The school’s Chaplain, Nick Sissons, on the Methodist Church and its connection to Rydal Penrhos.
“Methodists?” I hear you say. “Aren’t they the ones who don’t drink and don’t gamble?”
It’s true the Methodist Church has taken a strong line, and continues to do so, on the dangers that arise from the abuse of alcohol and gambling; and though ministers no longer have to ‘take the pledge’ i.e. promise not to drink alcohol, many Methodists would not be ashamed to flag up the social ills caused by this and other kinds of addictive behaviour.
But that’s not where we’d usually start in telling you about ourselves. So here’s a short introduction to the church to which I belong and which produced the founding fathers and mothers of what is today Rydal Penrhos School.
At the last count, in 2007, the British Methodist Church had 267 257 members. There are, however, over 800 000 people in Britain who have an active connection with the Methodist Church and across the world that number rises to 70 million. In global terms it’s a very big church indeed.
Like the word ‘Christian’ so the name ‘Methodist’ began as an insult. John Wesley and his brother Charles had organized what they called the Holy Club at Oxford University where they were both students. The year was 1729. All they wanted to do was to meet regularly, pray, study the Bible and try to take their faith seriously. So methodical was their approach that they were nicknamed ‘Methodists’ and the name stuck.
Although John Wesley remained an Anglican priest his whole life and only intended to found a renewal movement within the Church of England, after his death in 1791 the Anglicans and Methodists moved apart and a separate Methodist Church was formed. In doctrine and practice there remains very little difference between these two Protestant churches even today and the twenty and twenty first centuries have seen concerted efforts at reuniting – so far without success. The obvious differences between the two organizations would be these:
- The Methodist Church does not have bishops; the equivalent oversight role within Methodism is fulfilled by the Methodist Conference
- The Methodist Church has a slightly different understanding of the priesthood; accordingly they have ministers rather than priests
- In the Methodist Church every position, both lay and ordained, is open to men and women (women were first ordained within the Methodist Church in 1975); the Anglican Church as yet has not accepted women as
- In the Methodist Church is it is normal for the local minister to confirm people into the church; in the Anglican Church this can only be performed by a bishop
- Methodists allow lay people to preside at Holy Communion under certain circumstances, whereas Anglicans insist it must be an ordained person who presides
When it comes to considering what are the key features of the Methodist Church, the following would be what ordinary Methodist folk would want to emphasize:
- an inclusive theology: nobody is beyond the reach of God’s love.
- a desire to live a holy life, drawing on the teachings and example of Christ.
- a strong belief in the full participation and leadership of lay people
- a cherished view of song as the vehicle for expressing and celebrating faith: Charles Wesley remains one of the greatest of all hymn-writers.
- an emphasis on doing things in small groups, because this is where people learn what they believe and what to do about it.
- a reliance on scripture together with reason, tradition and experience, when trying to apply faith to issues in everyday life.
- a fondness for the concept of the ‘Connexion’, the national structure of the Methodist people, which has always been the essential expression of who Methodists are; we are connected to each other and are not going it alone.
Let me finish by briefly saying something about the Methodist Church and education. From the earliest days of Methodism the two have been very closely linked. John Wesley himself stressed the importance of educating the young and established the first Methodist school, Kingswood, in Bath. It was as Head of Kingswood that T.G. Osborn came to Colwyn Bay in 1885, at the invitation of the Head of the newly-established Penrhos College, to found a school called Rydal on Pwyllcrochan Avenue.
In contrast to many of their day, the early Methodists believed that even very young children should be given the chance to respond to ‘the divine influences’ within them and offered the best of opportunities to express their gifts and graces. That view gradually became commonly accepted through the Victorian era and then, in the last century, the Methodist Church expanded its interest by developing strong links with further education institutions and can still boast the largest number of higher education ministries, including teaching positions, of any Protestant denomination in the world.
Today in the UK there are 78 Methodist schools: 64 of them are in the maintained sector, and 14 are in the independent sector, of which Rydal Penrhos School is one – and the only one in Wales!