This post is the fourth and final post in a series within a series. Broadly, it is a continuation of my series of posts on the Methodist class meeting for the twenty-first century. (Click here for a link to the last general post in this series, which also contains a link to an outline of the rest of the series.) More specifically, this is the fourth post in a series written by Nick Weatherford, who is a member of Munger Place Church and a leader of a Kitchen Group, which is a 21st century class meeting. This series will allow you to hear directly from a lay person who is currently leading a class meeting. In the first post, Nick shared his story with you and talked about the role that being in a class meeting played in his recommitting to a life of Christian discipleship. In the second post, Nick talked about the impact that leading a Kitchen Group has had on his faith. The third post discussed the impact that Nick believes that these groups are having on Munger Place. In this post, Nick talks about the impact that he thinks reclaiming the class meeting for the 21st century would have on contemporary United Methodism. I deeply appreciate the time that Nick has taken in writing this series of posts, which will appear throughout the course of this week. He has agreed to follow the discussion and interact with any comments or questions that you may have, so I hope you will take advantage of the opportunity to interact with Nick.
What impact do you think reclaiming these kinds of groups could have on the larger UMC?
I personally believe that the UMC should focus on the roots of the Wesleyan tradition. When I was considering a church, denomination was not particularly important although I certainly had some preconceptions of the Methodist church. I think in many congregations they are probably quite true. However, through getting to know Kevin and Andrew, I have been exposed to John Wesley and the early foundations of Methodism. Munger has made a very conscious effort to embrace that heritage primarily through Kitchen Groups (or as I have learned, what Wesley called “class meetings”). For Wesley, being in these class meetings wasn’t just encouraged, it was required. In fact, for a time it served as your ticket to worship on Sunday. I picked up a book on Wesley and developed a crude understanding of Wesley’s theology and the formation of the early Methodist church. I learned that for a time in American history, the Methodist church grew from being quite small in number to becoming the fastest growing and largest denomination in the country. And, there weren’t even enough preachers to go around!
Wesley understood that assembling people into these class meetings was essential for their spiritual maturity. This was a place where they could watch over one another in love, to encourage each other, to encounter God’s grace and to keep people committed to the task at hand. Wesley understood that group participation and interaction would lead to active membership. The groups would create a system where people heard and shared the gospel each week, and groups would allow the church to grow in number through members being actively engaged in ministry with each other. These early groups were able to raise large sums of money to support charity. The members were active in attending to the needs of the least, last and lost in their communities.
I understand that the UMC overall is declining in numbers, and that most congregations have far more members than folks who attend church any given week. I think many people are unsure of what the Methodist tradition is about, even within its churches. Based on what I have learned from reading up on Wesley and through launching Munger, I believe the heart of the Methodist tradition is an active commitment to the church and to Christ’s ministry of reconciliation. It’s about getting your hands dirty, and committing to give financially and to serve in the community. It’s also about grace. It’s about committing to a group knowing that we are going to struggle but that this participation will ultimately keep us engaged in our relationship with God.
It’s also about seeing salvation as the starting line for your relationship with God. Wesley believed that grace allowed us to respond to God’s call in our hearts, but that we were to engage ourselves daily (methodically!) in reconciling ourselves to who God is calling us to be. I don’t find that people are afraid of expectations. People want to be involved in something that matters and they want know what the principals and theology of their church are. Embracing this is resulting in an active community of believers at Munger, many of whom did not come from the Methodist tradition.
Ultimately though, these groups don’t measure us or grade us. They are certainly not there to pressure us or make us feel guilty. They are there to encourage us and challenge us. They remind us each week that our God is a God of second chances and they help us begin looking at our lives as if our faith and relationship with God was the only thing that matters.
– Nick Weatherford