Caswell Bratton’s Witnesses of Perfect Love: Narratives of Christian Perfection in Early Methodism (Clements Academic, 2014), tackles the doctrine of Christian perfection from a different angle: the personal narratives of Methodists who claimed the experience of perfection.  While Methodist conversion narratives are well-known, this book looks at how early Methodist narrated their continuing struggle towards Christian perfection.  By examining four particular cases in detail, Bratton is able to delve deeply into the way that early Methodists interpreted and understood their own Christian life in light of distinctive Wesleyan teaching on sanctification.

What must also be remembered is that such narratives were often published and circulated in Methodist circles.  Therefore, these narratives represent not only personal interpretations of the doctrine, but also one of the ways that Christian perfection was interpreted to the Methodist community.  In other words, theological studies of Christian perfection, which traditionally focus mostly on more traditional theological literature, should also consider these narratives as part of the corpus of Wesleyan holiness teaching.

You can find out more about the author and the book on her site.  Bratton’s book is the most recent volume in Tyndale’s Studies in Wesleyan History and Theology series.  Previous volumes were contributed by Howard Snyder and Victor Shepherd.

20140624_134307My second recommendation is Todd Webb’s Transatlantic Methodists: British Wesleyanism and the Formation of an Evangelical Culture in Nineteenth-Century Ontario and Quebec (McGill-Queen’s UP, 2013).  Webb, who teaches at Laurentian University, offers an account of 19th century Canadian Methodism that stresses its connections to British Methodism.

Against prevailing accounts, which downplayed the contributions of British missionaries to Methodism’s growth in favour of arguing for a distinctive Canadian Methodist identity, Webb argues that Canadian Methodism between 1814 and 1874 must be understood in terms of its relationship with British Methodism.  Canadian Methodists came to see themselves as transplanted Britons, and formed a British identity in a time when there we competing understandings of what it meant to be truly British.  It is not simply that the British Methodists exerted influence on Canadians, but developments in Canadian Methodism also affected the history of the home church during this time.

Webb’s excellent account not only narrates the history of the developments, which can be quite confusing, given the multiple mergers and schisms which took place on both sides of the Atlantic, but he but also notes how particular issues, such as finances (chapter4) and revivalism (chapter 5) can help to illuminate the complex relationship that existed between the various Methodist bodies.

As I’ve already said, both books are highly recommended.

 

Toronto, a.k.a. “The Methodist Rome”

Most Torontonians today have no idea of the immense impact that Methodism has had on our city’s history.   Methodism, in fact, played such a significant part in Toronto’s religious, cultural, and political life that in the late nineteenth and early 20th centuries the city was known as “The Methodist Rome.”  Toronto had one of the largest Methodist populations in the world at that time, and became known for its rigorous moral culture (hence the other nickname, “Toronto the Good”). This may seem completely ridiculous to contemporary observers (especially in light of the antics of our current mayor), but in the past there were good reasons for identifying Toronto as a centre of Methodist influence.

The main reason that Toronto’s Methodist influence is hidden is because the largest Methodist denomination in Canada joined with Congregationalists and many Presbyterians to form the United Church of Canada in 1925.  Therefore, many Toronto institutions which have Methodist origins no longer bear the Methodist name.

One key reminder of Methodism’s importance in this city’s history is found in some of the landmark buildings that Methodists constructed.   299 Queen St. West (at John St.), is currently owned by CTV and operated as a media broadcasting centre.  However, it’s original name was the Wesley Building, and it was built to house the Methodist Book and Publishing Company in 1913.  After the Methodist Church of Canada joined new United Church of Canada, the building served as United Church headquarters.  It was sold in the early 1970s.

Wesley Building via wikimedia commons

Victoria College, part of the University of Toronto, also has Methodist heritage, having been founded by the Wesleyan Methodist Church in 1841, and originally located in Cobourg Ontario.  The Cobourg campus still stands (and explains why Cobourg has a University Avenue), though it is no longer a university (more on that below).  It now serves as a retirement residence. VICTORIA COLLEGE Cobourg

When the Wesleyan Methodist Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church merged in the 1880s, they decided there was no need for two separate colleges.  Victoria College was was the WMC school, and it was merged with the MEC’s Albert University, located in Belleville (originally Belleville Seminary).  Albert University was then converted to a private school, which still operates today as Albert College, though the current property and building do not date from the days when the institution trained clergy.  Incidentally, the former location of Albert University (where the current College Hill United Church stands) explains why Belleville has a College Street.

It was soon decided that it would be best to move the merged Victoria College to Toronto.  “Old Vic” is one of the many beautiful buildings on the U of T campus, built in the 1890s, and is the oldest building on the present Victoria College campus.  The inscription in stone over the main entrance way is a reminder of the building’s Methodist origins: “The Truth Shall Make You Free.”

Old Vic via wikimedia commonsA tour around Victoria College will take you to a number of buildings named after notable Methodists, such as Burwash Hall, named after leading Canadian Methodist theologian and churchman, Nathanael Burwash, and Annesley Hall, named after the mother of the Wesley brothers, Susanna Wesley (née Annesley).

Ryerson statue on campus via wikimedia commonsIf we were looking for buildings which speak to Methodism’s legacy in a more indirect way, we could mention Ryerson University, named after Egerton Ryerson, Methodist minister, scholar, and politician, who had a huge impact on social and political life on Ontario.  One of Ryerson’s achivements was founding the Toronto Normal School, a public teacher’s college.  The Normal School buidling was eventually turned over to the educational institution which would evolve into Ryerson University.  A portion of the facade of the Normal School has been preserved and incorporated into the current Ryerson campus.

Of course, Methodism’s greatest architectural legacy in Toronto is found in the many historic United Church buildings which trace their origins to the former Methodist Church.  Some notable examples would be Timothy Eaton Memorial Church on St. Clair Avenue West, St. Luke’s United (originally Sherbourne St. Methodist Church) at Carlton and Sherbourne Streets, and Trinity-St. Paul’s United Church on Bloor Street West (originally Trinity Methodist Church).

But if Toronto was thought of as a “Methodist Rome,” then it’s cathedral would have been Metropolitan Methodist Church (now Metropolitan United), an impressive and imposing building constructed at Queen and Church Streets.  It is no coincidence that the nineteenth-century Methodists chose to construct their flagship church building here, between St. Michael’s Cathedral (Catholic, to the north) and St. James’ Cathedral (Anglican, to the south).  The picture below, taken in 1896, shows Metropolitan Methodist in the foreground, with St. Michael’s behind.  Recalling that these spires would have dominated the city skyline at that time, Metropolitan Methodist is an enduring architectural witness to Methodism’s role in shaping Toronto’s history.

Metropolitan Methodist Church via wikimedia commons

The Wesleyan Tradition’s Eastern Ontario Roots

I grew up north of Kingston, near the village of Sunbury, and I was raised in a church that is part of the Wesleyan family of denominations – The Salvation Army.  Most of my life, however, I had no idea that there was any significant connection between my geographical roots and my ecclesial roots.  As I’ve gone on to study Wesleyan history and theology, however, I’ve come to see that the historical roots of Wesleyan Christianity in Eastern Ontario are very deep indeed.

This has come home to me in a number of ways in recent months.

This summer, Tyndale Seminary received a generous bequest from Rev. Bill Lamb, who passed away in June.  Bill was a United Church minister and a historian of Canadian Methodism.  He left an amazing collection of historical literature to Tyndale’s library, and I was able to go to his home and help our head librarian, Hugh Rendle, sort through the materials.  Because the earliest Methodist churches in Canada were established in Eastern Ontario, Bill was also a student of Eastern Ontario history.

in 1925 the main Methodist body in Canada united with many Presbyterians and the Congregationalists to form the United Church of Canada – and that means that many of the United Church congregations that pre-date 1925 were in fact Methodist congregations.  Bill had written books on the history of two such congregations – Bridge Street Church in Belleville (Bridging the Years), and Wall Street Church in Brockville (The Meaning of the Stones).  He’d also written a book on the Old Hay Bay Church (The Founders), the first Methodist Church building in Canada, which still stands as a National Historic Site.  At the time of his death, he was working on books on two of the most important figures in Canadian Methodist history, William Case and William Losee.  Therefore he had amassed a very significant body of literature and archival material on Methodism’s spread in Eastern Ontario.

The fact that most Methodists joined the United Church in 1925 means that much of this Methodist history is not immediately apparent to a casual observer today.  People do not realize, for example, that churches like Bridge Street Church in Belleville, Wall Street Church in Brockville, and Sydenham Street Church  in Kingston are monuments to Methodist history.  All Belleville residents are familiar with Albert College and its beautiful campus, but most have no idea that this private school began as Belleville Seminary – a Methodist theological college.

Albert College interior by tjchampagne via flickr

But it is not only the mainline Methodist tradition that has strong Eastern Ontario roots.  The late nineteenth century holiness movement also had a significant impact on this part of Canada, especially in the legacy of Ralph Horner, whose biography I read and blogged about earlier this year.  Horner was from the Ottawa Valley, and had a ministry as an evangelist which centred around Eastern Ontario.   Originally serving with the Methodist Church of Canada, Horner eventually went on to found two holiness denominations: the Holiness Movement Church and the Standard Church of America.  Many of the churches that emerged out of the Hornerite revival in Eastern Ontario are still around today, although these two denominations also merged with others (HMC joined the Free Methodist Church in 1958 and the SCA merged with the Wesleyan Church in 2003).

Holiness Movement Church Hymnal via internet archiveIn addition to the fact that the Holiness churches have historically had a significant concentration of their congregations in Eastern Ontario cities and towns, there is also a rich history of revivals through camp meetings in rural locations.  Almost every little village was impacted.   Even Sunbury, where I grew up, had a Salvation Army corps at one time, and the Hornerite movement impacted nearby Inverary.   In Hastings County today, Ivanhoe may be known today as a place with a cheese factory along Hwy 62, but a century ago it was known as one of the most important holiness revival sites in Canada.  It was at the Ivanhoe camp meeting that Ralph Horner died in 1921, not long after preaching his last sermon.

The surprising thing for me has been the way that my life has now come full circle.  As a professor Wesley Studies at Canada’s largest seminary, my teaching and research interests now coincide with my personal history in a way I never thought they would.   The connection between between my geographical roots and my ecclesial roots, of which I was unaware for most of my life, now seems to have been established by providential design.

Highlights from Len Sweet’s talks at the Wesley Ministry Conference

Len Sweet speaking at TyndaleThis year’s Wesley Ministry Conference at Tyndale was a great success.   Over 180 people from various Wesleyan denominations gathered to hear Leonard Sweet speak, and to take in a workshop on discipleship from Matt Eckert and Luc and Rosetta Del Monte.  It was a very engaging and thought-provoking day.

When Howard Snyder heard that Len Sweet was coming to the conference, he commented that Sweet could give you enough ideas in five minutes to keep you thinking for five days.  It’s been a week since the conference, and I think Howard was right.

While I wouldn’t attempt to give a total summary of all Len Sweet said last Monday, here are three of the big themes from his talks that have stuck with me:

1. Leadership as a function vs leadership as an identity.  He began in the morning by addressing this topic, and lamented that in the past few years, the church has turned “leadership” into an identity, when it should really only be conceived as a function which people exercise at various times.  Our identity, rather, is as followers, not leaders; we are disciples first and foremost, but at times some of us have to provide a leadership function.  He asked the pointed question, “How many followership conferences have you been to in the past five years?”  Churches have spent a lot of time and energy trying to take on ideas and practices from the business world, often without reflecting theologically on how these ideas square with Christian discipleship.  This is something I’ve been concerned about for some time (I wrote about it three years ago), so I was glad to hear him address it on Monday (if you are interested in this issue check out his book I Am A Follower).

Sweet I am a Follower2. Mission stories vs mission statements.  Connected with the above point, Sweet addressed the issue of “mission statements,” one of the business practices that the church has taken up in recent decades.  He suggested that the church already has a mission statement – the great commission – but that we make up our own mission statements because we don’t like the one we’ve been given!   More importantly, Sweet was reflecting on how contemporary culture doesn’t connect well with truths communicated via “statements.”  This is familiar territory for students of post-modern culture – the idea that in contemporary Western culture, truth is most readily accepted as embodied in narrative and metaphor (or “narraphor” as Sweet stated it), rather than in propositional statements.  Sweet took this larger cultural trend and applied it to the church’s mission: it ought not to be articulated in a statement; rather, we need the story of the gospel to shape our mission in a compelling way.  He made a similar point in relation to preaching, saying that “points” don’t communicate to a “Google culture,” though they connected well in the “Gutenberg culture.”

3. Dirty hands and a clean heart.  Sweet then exemplified the ideas he’d been sharing by offering a “narraphor of holiness.”  Beginning with the incarnation as the revelation of God’s holiness, he focused in particular on foot-washing as an example of God “getting his hands dirty” in the world. Against our tendencies to view holiness as a kind of purity that remains separate from the world, Sweet stressed that true Christian holiness is normed by the story of God’s self-giving in the incarnation.  Thus, dirty hands are the evidence of a clean heart.

I’m really glad we had a chance to host Len Sweet here at Tyndale – he definitely gave us lots to think about.  You can read another report on the day on the Tyndale website.

Mainz altar painting via wikimedia commons

A Moving Service in the Chapel at Morrow Park

On Monday, February 11, the Sisters of St. Joseph invited the Tyndale community to join them in the chapel at Morrow Park for a symbolic “passing of the keys” service.  Tyndale is set to officially receive the keys to the Morrow Park campus on April 1, but the Sisters wanted to set aside some time for the two communities to worship together, share a bit of the respective histories, and bless one another in future endeavours.

Morrow Park is a really special property, and the chapel is truly stunning.

The service was a great idea, and I think it shows how much the sisters care about Morrow Park – and about its future use.  For them, this beautiful place is not just a building, but a home and a place of spiritual nurture and refreshment.   I really got the sense that, although they are definitely sad to be leaving, the Sisters feel a certain comfort in knowing that their former home is going to continue to be used as a centre for teaching and equipping servants for the church.

After an opening hymn and a  welcome from Sr Thérèse Meunier, Sr Margaret Myatt and Prof Donald Goertz shared a bit about the histories of each community.  The sisters have given themselves over to the service of God and their neighbours in an amazing variety of ways over the decades, and a quick glance at their website today will tell you that they continue to be active in the Toronto area in education, social services, and the arts, among other things.

After intercessory prayer by Sr Sue Mosteller and Regine Leugn, each community presented the other with a gift – a board from the Sisters that recounts some of their history, and an original piece of art from Tyndale.

Then came the most memorable part of the service.  All of the sisters present for the service stood in their places and sang a blessing to the Tyndale community, raising their hands towards us.  The words were:

May the blessing of the Lord be upon you
We bless you in the name of the Lord
May the blessing of the Lord be upon you
We bless you in the name of the Lord

After that, a small group from Tyndale sang this blessing, based on the priestly blessing in Numbers 6. All of us stood in our place and raised our hands towards the Sisters, scattered throughout the chapel.

The Lord bless you and keep you
The Lord make His face shine upon you
And give you peace forever
The Lord be gracious to you
The Lord turn His face towards you
And give you peace forever

I noticed several Sisters wiping tears from their eyes during this song, and in that moment I really felt for them.  It must be rather difficult for them to leave this place behind after 52 years.

Following the service we were all invited to the dining hall for refreshments, and it gave us a chance to talk with some of the Sisters.  They are moving to a new home at Broadview and O’Connor, not too far from where I live now.

At the end of the day, I was struck by the way in which the Sisters are approaching the transition: thoughtfully, reflectively, and prayerfully.  This is clearly more than a real estate transaction for them.  I am thankful for their generous spirit and their willingness to strengthen the connections between their community and ours.

You can see Tyndale’s official write-up about the service here.

Wesley Ministry Conference with Leonard Sweet: Rediscovering Transformational Discipleship, April 29

Ministry Conference posterLast week I posted about Tyndale’s upcoming Wesley Studies Symposium.   The Wesley Studies Committee has also been hard at work planning an event aimed at a broader audience of church leaders.  This will be the second time they have hosted a “Wesley Ministry Conference,” the first one featuring  Timothy Tennent in 2009.

This year’s ministry conference will take place on Monday April 29 here at Tyndale, and features prominent author Leonard Sweet.  Sweet is currently the E. Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism at Drew University, in Madison, NJ, and is known as a creative thinker and exceptional communicator.  The theme for the day is “Rediscovering Transformational Discipleship,” and it will also feature workshop style presentations from some experienced practitioners: Matt Eckert, and Luc and Rosetta Del Monte.

The cost is $45, and registration is available here.

Please spread the word about this important event – we are blessed to have secured Leonard Sweet as our speaker, and I’m sure it will be a fruitful day of engagement with the challenges of discipleship in today’s context.

The night before the conference, a public worship service dubbed “An Evening in the Spirit of Wesley” will be taking place at Timothy Eaton Memorial Church in Toronto (7PM).   This service will also feature Leonard Sweet, along with The Salvation Army North York Temple Band and organist Rachel Mahon.

Hopefully many of you will be able to make one or both of these events!

 

Conflict with the Conference: Parallels between William Booth and Ralph Horner

I’m currently reading the recently-released book, Lift Up a Standard: The Life and Legacy of Ralph C. Horner, by Laurence and Mark Croswell.    Although Horner is not exactly a household name, he is definitely one of the most significant figures in Canadian church history, and perhaps the most significant in the 19th century Canadian holiness movement.

That is not to say that he was universally admired – on the contrary, he was a controversial person, and the dramatic and emotional nature of his services raised concerns from some of his colleagues.   Nevertheless, he was a very effective evangelist, and his ministry generated a lot of excitement in late nineteenth century Eastern Ontario.

Horner began his career in the Methodist Church, and as I’ve been reading of his conflict with the Methodist Conference (the governing body) I have been struck by the similarities between Horner’s story and that of William Booth, about 30 years earlier.  Both men desired to be itinerant evangelists, but came up against a Conference that was unwilling to allow them the freedom they were looking for in ministry.

Booth had joined the Methodist New Connexion in 1854 and was initially appointed as an evangelist in London.  He would have been happy to stay in this type of ministry, but after two years, the Conference began giving him circuit appointments – first to Brighouse, and then upon his ordination in 1858, to Gateshead.   Booth continued to communicate his desire to be free from pastoral responsibilities so he could focus on evangelism, but Conference continued to deny his requests.

Finally, in 1861, Conference attempted to appease Booth by appointing him to an important circuit in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and suggesting that he could engage in evangelistic work so long as he had properly arranged for the pastoral responsibilities of the circuit to be taken care of.   The Booths were not satisfied with this, however, so William resigned from the Connexion and went to work an independent evangelist.

Horner Revival Sermons via Internet Archive

Horner’s story is a bit different, but it centres around the same basic conflict between evangelistic and pastoral responsibilities.  Beginning in 1886, Conference appointed Horner to a series of circuits, however, every time, he refused to accept the appointment, arguing that he was called to a special ministry of itinerant evangelism.   Horner’s Conference, however, seems to have been much more forbearing, for in several instances they gave in to his requests and appointed him as Conference evangelist.

Conflict continued, however, and Conference used various methods in attempting to curtail Horner’s activities, including leaving him without an appointment at one time, and at another juncture instructing him to conduct services only under the direction of Conference.   Horner, for his part, was never willing to submit to restrictions on his “special” evangelistic activities.  As Croswell and Croswell summarize it:

It appears that the Methodist Church had no place for Ralph Horner’s ministry, and Horner had no place for the constraints of the Methodist Church (Lift Up A Standard, 62).

Unlike Booth, however, Horner was unwilling to resign, even when formally asked by the Conference.   Both sides seem to have genuinely desired to avoid a rupture of the relationship, but eventually it became clear that no resolution was possible.

It does seem Horner genuinely did not want to leave the Methodist Church, and to their credit the Methodists were doing all they could to keep Horner.   But Horner saw the church as drifting from the preaching and practice of early Methodism and consequently was trying to bring the church back to her roots…The Methodist Church was heading in a different direction and did not have a place for Horner’s interpretation of old-style Methodism.   Horner meant for his holiness revivals to be a renewal movement in the church, but the Conference saw Horner’s actions as insubordination and they could not treat him differently than any other minister (75).

So, after many years of conflict, the 1894 Conference again appointed Horner to a circuit, and decided that he would be removed from their Conference if he refused.   Of course Horner did refuse, and was suspended, before being formally deposed in 1895.  Horner would go on to found two denominations – the Holiness Movement Church and the Standard Church of America.

In part, of course, the stories of both Booth and Horner are part of the age-old conflict between established leadership structures and what are often called “charismatic” leaders.  Both men wanted to work outside the box of the established Methodist polity, and denominational leaders were unwilling to abide their apparent insubordination.

Croswell and Croswell also point to another issue, however (pp. 33-34), which I hadn’t thought of: the difference between the role of a “mass evangelist” (what Booth and Horner wanted), and the more traditional Methodist structures of ministry.   On the one hand, the early Methodist preachers were certainly evangelists rather than pastors.   Pastoral care and visitation in early Methodism was carried out mostly by class and band leaders, not preachers.   However, the early Methodist preachers were not free-ranging evangelists, like the “superstar” preachers of nineteenth century – Charles Finney, Phoebe Palmer, James Caughey, and later, Dwight L. Moody.   Methodist evangelists worked under the direction of Conference, and were appointed to specific circuits.   By the time of Booth and Horner, Methodism had clericalized to the point that the small-group structures were no longer in operation, and the circuit preachers had come to take on more traditional pastoral roles.

Influenced by revivalism, Booth and Horner wanted to exercise a truly itinerant and independent evangelistic ministry – something like the ministry of Finney.  Although these revivalistic evangelists had a significant influence in Methodist circles, their free-ranging evangelistic ministries were actually foreign to Methodist polity.   This helps to explain, in part, the conflict that both Horner and Booth faced with their respective Methodist Conferences.