When you are ordained as a Methodist minister you promise that if for any reason you should leave that ministry you will do so quietly. The idea is that you don't stir up trouble. As it turns out the Methodist Church has been a very good church to leave. Generally, people did not put me under pressure for the decision I was making and sincerely wished me well. Two kind gestures were the fact that the Methodist minister's meeting (Fellowship of the Kingdom/Spectrum) in my area invited me to join them and the superintendent of the district called in to see how I am getting on with the Baptists.
In this post I want to reflect on some of the advantages of being a Methodist and some of the advantages of being a Baptist. Please don't read this as a comparison or try to read between the lines. I am deliberately only thinking of the positive aspects of each.
Four benefits of Methodism
1. The history. I am not an out-and-out John Wesley man. I am aware that he had his faults. But there is something very heart-warming about the eighteenth-century Wesleyan revival. It made me realise that the denomination was rooted in real evangelical faith. It is a history to inspire on a number of levels: there is evangelistic zeal, innovation and social concern.
2. The broadness. It will surprise some that a conservative evangelical like me could see a benefit in being a part of a broad church. But there was an aspect of it which I liked. I came into the ministry with many unformed opinions and it gave me the freedom to reach my own conclusions with the assurance that difference of opinion was accepted. Of course I am still forming opinions and an hopefully open to being persuaded by biblical argument.
3. The letters page of the Methodist Newletter. This is a guilty pleasure. But I find the letters page of the Methodist Newletter fascinating. It is due to the diversity of opinion that is expressed. There is real back and forth debate, even if sometimes there is more heat than light.
4. The friendships. I think one of the greatest strengths of Irish Methodism is the friendships. There is a genuine sense of family. Even though I am not a Conference person I looked forward to going and meeting so many friends. I especially loved the years I did at Junior Ministers' Convention.
Four benefits of the Baptists
1. The narrowness. Having just said I enjoyed Methodism's broadness I may sound like I am contradicting myself in saying that I love the Baptist's narrowness. Now I am not talking about a narrow-mindedness or people who think that you have to have a settled opinion on every issue. But I love the fact that we share a general agreement on the big issues. For example, when I talk of 'the gospel' or 'the cross' with my Baptist friends I know that they share my understanding about what is central to the good news and have the same understanding of the atonement.
2. Low-churchmanship. Ironically, I dress a little bit less casually at LBC than I did at RMC. But generally the style of Baptists (south of the border) is contemporary music and casual attire. That suits my desire to think of the church as being family and the pastor as simply being one of the people.
3. The friendships. I came into the Baptist church with 'previous'. Some of my friends were already here. There are also the meetings, in Abbeyleix, of pastors and other workers based in south. I have really enjoyed these.
4. Open-ended tenure. This was the reason I moved to the Baptists. I wanted to have the possibility of a long term tenure. There is great relief in not thinking about whether you are going to be moved in the next year, although the member's meeting could get rid of me if they wanted (but then would you want to stay in a church that wanted rid of you?)