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A Goodly Heritage

March 18, 2009

David wrote in the Psalms, “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.  The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.” (Psalm 16:6).We do have a goodly heritage.  My knowledge and appreciation of that heritage is expanding through my seminary studies.  I am focusing my research paper for Christian History and Theology on women in early Methodism.  There are actually two aspects to this study.  First I am not familiar with the Methodist church, its history, theology or practice.  Seminary has provided (and required) that I get beyond the snippets of information I had picked up here and there.  Secondly I did not know to what degree women were key factors in the Wesleyan movement.  As I study I am learning a great deal about both Wesley and women in the movement.

Wesley recognized that transformation “best” takes place within communities.  We might quickly affirm that is so, but we might miss why Wesley was so convinced.  If I am committed to personal transformation it is quite possible (and probable) that it will remain personal (with me).  But if I am committed to transformation as part of a community then it cannot remain merely personal.  My wholeness contributes to the health and transformation of the community; the health and transformation of the community contributes to my personal transformation and the flow is both inward and outward.  Wesley challenged then and he challenges us today the notion of individual spirituality.

The Wesleyan movement was notable for its form of discipleship.  Within the societies and class meetings lay leadership was encouraged and developed. This was true of both men and women.  In fact this was a movement distinctive from other efforts desiring to bring about church (Anglican) reform.  John Wesley did not set out to establish a new denomination; he “simply” sought to reform the nation and the Church (Anglican) through Scriptural holiness.[1] John Wesley welcomed women into the “United Societies.” I am learning that John Wesley’s view of women evolved and that he too wrestled with the implications of what he taught and supported. Could it be that what Wesley taught had power because he modeled it for others?

His intent was that the United Societies would be a “city set upon a hill, an example of genuine community bound together by a mission and a common faith and characterized by mutual trust, loving care and attention to the needs of others.”[2] Today we do not raise our eyebrows over references to men and women as brothers and sisters in Christ. But several hundred years ago Wesley used this metaphor to intentionally communicate a new way of relating to one another.

“Wesley intended to emphasize the point that women as well as

men are full members of the Christian church.”[3]

To fulfill and live out his vision of the societies, Wesley knew how men and women related to one another must change. Brother and sister challenged the societal differences existing at the time and paved the way for inclusion in community and ministry.

  • What metaphors could be used today to advance the cause of Christ and help us recognize prevailing attitudes that indirectly (or directly) hinder the cause of Christ?
  • What difference would it make in our Churches and in our own lives if we were committed to a similar vision of Christian community?

I am wondering how such a view would transform women in ministry from an “issue” we pick and choose to one we finally recognize affects the health of the Body of Christ. Yet it is far from being just a “women’s issue,” as we recognize the implication for the health of the Body means the health of men and women (and children too). We are to become and take our place in our “goodly heritage.”

[1] John C. English, “Dear Sister: John Wesley and the Women of Early Methodism,” Methodist History 33, no 1 [October 1994]: p. 26-27. English quotes from Minutes of Several Conversations between the Rev. Mr. Wesley and Others: From the Year 1774 to the Year 1789, in The Works of John Wesley, 14 vol. (London: Wesleyan Methodist Book Room 1872; reprint Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), 8:299.

[2] Ibid., p. 27

[3] Ibid., p. 27

  1. Faith Carter permalink
    March 18, 2009 3:50 pm

    Thank you for addressing that the health of the Body means that all members must participate and exercise their giftedness for the benefit of all.

    • pathwayjourneys permalink*
      March 18, 2009 7:45 pm

      Thank you for taking time to respond. Reading over your comment again I know that you live what you wrote. God’s grace upon you, my friend.

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