by Raj Bharat Patta.
In September 2022, I attended the Church of South India’s Platinum jubilee celebrations in Chennai to represent the Methodist Church in Britain as a mission partner. When the Church of South India (CSI) sent an invitation to the Methodist Church in Britain to join them at their platinum jubilee celebrations, they were expecting a White English British person. But when I landed in Chennai, it was a total surprise for the hosts to see yet another Indian who was speaking a native South Indian language representing the Methodist Church in Britain. A participant asked me whether I ‘really’ represent British Methodist Church? I had to reply with a smile, ‘certainly yes.’
The reason for their surprise was, how come an Indian Lutheran minister now attending a CSI celebration representing the Methodist Church in Britain? All I had to say was that the Methodist Church in Britain today is a postcolonial church seeking to be relevant for our times by celebrating multicultural, multi-ethnic, multilinguistic identities, for which I, as a person with multiple-belongings stand as a testimony. However, that made me think to reflect what does it mean for the Methodist Church in Britain to be postcolonial today?
Clive Marsh while reflecting on theology in a postcolonial key, identifies domination, privilege and power that needs contestation along with a critique of imperialism and colonialism, celebrating the perspectives and theologies ‘from the underside.’ The project of postcolonialism in the context of church is an attempt to de-imperialise liturgy, doctrines and practices of the church. And in our quest for a postcolonial Methodist church in Britain today, the call for us as a church is to recognise the ‘undersides’ of our society and to be a ‘church of the undersides,’ contesting all forms of oppressive powers that discriminate and subordinate people.
On my trip to India, my friends have asked me how do I cope serving my current congregation in the UK whose membership is only 40 in comparison to the 400 people who were on my membership when I served the local congregation in India? I had to reply to them saying, “I might have only 40 people in my local church, but God has called me to serve and minister to the 40,000 people who live in my neighbourhood in the UK, and that keeps me busy meeting to their demands.” Colonial Christianity has defined church and ministry with membership and has emphasised the primary call of the church is to meet to the needs of its members alone. However, postcolonial church is not bound by the membership of the church, rather it is called to reclaim Wesley’s ecclesiology of “the world is my parish and every street corner is my pulpit,” and work with and in the public sphere. This is to engage in doing public theology and public theological mission, working with the world around us, striving towards transformation of the society, which is a mark of Christian discipleship.
The other area for us to be a postcolonial church is with regards to the understanding of partnerships as mutual sharing. If the Methodist Church in Britain and the CSI have been working as mission partners for the last 75 years, what are the new hymns and liturgies that the Methodist Church in Britain have learnt from the CSI and have used them in their local congregations to celebrate the global relationships between the two churches? This is where I am suggesting to affirm in the reverse missional engagements of the people from the global majority heritage in the UK. The colonial understanding of partnerships thrived on the binary of donor and receiver, where the church in the West worked as a donor, with the churches in the global south as receivers. A postcolonial Methodist Church in Britain should mutually learn from their mission partners on mission and theology and consciously sing the vernacular hymns/songs in our churches, for mission is about ‘singing the (strange) Lord’s song in our strange land.’
To celebrate October as Black History Month, I wanted my church to sing ‘we shall overcome’ and ‘this little light of mine’ the two most famous freedom songs from the civil rights movement. I was surprised that none of these songs are found in any of the hymn books that we use in our church. Perhaps, in our movement towards being and becoming a postcolonial church in Britain, my dream is to see freedom songs from different contexts incorporated in our hymnary.
A postcolonial Methodist Church in Britain is about being prophetic and justice seeking by contesting the evils of racism, misogyny, patriarchy, classism, secularism, poverty, hunger, climate change, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia and Islamophobia. It is about celebrating inclusion of all people, where love is the common denominator.
Let me conclude with the words of an Indian theologian Vinayaraj as a call for us as a Methodist Church in Britain to be a postcolonial church in the 21st century British society:
“A church that finds its life only in prayers and sacraments and liturgical acts and that which do not reflect its responsible faith in the world of injustice and exploitation is a failed church. It never fulfils its call and commission to be the sign and sacrament of the coming kingdom. In such a situation, faith gets fossilised, practice becomes imperialised, and the community becomes closed and triumphalistic. A creed that is closed for ever becomes idol and will make the worshipping community stagnant and saturated.”
Help us O God for us to be a church relevant for our times by being a postcolonial church with love as our public witness.
 Y. T. Vinayaraj, Faith in the Age of Empire, (New Delhi: ISPCK/CWM, 2020) P. xxiii