Fr Martin Magill’s Ecumenical Tithing: Methodist Church Rome
This weekend I was in Rome on holiday to celebrate 25 years of priesthood. As well as worshipping with a Catholic congregation, a friend and I chose to worship in a Methodist church (Ponte Sant’Angelo Methodist Church) quite close to Vatican City. The congregation describes itself as the ‘Pope’s nearest Protestant neighbours’.
The minister leading the service made a point of welcoming us as we took our seats in the church and pointed out there would be a multi cultural congregation. The theme of the service was ‘A still, small voice’ .
The decor of the church was in stark contrast to the exceptionally ornate Catholic Churches and basilicas in the city we had been in over the previous few days. Central in the church was the pulpit and above it a plain cross, below it was a communion table which had an open book on it and a lighted candle. Unlike my experiences of services in Methodist churches in Belfast this one did not begin on time.
After the call to worship we sang our first hymn with good participation from the international congregation – what else would I expect in a Methodist church? We also sang the ‘Our Father’. The minister read – very effectively – the first reading from 1 Kings 19 – the story of Elijah in the wilderness and his discovery of God on a holy mountain. Then a member of the congregation read the New Testament reading from Galatians 3. The sermon lasted just under 20 minutes and developed some of the themes from the first reading. In summary it was an invitation to trust God and to be prepared to listen for the quiet voice of God in our lives.
The minister then explained that he would read and comment on a hymn by Charles Wesley called: ‘Open Lord my inward ear.’ He would use this as a prayer – the hymn was Wesley’s commentary on the reading from 1 Kings 19. As he did so I was able to focus on the words of the hymn.
Before the collection was taken up, the Minister prayed:- ‘your gifts for God’s work in this place will now be gratefully received – tokens of us wanting to give ourselves’.
Afterwards we stayed for coffee where we met some of the congregation and discovered from the minister that he was appointed on behalf of world Methodism to represent the denomination with the Vatican.
Reflections on the worship experience
- It’s useful to take time to read prayerfully the words of a hymn instead of always singing it – it allows time to think about the words
- When the scriptures are very well read it is much easier to pay attention to what is being said –
- Praying words such as those in the service at the time of the collection makes explicit how the offering is given for God’s work in the congregation rather than ‘the collection is now taken up’.