As Melissa and I continue to work to get settled into our apartment I have been amazed out how fast things can change. Three weeks ago I was getting ready for a wedding rehearsal, two weeks ago was the last day of Annual Conference, and one week ago we were still up to our eyes in boxes. Now we are starting to get our bearings on the area that we live in. I am starting to figure out which roads to avoid during rush hour(s) and the fast way to get to Barnes and Noble.
In some of the reading I have been doing, I have also noticed how fast things can change within an institution. This has been particularly stark in Nathan Hatch’s Democratization of American Christianity. Hatch details how quickly British Methodism embarked on a “quest for respectability” and an “exaggerated concern for institutional discipline” after 1789 (91). By 1815 “rural itinerancy and the circuit horse were almost extinct” (91).
I found this passage particularly thought-provoking:
The system [of circuit riders in early American Methodism] kept the church dominated by young men who, according to a critic in the 1820s, were inexperienced, rustic, wanting in “social intercourse,” and contemptuous of their elder colleagues who had been forced to locate. If Americans first became susceptible to a cult of youth in this period, as David Hackett Fischer has argued, then it may be very significant that the Methodists advanced by means of a youth cadre and that power within the church constitutionally remained in the hands of the young rather than with those who could claim age and experience (87).
I really don’t have any in-depth comments to make about this, except that it is just very interesting that during Asbury’s tenure and during a time when Methodism in America saw dramatic growth it was dominated by inexperienced, passionate, youth (and one authoritarian leader, Asbury himself). There seems to be a lot of discussion about the need for young(er) clergy in the UMC. Yet, I have not noticed nearly as much action where young clergy are being given the opportunity to exercise meaningful leadership in their Annual Conferences than I have heard people lamenting the lack of young clergy leadership. For better or worse, the current approach to cultivating leadership seems to be very different than Asbury’s.