Towards a Postcolonial Methodist Church in Britain

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.’[1] 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.”[2]

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.


[1] https://theologyeverywhere.org/2019/07/01/theology-in-a-postcolonial-key/

[2] Y. T. Vinayaraj, Faith in the Age of Empire, (New Delhi: ISPCK/CWM, 2020) P. xxiii

7 thoughts on “Towards a Postcolonial Methodist Church in Britain

  1. This made me feel very happy on an otherwise gloomy morning. Thank you very much for this lovely view of where we are now! It made me smile – and will continue to do so. Bless you!

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  2. I enjoyed the article too, very much.
    I have had a fascination for India since we did a project on India, it’s people and it’s culture, in Geography at primary school. I have always found Indian ladies to be calm, colourful and friendly. I loved watching the TV series Jewel in the Crown, which taught me more about the British Raj than I ever learned at school, and films set in India, such as Slumdog Millionaire and The Exotic Marigold Hotel. I am currently reading an old book called ‘Found by God’ by Vijay Menon which is giving me a great insight into Hinduism.
    I would love to visit India, but my husband has no desire to go there and I am not brave enough to go alone. When we go to London we sometimes see Hindus singing and dancing in the street and I have been tempted to join them. I haven’t plucked up courage yet, but I have a feeling that if I do Jesus will be dancing with me!
    It goes without saying that I am delighted we have a man of Indian descent, and a Hindu, as our Prime Minister, and I have every confidence that Rishi will do his utmost to make this country the ‘Great’ Britain it used to be.

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  3. Perhaps I should have added that, at the inclusive church service in our (Catholic) Church hall yesterday, which is for people of all abilities but particularly catering for adults with learning difficulties, we sang ‘this little light of mine’ with gusto and with great joy, together with sign language. We aren’t restricted to what’s in the hymn book!

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  4. I was deeply moved by these words of Vinayaraj:
    “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.”
    What came to my mind was the plight of asylum seekers. Alienated, despised, treated like criminals that “invaded” our shores. And we are supposed to be a Christian country. The government’s attitude towards these fellow human beings is abysmal and those who protest about this situation are to be tagged and criminalised! This blame culture of injustice and exploitation keeps me awake at night. Sometimes I feel ashamed to be British.

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    1. You have a very one-sided view, Robert.
      Firstly, I have been in many churches, of all denominations, both in Cheshire and in North Yorkshire and I have never come across one like you describe in your first paragraph. Even the quieter churches who like to keep themselves to themselves always have some kind of mission work going on behind the scenes. Perhaps if you spend every Sunday morning sitting in the same pew you have no idea of what’s going on in other churches, and how they have evolved in recent years?
      Secondly, we must be a very compassionate nation when it comes to refugees and asylum seekers, otherwise why would so many risk their lives crossing the Channel in small boats to reach our shores? But not all of those doing so are refugees. Many are illegal immigrants, and many are also criminals (look up the figures for how many have ended up in British jails.)
      I take it you would have no problem, then, if you discovered that, while you were out, squatters had illegally entered your home and were now expecting you to accomodate them, feed them, educate their children and provide free health and social care at your expense?
      Most people in this country do not have a problem with refugees seeking a safe haven here, so long as they do so through the proper, legal processes.

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      1. PS …. if you are so ashamed to be British perhaps you should consider re-locating to Albania? I’ve heard there is a serious shortage of men there!

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