Responsively Yours: Our Wesleyan Methods
- Our Wesleyan Methods: Audio version (MP3 5MB)
- Cover of Response, February 2008 (PDF 267KB)
- Content of Response, February 2008 (PDF 88KB)
- Harriett Jane Olson is deputy general secretary for the Women's Division.
One of the things I love about John Wesley is the challenge his work presents for systematic theologians. He and his spiritual leadership team preached, taught, sang, cared for those in need and addressed the causes of the day with great fervor, but what gave their work lasting effect was the “method” they instituted for helping people learn to live a holy life. The building blocks of the work were the bands and classes where women and men could tell their stories, and find both challenge and encouragement to nurture the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. They were supported to continually open themselves to the sanctifying grace of God through Jesus Christ.
These small groups gathered into classes and districts for the preaching and exhorting ministry of lay and clergy leaders. Their teaching was rooted in Mr.Wesley’s deep grounding in the Church, of England, his family inclination toward reform within the Church, and his own wide reading and experience. Their teaching was also shaped by their experience. When Mr. Wesley was called upon to address the potential of women to serve as leaders, he gradually permitted a growing role, even defending a woman’s call to preach as a “special calling.”
This complex blend of authoritative sources and processes does not make it easy to enunciate the principles that served as the foundation of Mr. Wesley’s thought. We are indebted to Dr. Albert Outler who elaborated the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” as a way to think systematically about Mr. Wesley’s practice of assimilating inputs from a wide array of sources, and building a life of piety and action in his quest for “holiness of heart and life.”
United Methodist Women is also engaged in establishing structures (in our case, units and circles) that can nurture the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Our Purpose refers to this as “supportive community.” We also receive input from a wide array of sources, beginning with the Bible, and including our theological tradition and our tradition of women’s work for the past 139 years. Because of the very intimate way this work touches the lives of others, we are very much affected by not only our experiences, but by the lives and experiences of those we are in ministry with. United Methodist Women’s work with Bible Women in Asia and with education institutions in India and with women’s leadership training in Africa brings us close to women whose experiences may be very different than our own, but with whom we form deep and loving bonds.
Finally, we use reason in all we do. Our President, Kyung Za Yim, has called us repeatedly throughout this quandrennium to exercise critical reflection as we serve together so we learn to see our community and our world through new lenses. In this prompting, she is very Wesleyan. She is also very contemporary in terms of adult learning theory. Experience serves as a mental connection point for both our physical brains and our memories. Reflection — Mr. Wesley’s exercise of reason — builds links to more abstract concepts that can then shape how we perceive the next experience.
In this very Wesleyan way, being steeped in United Methodist Women affects how we see the world. We use lenses of Scripture, tradition, experience and reason to help us move deeper into holiness. We are able to make connections with the experience of those who live on what society defines as the margins in new ways, and that takes us deeper into our tradition and deeper into the biblical text.
May this faith work toward wholeness and holiness continue to make us a testament to the grace of God at work in us and in all of creation.
Harriett Jane Olson
Deputy General Secretary
Date posted : Feb. 21, 2008