The letter which came with the new Methodist magazine - the connexion (the lack of capitals is of their doing not mine) - stated we had been sent 3 copies so we could help distribute the magazine to others. This sending of multiple copies is obviously an attempt to get information out to those who are not on central mailing lists but who are part of the Methodist denomination or are connected to it.
It is a thin publication on that shiny paper which you hope you don't spill coffee onto because you just know it will go right through.
The cover is ironic, without realising it. It shows two young people who are clearly at 3 Generate one of whom is wearing a Guns and Roses t-shirt. It's the fact it's a Guns and Roses t-shirt I find somewhat ironic because in some ways it sums up Methodism - comfortable and associated with a previous time whilst wanting to appear edgy and up to date.
The main theme, according to Gareth Hill in his editorial, is evangelism although from it also appears to be connexionalism. Amid the articles are info snippets/ come denominational adverts such as one relating to The Methodist Heritage Conference which takes place at CliffCollege from 16-18 July.
The first main article relates to social justice rather than evangelism. It refers to a Joint Public Issues Team (JPIT) report showing that benefit sanctions are causing real harm to the most vulnerable. It's a good article which explains about the forthcoming report but there are no links for people unfamiliar with JPIT to follow if they want. I think it would be useful to put a link in at the bottom of the article, particularly as this is an organisation which is doing lots of great work including the forthcoming LoveYour Neighbour: Think, Pray, Vote conference where Archbishop Justin Welby is speaking.
We then move on to being introduced to Gareth Powell who is taking over from Dr Martyn Atkins as Secretary of the Conference in September.
On page 6 we hit the material on evangelism in an article by Martyn Atkins called Elevating the e-word. It's central thrust is the desire to link some of the great initiatives Methodists are involved in back to evangelism and to get Methodists back to evangelism. Within the article there is a recognition that for some evangelism has become a problematic term which they want nothing to do with. Yet, as the article says it something we need to reconnect with as a denomination. On the Methodist Website there is a video which takes up this discussion.
Next to this article is a story about a fresh expression in South Wales. This reflects what mission, evangelism and social action looks like in action when it is combined.
There is then an article by Stephen Skuce the Director of Scholarship, Research and Innovation in the Connexional Team which argues that the church is good at mission but not at evangelism. This appears to the dominant argument that those in positions of authority in the denomination are seeking to promote in this publication. I can understand what is being said and agree with them we need to more explicitly share our faith and the good news of Christ again but I do wonder whether it is at times confusing the concepts of mission and social action.
An article which more clearly articulates what the relationship between evangelism and mission looks like comes from Ruth Gee in an article which takes a more contextual approach giving small examples. She explains how her presidential theme glimpsing the glory of God and sharing those glimpses is what evangelism is about. I have to say I find her definition the most convincing of those given within these pages.
There then comes an article from Megan Thomas, this year's Youth President. Within this article she refers to the work she has been doing promoting understanding mental health issues. She also implicitly refers to what discipleship involves. Whilst in some ways this article and focus underline the argument Atkins was making in his article I believe that it is encouraging authenticity which true evangelism involves. Methodism is based upon people sharing their authentic experience of grace, as Gee's article highlights. This is what the Megan and her team are clearly seeking to do.
The next major article relates to the experience of North Korean Christians and I have to say I found this very enlightening. I expected them to be highly persecuted but apparently "Christians are fully integrated into the well-organised North Korean society, joining members of other voluntary organisations in standing for election to the district, provincial and national councils."
Then we are back to an article giving an example of social justice and mission. It is about a group working with asylum seekers in South Wales.
We then move on to a refurbished sanctuary in Edinburgh and an interesting article about how the use and rent of buildings and relationship building can be linked.
Then the magazine goes global again with an article about the impact of the 2004 tsunami in countries like Sri Lanka and how Methodists have been involved in helping people rebuild their lives.
With the stories coming out of Wales and Scotland there is an interesting sub-text within the magazine about Methodism being not just about the English. There is an article in both Welsh and English talking about the bilingual work going on in Wales.
Finally there is a reflection from Michaela Youngson which takes the form of an image and poetic reflection. I found this interesting the most engaging part of the magazine.
So did I feel any more part of the connexion reading this? Well, not really. Was I inspired by it? By parts of it yes, but in other ways no. In the end we find ourselves where we started with the Guns and Roses t-shirt. This is seeking to be new and revitalised but in the end it is familiar and comfortable, perhaps too comfortable to read.
It will be interesting to see how the magazine develops over the next couple of issues.