The term ‘commoners’ came to be used when there were 3 distinctions of people; the nobility, the clergy, and everyone else. The ‘everyone else’ were the commoners. As those distinctions broke down the term ‘common people’ became a way to talk about everyone who wasn’t considered part of a perceived class of privileged elite.
In our time there’s a push towards fame and exceptionalism. Everyone wants to be part of the elite. Towards that end, in an age of social media many of us are faced with the pressure of manufacturing a public perception of who we are, in a way that meets cultural expectations. Too often that carefully cultivated persona is far from the reality of the people we know ourselves to be and it’s becoming less common to share that reality with others. This leads to the irony that while we’re more connected to each other than we’ve ever been, we’re also more isolated at the same time.
Couple all of that with the fact that we’re bombarded with thousands of advertisements every single day telling us what we need and who we should be, all calling us to bigger, better, faster, stronger, wealthier, more beautiful, and what we’ve got is a recipe for an expectation of life that most of us simply can’t measure up to.
Calling this community ‘Commoners’ is a push against that false reality. This is a community for ordinary people living ordinary lives. It’s about recognising that we’re all equals, all wonderfully human, and all called to sit at the feet of an exceptional God who did an exceptional thing through the incarnation of Christ. We recognise that it is him who is drawing the world towards an exceptional new reality. In the process we get to be made new in the midst of the here and now, not so that we can be made healthy, wealthy and happy, but so that we can see and interact with the world around us in a way that reflects his character.
To that end, don’t expect all the bells and whistles with us. Don’t expect rousing messages about changing the world. Expect to walk with others in a path that aims to lower the noise and to recognise the presence of the exceptional God in the beauty of the simple and the everyday, with all its glory and its mess. In living like this we wish for the transformation into holiness that sees us living as disciples of Christ and drawing others into the same walk.
Commoners sits within the Wesleyan Methodist Church of New Zealand, part of a global network of Wesleyan churches. The name clearly places us within the arc of historical Methodism and with its most influential founder, John Wesley.
To use terms that help identify our faith tradition, we would be known as Protestant, orthodox, evangelical, and Arminian. That said, we’re proud of the fact that we carry a certain ‘catholic spirit’ that could be explained as having a willingness to recognise the validity of the breadth of the Christian expression and a desire to link with others around the things that we have in common. We have much to learn from each other.
As someone who has grown up experiencing the breadth of Christian expression, I (Frank) chose the Wesleyan Methodist Church of New Zealand to live out my call to ministry because in it I found a history and understanding of faith that gave voice to my own sense of being and desire to live in the presence of God and have that presence shape everything about who I am and how I live.
Methodism, through John and Charles Wesley, came to the fore in England during the 1700s and 1800s. It was a time of significant social change and with it came a renewal of faith that helped fuel significant developments throughout the wider society.
Many saw what happened as a preaching revival as thousands flocked to hear people like John Wesley (an ordained Anglican minister) preaching in the fields outside of the churches. That was true, but they were also flocking to take Holy Communion – those simple elements of bread and wine. People were hungry to encounter the living God.
John Wesley gave structure to this resurgence in faith through developing a network of small groups where people were accountable to one another.
This mass renewal of individuals, from the elite right through to the poor, drove much social change because a flow on of people grasping the Gospel and being transformed by it towards true inner holiness, is that we then naturally live in a way that can only benefit the world in which we find ourselves.
This fueled things like the fight against the slave trade, educating working children, improving literacy among the poor (leading to the rise of a middle class), improving the conditions of prisoners, paying the debts of those who were imprisoned for what they owed to others, missionary work, and even our own Treaty of Waitangi can be traced to the effect of all of it on the British Colonial Office of the time.
In the Methodism of John Wesley and those early enthusiasts so devoted to their faith and a lived holiness, was a wonderful mix of a high sacramentalism, liturgical expressions of worship that shaped their imaginations, openness to the movement of the Holy Spirit (look up the Aldersgate and Fetter Lane experiences of John Wesley), a desire to be faithful to God’s vision for a redeemed world through the transformation of individuals, and a battle against that which falls short of God’s intention for humanity.
It’s that crazy mix that drew me, inspires me, and gives shape to much of who I am and how I seek to walk in the footsteps of Christ, experiencing his presence, and aiming to walk a life that is faithful to that presence.
Over the years Methodism has gone through various changes and forms. The beauty of that can be seen in the global membership of the World Methodist Council, of which the WMCNZ is a part.
Our name says that we are historically Methodist, a strong stream within the broad expression of the Christian faith, but if you were to ask what sort of Methodist, in order to identify with that wonderful mix I’ve talked about, we would say ‘Wesleyan Methodist.’
Rev. Frank Ritchie