Last month it was good to gather together in worship at Perth and welcome Rob Mackay as a recognised Local Preacher in the Circuit. Week by week the preachers lead us in our worship – the local preachers are a gift and proud tradition within the Methodist Church. Last week many of the preachers joined myself and church stewards to share in a day of continuing development regarding ‘Equality, Diversity and Inclusion’. Whilst those words might feel as though they come out of a management handbook, in reality, they reflect a deep concern amongst the people called Methodists.
We like to say “All are Welcome” but how we live that out can be a different matter. We can belittle, disregard, or otherwise ignore people (often unwittingly). On the development day, the preachers and stewards began a journey together, recognising how much we don’t know and there is always more to learn. Part of our calling as Methodists is committing ourselves to keep on learning (and the preachers and stewards generally reflect the age of the congregations so I would hope no-one thinks they are too old!)
I know another strength of Methodism is the warm welcome people often receive and we want to celebrate that. On the development day we did learn that there were people within the Methodist Church who, for a variety of reasons, have felt excluded from that welcome. I know the congregations in this circuit would not want that – we want to break down the barriers that would divide us. This breaking down of barriers is what we celebrate at Christmas – the divine breaking through into the human and created order – the birth of Jesus. God’s gift to the world. We honour that gift when we respond with gratitude and try to follow breaking down the barriers of division in ways that are safe and just.
As we make our Advent journey I do encourage us to take some time to give thanks for the ministry of the preachers and stewards amongst us, to pray for them and to support them as they lead us working out afresh how we are to be congregations of welcome. That can mean challenge and change but, in the Spirit of Christmas, let us show an abundance of love and humility.