Retired United Methodist Bishop Marcus Matthews has had a long and happy association with Wesley Theological Seminary. He received his Master of Divinity in 1974, was a member of the Board of Governors from 2012 to 2016 and now serves as Bishop in Residence. Next semester the bishop will enter the classroom to teach a course in Methodist Polity.
Matthews shared his excitement about his new role. “It’ll push me to do some stretching,” he said. The bishop will seek to discover ways to make the class come alive, he said.
“How do you equip a pastor to go in and deal with a Staff-Pastor Relations Committee?” he said. “How do you equip graduates to value the connectional church, to understand what it means to be a conciliatory church? How do you equip them to work with other faith groups, to value them, to walk beside them?”
Because such questions are relevant to people in many different church roles, Matthews’ course is open to all. “I hope we have leaders in conferences, leaders in local churches, leaders who just want to know more,” he said.
The core text for Matthews’ course will be the 2016 United Methodist Book of Discipline. “It’s very important for persons coming through the process of ordination – either as a deacon or an elder or a local pastor –to have at least a basic understanding,” he said.
Bishop Matthews has some concerns about the Methodist clergy’s general knowledge of the book and hopes to address those concerns with his students, he said. “There are certain parts of the Discipline that persons have – maybe for good reason – felt the need to change or to challenge,” he said. “Sometimes we forget that there are, say, 500 other pages.”
To reflect his own thinking about the power of this core document, Matthews sometimes refers to the Book of Discipline as the Book of Covenant. “It’s simply a way that we as United Methodists are going to live our lives for the next four years,” he said. “Then, for the next four years, we’ll deal with it again.”
Matthews’ course will explore core, practical questions of the Book of Discipline. He feels this is especially important in a time of change – and of growth. “Being a global church adds so much more to our plate,” he said. “If we were a national church, we’d be dying, but we’re a global church and we’re growing.”
Matthews hopes his students will understand both the challenges and the potential of such a position. “I’ll be helping the class to understand how we’re struggling as a global church – and to be sensitive to people’s context. At the same time we’ll be looking at what we have in common, and how we move that forward. I’ll be learning along with them on that part and that’s exciting.”