By John Carey WHEN the Rev Bill Ciowland agreed to accept the job of President of the Methodist Conference. he laid down two conditions: first, that he would not change his personality, and second. that half his time would he devoted to non-churchgoers.
Now that he has been installed, he w ill stick to those as a matter of principle, but he knows that it will not be easy.
"Conference", he says. "Suffers from the same faith as every other organisation — bureaucracy, lack of imagination, pre-occupation with structures, and so on.
"So often the'Church fails to see the difference between the temple and the tabernacle and becomes a temple built on religious vested interests. But the great thing is that God always breaks the Temple open."
Mr Gowland's roots are to 5e found in old-fashioned, working MY mother taught me to respond to others as Christ would do. It's a very simple formula — but not so simple to practise satisfactorily. I found that out the other day when I met an old woman.
She was small, somewhat bemused, standing with her two plastic carrier bags in the middle of the pavement. She stopped me and asked was she near the shop where they sold cheap secondhand clothes? She was far from it. It was clear that she wouldn't be able to follow my complicated directions, so, with a glance at my watch, I volunteered to take her. Her footpace was much slower than the pace of the hands on my watch, but it gave her time to tell me something of her life.
She was from north of the Border, a bit of a foreigner in London, finding it hard to counter the cheek of' the young workers in the Social Security offices. She didn't get any security money now as she hadn't a fixed residence and she couldn't get that until she had a job to pay for it. And as she was living rough, she was getting ashamed of being dirty and she didn't now look the sort of person class Methodism, The son of a Yorkshire ploughman, his panoply of saints includes the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the seven Methodist farmworkers who became heroes of the Trade Union movement.
He retains a firm belief that Christianity is a religion of the market-place and that the true church is the place where men and women "sweat and swear, work and play."
that would be offered a job. She would hope to buy some better clothes at the charity shop — at least something warmer than the thin trousers she was wearing.
I took her into a restaurant and bought her a cup of tea to warm her up..and I decided that it was too late to do the shopping I had intended, and she needed clothes more than I needed another head scarf, so she was LI the richer when we reached the charity shop. She plunged at once amid the stands and hangers and began fingering the material, and was lost to view. But my watch showed me that I must go if my family was to get any dinner, so I left her. But I went over to the chief saleswoman to ask her to help my vague old lady in her choice. "Don't worry," she said. "She's often in here — she's got Money tied up in a handkerchief in that bag of hers — she knows how to look after herself. She can always rely on a cup of tea at the restaurant. Don't you worry."
So I'd been 'done' — 'done' because I was happily behaving as I thought Christ would have done, And that LI would have been better employed as a, gift to the
The phrase comes from a book he wrote about his ministry in wine of Manchester's less respectable areas. In 1954 he moved from there to a dilapidated church in down-town Luton where, after three years hard slog, he founded the Luton Industrial College, dedicated to bridging the gulf' between the Church and the industrial working class. He has been there ever since, helping to provide by far the most significant British contribution to mission in industrial society.
But despite his concern to take the Church to the people, Bill Gowland is lar from being a "trendy cleric". He has called for the revival of the old-fashioned Sunday school and views the 'present moral climate with some distaste.
To some in the Church, his name is anathema. to others he is the epitome of Christian witness. The divergence in opinion promises to make it a more than usually eventful year within Methodism.
retired priest's fund. Would Christ have seen through her taradiddles and walked on so that she was not encouraged to go on living on other people'scredulity'? Or would he have said: "Whose fault is it that she is an inveterate cadger? Maybe it was all a lie that there's no room in the Salvation Army hostel, and the churches haven't done anything for her, How undeserving are the undeserving poor? Can you calculate the inner satisfaction that pulling off a deal with you gave her, her wits against yours? Or what uplift came from an unexpected windfall? Or what your action did to the sum total of humanity?" I don't think Christ would have minded being cheated, for love of neighbour overflows beyond the Social Services."
But I did refuse today when a boy truanting from the local cornprehensive school asked me to give him twenty five pence for his dinner money. I didn't even respond to the lowered demand for ten pence. He will not starve. But I still think that it isn't easy to know how to follow what Christ would do in particular circumstances. •