But I don’t want to be a Methodist.

[Prologue: I wrote this very much off the top of my head, although the ideas in it have been bubbling around for a while. It's quite rambling, and yet in places, quite blunt. I'm aware people will be reading this from the church we parted ways with a while back and some of what I say might sound harsh or hurtful to them. I really hope none of my criticisms of the evangelicalism in this post are taken on that personal a level - whilst I'm sure many will disagree with my points here, I don't wish to be seen as criticising any of the people whom we love so very dearly at that church. This is as much about my journey and issues as it is with what I may rightly or wrongly perceive is wrong with the modern evangelical church.]

So, a few years ago on this here blog, I wrote a series of posts about where my journey of faith was going. I wibbled on about postmodernism and linguistics and post-Evangelicalism and contextualisation and liberal politics and social conscience and that sort of thing. I never really reached any proper conclusions, partially because I didn’t (and still don’t) think that conclusions are necessarily a helpful thing to reach (there are absolutely no absolutes, obviously) and partially because real life kind of got in the way, in between getting married, moving to Cambridge, starting a new job, buying a house, fitting a kitchen, losing a job, getting a new job and all the rest, philosophising (and blogwriting in general) sort of fell by the wayside.

Well, actually. That’s not quite the whole truth, either. There’s another reason. We found a church that I actually liked. It was a lovely, fairly young little congregation, with quite a free-thinking, open approach to faith and community, whilst retaining a (reasonably) orthodox set of core beliefs. It encompassed people from a whole spectrum of theological perspective, from the traditional con/evo right up to, well, people a bit like me. We didn’t always agree, sometimes things didn’t always go right, but there was a freedom to make those mistakes and to disagree and to talk things through, and that was hugely refreshing to me.

Sadly, however, things changed, and without wanting to go into detail, the church started sailing in a different direction to us, and after much thought and heartache, we parted company.

So, Naomi and I found ourselves once again churchless and unsure of our next step, and I found myself in the position of being back to trying to work out exactly what this whole journey was about again and what on earth being a post-modern post-evangelical social-liberal fluffy handwavey rough-around-the-edges fringe Christian actually meant, anyway. We kind of had the summer off (apart from Greenbelt, which is the one encouraging fixture in my annual calendar, in that it helps me realise that at least I’m not alone in this whole thing) but Naomi insisted that we needed to start going to church again soon and started saying things about community and family and I kind of found it hard to disagree on that front, at least.

So, looking for a new church: the thing is, I’m done with  modern evangelicalism. I mean, seriously now. I mean it properly, this time. I’ve been calling myself post-evangelical for years now, but always within the context of still attending an evangelical church and attempting to work within it. I’ve feel like I’ve given it more than enough fair chances, but eventually the reductionist approach to faith, narrow idea of what a Christian and what Christianity actually is, literal approach to scripture, confusion of conservative socio-political ideas with theology and constant wretched urgency ground me down and right now I just want nothing to do with the whole thing. I’m exhausted. I need some space to breathe.

Oh, it’s all such a bloody cliché. Young(ish) western middle-class Christian gets fed up with Evangelicalism, spends time staring at own navel, eventually goes off and joins a traditional church in which he can sit and listen to short but thoughtful sermons that aren’t all about reaching for the prize or taking our faith to the next level, sing traditional hymns and not have to be on another bloody mission team or sit through another interminable 4-hour prayer meeting wondering whether everyone else is really as into this as they seem or if they’re all thinking about work or DIY or Voronoi diagrams or Westfall Questlines too. I don’t want to be a cliché. Not wanting to be a cliché is so part of being this particular cliché. My journey is my own, goddamnit, get your own set of faith issues.

So, yeah, looking for a new church: Naomi can’t be doing with Anglicanism. Not quite sure why, just doesn’t seem her bag. I Don’t Do Calvinism, so that’s the Baptists out the window. In our village, that kinda leaves the Methodists. Now, all things considered, I quite like the Methodists. First church I ever properly really attended was a Methodist church (although then, and even more so now, it was a Methodist church that was pretty indistinguishable from any other modern evangelical place so I’m not sure if it really counts) and I still hold a soft spot for them – their website talks about “openness” a lot, and they support Greenbelt, and they do that nice congregationalist thing rather than being a top-down hierarchy of Bishops and Archbishops and Priests and Rectors and Deans and Canons and Second Curates-in-law Twice Removed.

But am I a Methodist? If I’m completely honest, I’m not much more of a fan of Arminius’ Five Articles than I am of Calvin’s Five Points. I quite like some of Charles’ hymns, but I’m pretty sure John and I wouldn’t see eye-to-eye on so many things. I quite like gin, for starters. I’m not entirely sure my pro-LGBTQ opinions are going to find a entirely comfortable home there. And I’m fairly sure Mr Wesley was pretty hot on the idea of saving souls, even if he did talk good guns about a social gospel, too…

Oh, I don’t know. I’m rambling a long way from the path I originally set off on now; the central thesis for this post was supposed to be a resigned acceptance of the fact that we now seem, more-or-less by accident, to be the youngest people (by about 30 years) at our local Methodist church and the fact that I feel kind of surprised that, at the very least, I’m not filled with a vague sense of uneasy dread about leaving the house every Sunday at the moment, and that the preaching is very good on account of how it’s on the same circuit as Wesley House and that. But in attempting to get my thoughts down on paper (metaphorically), it still turns out to be a whole bunch more complicated than that. You know, just for a change. I guess it’s kind of tricky to be looking for something when you’re not even sure what it is you’re looking for, or if you’ll even be sure if you find it. God, I sound like Bono.

So, I guess – congratulations if you’ve made it this far. I’ve been terribly self-indulgent and I guess I’m a bit sorry for wasting your time if you read all this hoping for some kind of blinding revelation or something at the end of it all. That’s not coming – although I guess that’s also sort of the point I’m trying and failing to make about my own story here too (I’d claim this was an intentional clever literary device, but no; I’ve sort of stumbled into that, too). Things move on. Sometimes, they don’t have a satisfactory ending.

12 Responses to “But I don’t want to be a Methodist.”

  1. John Vinall says:

    *engage translator*

    *bing* *translation follows*

    I’ve found a new church and quite like it, even though it wasn’t what I thought I’d like.

    I’m quite worried I’m middle-aged before my time.

    I don’t fit into any of the traditional boxes (except this one which I choose not to see because it’s *my* box, dammit!)

    *translation ends*

    ;)

    Glad you’ve found a church which you are feeling somewhat at home at. Congratulations on having the courage to leave a church which wasn’t where you needed to be. Long may it continue.

    God Bless :)

  2. Richard McIntosh says:

    How is the after church tea?

  3. Chris Whitworth says:

    Richard: None existent, so far. Although starting soon, apparently.

    John: Yeah, sure, if you want to trivialise things to an absurd extent. The church we left was the place we’ve felt most at home, ever, and therefore was most profoundly upsetting and distressing to leave. It wasn’t about courage, or not “needing to be” somewhere.

  4. Paul Robertson says:

    Trying to avoid all of the wonderful places I take myself when I need to breathe, because they’re all filthy Papist scumholes with archbishops and the like, you might try Lee Abbey (Google knows where to find it). It’s in utterly beautiful scenery just up the road from my parents’ place. I’ve never stayed there, but I’ve been to the grounds a few times, and it’s a place God himself saw and said “it is, indeed, very good”. The only downside is that, on a clear day, you can see Wales… Take your wife for a visit, with no agenda, and sit (in the driving rain, at this time of year) and contemplate God’s abundant love for you both. Screw wretched urgency and sit down and let God look at you and love you, for that is what he does.

    Failing that, Dalmally House and Loyola Hall also offer quiet and prayerful spaces, but Naomi will spontaneously combust. Damn. I said I wasn’t going to mention those.

    Sleep well.

  5. Paul Robertson says:

    Oh, and Clare Priory, which is a lot closer to Cambridge.

  6. Cathy says:

    Oh God Chris you stole my blog post! We are soooo cliched ;-) But seriously I think our journey is quite similar to your journey (Michael and I, you and Naomi) I know we all have our unique twists and turns. But I am comforted to know that there are others who are like me asking the same questions and not necessarily having any answers. Let keep exploring….

  7. Fliss says:

    Interesting post. I’m curious that you appear to have lumped the two cogent points together – is it at all possible to consider the sort of faith you have and the sort of community you want to be a part of as separate entities?

    Many church communities are welcoming to those of a slightly different viewpoint, since local Christian fellowship is more important for *most* denominations. Also, having people to argue the toss with is, in the long run, much more likely to lead you to a greater understanding of your own faith…

    much love

  8. Richard McIntosh says:

    Warning lack of tea may be heretical! Proceed cautiously!

    Were you offered weak orange squash, being the youngest members and all?

    Also, you are way its a shame that you “Don’t Do Calvinism” as I always found pretty niffty. As long as elect=all your doing well :D

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  9. Trav says:

    Some day, I hope to get to the end of one of these posts and see you’ve finally found your way to atheism.

    Atheism – The only choice for philosophical, gin drinking homosexuals.

  10. Mark Hewerdine says:

    “Not wanting to be a cliché is so part of being this particular cliché.” Love it. Very astute observation.

    I appreciate your honesty and although I’m walking a very different path I can relate to your struggles. And no, contrary to John’s “transaltion” this isn’t a trivial issue. It’s not just about where you turn up to on a Sunday, what club you’re part of. I can relate to the degree to which you find decisions about church to be tied up with ethics, worldview, outlook on humanity and faith, not just “trivial” issues of doctrine, emphasis and worship style.

    Finally…
    “I don’t fit into any of the traditional boxes (except this one which I choose not to see because it’s *my* box, dammit!)”

    No, John, the world isn’t just a set of boxes, and no, saying that doesn’t now make me fit into the “people who don’t think the world is about being in boxes” box. Not wanting to be pigeonholed isn’t about wanting to be “an indivdual”; it’s about accepting, indeed celebrating diversity, complexity and the nature of live in this world. It’s about not wanting to be reductionist. Because being reductionist always dminished everyone’s humanity, liberty and ablility to embrace all of life. People who don’t like to be put in boxes generally try not to put other people in boxes either. Which is a good thing.

    I don’t like having a go or being to harsh but, John, your comments did come across as more than a little patronising and suggested that you may not have wrestled with the same kind of issues Chris is wrestling with. That’s not to diminish your experience or to imply that you’re never had dilemmas, difficulties or that you’ve found church easy. But I would caution against thinking you’ve got the measure of someone and their “issues” until you’ve had some kind of proper dialogue with them or walked at least a little in their shoes.

  11. ethelthefrog says:

    Never criticise someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. If you still disagree with them, you’re a mile away and you have their shoes.

  12. AmazinJay says:

    So are you no longer updating your XNA city scape?