Itinerancy – Are We Too Complacent?

Rev Siosifa Pole Director Mission Resourcing —

One of the important questions the Directors of Mission Resourcing always ask those who are candidating for presbyteral ministry when they come for their initial interview is, “Are you willing to be stationed by the Conference anywhere from Kaitaia to Invercargill?”

The answer is the same with every candidate, “Yes, I’m willing to go wherever the Conference will station me.” Obviously, this reply is associated with our Methodist principle of itinerancy which is an important component of our tradition. It began from John Wesley who believed strongly that for the gospel to be communicated and spread, the preachers should have the flexibility and the openness to move where the needs were.

John Wesley set the example himself by his commitment to travel on horseback and preached sermons in different places where he saw there were needs. Stuart Andrews in his book entitled Methodism and Society remarks, “It has been reckoned that during the last 50 years of his life Wesley travelled some 225,000 miles and preached more than 40,000 sermons – an average of about 15 a week.” John Wesley didn’t limit this vision for himself; he encouraged his lay preachers to take part in itinerant ministry. The quick spread of the Methodist movement around Great Britain and the world was to do with the openness of its people to participate in itinerant ministry.

James Stuart, a Methodist scholar, claims that itinerancy is an expression of the role of expediency in the Methodist movement together with connexionalism (John Wesley Code). As connexionalism is so important to the makeup of our Methodist identity so with itinerancy. We can’t have one without the other. So why has the Stationing Committee found it difficult for presbyters to be open to stationing. Are we too complacent?

I am aware that we are in a different context compared to John Wesley’s. The issues we face are different from the issues that John Wesley and the early Methodist Church faced. Presbyters and their families are affected by their work commitments and the relationship with the community that are part of their life. To be stationed is a risk for the income of presbyters’ families and also the relationships that have been developed for some years. Apparently, every presbyter and their family are facing that reality.

I believe itinerancy is part of our pledge to follow Christ and accept our ordination by Conference. It is tough for presbyters, deacons and their families and I believe this is something for the leadership of our church to look at and have an open dialogue about. It will help Mission Resourcing in our discussion with our candidates and assist the Stationing Committee when they do the stationing work of our church.

The words of Joy Dine’s hymn for me, speak of the reality of itinerancy and the challenges that we all face as Methodists with regard to this ministry. Joy writes,

“God who sets us on a journey, to discover, dream and grow,

Lead us as you led your people in the desert long ago;

Journey inward, journey outward, stir the spirit, stretch the mind,

Love for God and self and neighbour marks the way that Christ defined …

When we set up camp and settle to avoid love’s risk and pain,

You disturb complacent comfort, pull the tent pegs up again;

Keep us travelling in the knowledge you are always at our side;

Give us courage for the journey, Christ our goal and Christ our guide.”

The questions that I’m wrestling with are: Is itinerancy still relevant in our church? Should we redefine itinerancy to fit our context? Who is going to redefine it?