Kathryn and I returned from the Methodist Conference in Birmingham yesterday (29/06). It has been an interesting week and one in which some significant decisions regarding the Methodist church have been taken. Falling numbers and shrinking income are having a serious impact on future planning and management: one significant change is to reduce the number of representatives attending the conference in future.
The highlight for us of the Conference was the induction of the new President and Vice President and the Sunday morning service. On both occasions, there were many more people attending than would be at the business sessions of Conference. Numbers were made up of visitors attending for the opening of Conference, family members of those being inducted and the ordinands. Many nations were represented, and it made for lively, enthusiastic and noisy worship. The Caribbean and African contingent brought a life to the gathering not usually found in traditional British congregations. They were wonderful occasions.
Over several years Kathryn and I have attended Spring Harvest, the Keswick Convention, Easter People & Bible by the Beach; always the worship is invigorating, lively and enthusiastic. I remember at one Spring Harvest a speaker addressing the issue of leaving such an environment and finding our local churches very different, and even lacking in something. It would be unrealistic and unfair to expect a local congregation to have the same vitality in worship as a Christian conference.
At any given moment we are all experiencing different emotions, feelings, tensions, joy, etc and church is the place where we come together to share and support one another. Real worship expresses who we are; before God, together and individually. During my theological training the principal leading a discussion on worship said: ‘True worship, is hard work.’ At the time I didn’t understand what he meant but over time the truth of it has become real to me.
Casually we can walk into church, see familiar faces, have friendly conversations, share, sing, pray, listen to a sermon etc have coffee and go home for lunch. Attending a conference which involves driving 147 miles, booking into a hotel, unpacking etc and then walking into the auditorium already filling with people; mostly strangers is all new. Of course, it feels different; a greater sense of anticipation with people who have also travelled long distances, who want to be there at that time, for that moment.
When we come together on Sunday morning, we are a family coming to share with each other in honouring, seeking to glorify, giving thanks to the God we adore, through the Son who makes it possible, in the power of the Holy Spirit. For that we prepare ourselves by living faithfully through the week, being enriched by prayer and bible study and spending time with our best friend; Jesus Christ. Worship on a Sunday morning may be quieter and not so vibrant but it is to God’s glory and in the sight of God just as valuable.
“This, this is the God we adore,
Our faithful unchangeable friend,
Whose love is as great as his power
And neither knows measure nor end.”