There is discussion here about the necessity in this 21st century of the requirement that all members of the Methodist church shall be issued with a membership ticket duly signed by their Minister and pastoral visitor.
We are reminded that, historically, the Methodist Ticket was developed by John Wesley. In Wesley's day, the ticket had an entirely different meaning. It was a form of discipline. Without evidence of attending class groups, you were excluded from communion. Eventually the harsh regulating led to the demise of the Methodist class group.
For many Ministers in the present age the annual issue of membership tickets takes up an awful lot of time that could arguably be more profitably spent in other ways. So, the question is being asked, 'Do we really need a membership ticket to remind us of our faith?' Our Minister says that it would be very sad if the answer is 'Yes'!
He has set us a challenge in our church magazine, where he asks what happens to our membership ticket, once issued. He writes -
"Does it end up on a mantle piece or tucked into some favourite book or even the Bible? Is this membership ticket a yardstick when we enter worship. Learning and caring, service and evangelism. Or is there a secret "One hundred ways to use a membership ticket" book to be written? Come on, I challenge you to share this in the next magazine."
He goes on to challenge us still further to consider how much value we put on our membership ticket and whether, given that it is in our constitution, we ought to give it more prominence. He goes on to write -
"Are we just holding on to a relic of nostalgia? Today our understanding of Methodist membership is changing. With the advent of Fresh Expressions, we are looking for a more fluid type of membership which will help us to connect with communities in the world. However, this seems to make the class ticket more irrelevant! From an eco-congregation (as we are) point of view, there comes the clarion call, 'How many trees are we using?'
However, it's still in our constitution. But could we give it a little more integrity and dignity by leaving the cards in church, perhaps beside a lit candle, to be prayerfully picked up by members during a service? Then deliver tickets to the housebound, where pastoral visitors share a prayer with them. How many tickets would be left behind?"
At my age, I have been receiving membership tickets for a great many years and i have to say that I do value them very much. They always go into one of my Bibles and, as I read my Bible(s) or pursue Bible study in house group or courses like the Disciple courses, I come across one of my tickets. I always pause to remember the particular ministry of the Minister whose signature I read and pray for them if they are still alive. Sometimes that is all. At other times, the text may leap out at me and give me a message that I need at that time, or my attention will be drawn to the 'short guide to church membership', leading to a brief time of reflection on how this applies to me at that time. I would greatly miss these gentle reminders of my faith journey - both the bad times and the (many more) good times. I suppose shortage of time often precludes this, but I like to think of our Ministers briefly commending each member to God as they sign their membership ticket. I would welcome a less casual issue of the membership ticket, lifting it from an annual chore (speaking as a pastoral visitor) and emphasising a rededication of all the members.
What happens elsewhere? Do other Methodist churches have anything to share that would help us in our exploration of a more dignified way of annually highlighting our church membership. For me, the Covenant Service is a high point of the Methodist year, but the membership tickets are issued at a different time of year.