Monday, 2 May 2016

Book Review: Out of the Ordinary

(Note: This book review first appeared in the May 2016, edition of Crosslight.)

Patricia Curthoys and William W. Emilsen, eds., Out of the Ordinary:  Twelve Australian Methodist Biographies, MediaCom Education Inc., 2015, RRP: $29.75.   (Reviewed by Bob Faser).

While a reasonable amount of material has been written since Union by historians in the Uniting Church in Australia on the history of Congregationalism and Presbyterianism in Australia, comparatively little in the same time has been written on Australian Methodist history.  

In my observation, there are three good reasons for this situation.

1.   The lack of any significant “continuing” movement among Methodists has meant there was less urgency for ex-Methodists to present the UCA as a legitimate Australian manifestation of global Methodism, compared with the experience of ex-Congregationalists and ex-Presbyterians.

2.   Most scholars from a Methodist background within the UCA have tended to concentrate their energies on topics of ecumenical interest, rather than on topics of a specifically UCA-related interest, let alone those of a mainly ex-Methodist interest.

3.   When these scholars chose to deal with topics of a specifically Methodist interest, they usually dealt with topics related to John Wesley or to other members of the Wesley family, rather than with later Methodist topics.  (In my opinion, this is similar to the movement within many Roman Catholic religious orders to study - and, hopefully, emulate - the charisms of the founders of their orders.)

This volume, edited by Patricia Curthoys and William W. Emilsen, seeks to fill some of this gap.  It contains twelve brief biographical studies of people with significant roles within the Methodist Church of Australasia between Methodist reunion in 1902 and the inauguration of the UCA in 1977.  The comparative brevity of each biography means that a reader can approach this book as twelve brief “bites”.

While the biographies are limited to people who are deceased and for whom no full-length biography has been published, the biographies include a diversity of people of both genders, Indigenous and Anglo, lay and ordained.   Their service included ministry to congregations, theological education, mission, and the broader community.  One minor gap in this work is the lack of a study of any person with a primary involvement in the area of youth ministry, a recognised area of excellence for Methodism in the post-war years. 

Given the significant contributions of Methodism to the UCA and to the wider ecumenical movement (a strong optimism regarding God’s grace, a similar optimism regarding human nature, a conviction that social justice is never an “optional extra” for Christians), it is essential that we are aware of the Methodist dimension of the UCA’s heritage.  This book is a useful contribution to this task.

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