Sunday, 1 September 2013

Eight into One

The Methodist Church is a strange animal for those who know how it works, let alone for those who don't. One of its peculiarities is the arrangement of Methodist Churches into Circuits, in which are stationed a number of ministers for the sake of pastoral care, worship and the general life of the church.

Until yesterday, the Methodists of Sheffield (the 4th largest city in the UK) had been arranged into 8 such circuits, arranged like wedges of a pie radiating out from the city centre, with the Victoria Hall standing proud in the centre of the city (and the pie). Today we joined those 8 circuits into one body to oversee the mission of the Methodist Church in Sheffield.

The New Circuit Logo
We did it today because 1st September is the Methodist New Year, the day when ministers start work in new appointments and the life of the churches starts up again after the summer hiatus. And we did it by gathering together representatives from the 66 Methodist congregations, together with representatives of the other Christian churches and faith communities in the city and civic dignitaries, for a service of worship and dedication in the Octagon Centre, on the campus of Sheffield University.

The service contained drama, prayer, traditional hymns and contemporary worship songs, a welcome for a new Probationer Minister in the north of the city, a commissioning for the new Superintendents and the ministerial staff, and a challenge to be the story of God's love and mercy from the Chair of the Sheffield District, Revd. Vernon Marsh. That story was poignantly illustrated by the centrepiece of the stage, where boards containing the names of members from the eight old circuits had been arranged to forms the outline of the Cross.

The Cross, and the candles taken to the Churches
We prayed together these words:

We make our new circuit in the fellowship of God
on the roads of the city, in the lanes of the villages,
in the housing estates and tower blocks,
to the noise of the tram, to the cries for love.

We make our new circuit in the fellowship of God
in the offices and factories,
the schools and universities,
and in the shopping centres.

God has no favourite places.
There are no special things.
All are God's, and all are sacred.

By the community that is God,
Father, Son and Spirit,
may each step we take weave us together as one
until we become what you, our God, are calling us to.
Amen.

We concluded as we shared bread and wine together, and were sent out to be the people of God called Methodist in the communities of this city, each congregation being given a candle to symbolise our unity in Christ. Whether any of us were any clearer just how this new arrangement will work, I'm not sure: it will take some months to develop now that it has been birthed. But the congregation left envisioned and inspired to be a company of hospitality, hope and healing.

Now the work begins.