Jim Harnish

The Rise of the “Methodist Middle”


Surprised in Portland 

According to the New Testament book of Acts, surprising the Church is the Holy Spirit’s idea of a good time.

When the leaders of the early Church thought they had figured everything out or when they were at loggerheads and didn’t know where to turn, the Spirit would suddenly surprise them with a new way forward that they never expected.

My consistent prayer for our General Conference has been that the Spirit would once again surprise the Church by opening a new or unexpected way through the conflicting convictions about same-sex relations that have divided our denomination for four decades.  I described my hope for that surprise in an interview with  MinistryMatters. 

The Methodist Middle

The irony is that Methodists have historically been people of the via media, the “middle way.”  Not a mushy middle, but what Bishop Scott Jones calls “the extreme center.”  It’s a clearly defined core of faith that allows space around the circumference for a variety of convictions as to how the faith is lived out.

In Portland, I experienced the Holy Spirit surprising the church in what one friend described as “the rise of the Methodist middle.” Magrey deVega described it as the parents in the front seat telling the squabbling children in the back seat to calm down. My experience at General Conference is consistent with Adam Hamilton’s description of  “A Hopeful Way Forward”.

I was surprised…

My hope and prayer is that the Spirit will continue to surprise us by drawing together a Commission that will clearly define the center of our life together that will include grace-filled ways for those who find that center to be either too conservative or too progressive to find their way into other ways of ministry.

As I wrote this I remembered an 18th Century Anglican hymn says:

Sometimes a light surprises
The Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord who rises
With healing in His wings;
When comforts are declining,
He grants the soul again
A season of clear shining,
To cheer it after rain.

I was surprised when I found it set to a new tune here, which only demonstrates that the Spirit still has surprises for all of us!

Grace and peace,