Dr. Heather Morris, the first female leader of a major church body in Ireland, was recently installed as the President of the Methodist Church, at a gathering at Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim.
Martin O’Brien, editor of The Irish Catholic, writes that he first heard Dr Morris preach to a huge congregation at Clonard Novena where “she held in rapt attention” a large congregation. The 48-year-old wife of Neil Morris, Heather is a chartered accountant and the mother of two grown children. O’Brien says Heather Morris is “about as far as you can imagine from being a shrinking violet when it comes to presenting the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the charism of her Church.”
Radiating a joyous personality she could be said to embody the “heart strangely warmed
Dr. Heather Morris is an amazingly accomplished woman. Born in Nigeria she is a graduate of Trinity College in Dublin who was trained to be a speech therapist. She became deeply interested in Christian ministry later in life.
How does being a woman inform her view of God and ministry?
She answers, “our understanding of God is a matter not just for women, it is for women and men together, for the whole people of God. Theologically I believe God is male and female and far beyond our understanding of gender just as God is beyond our understanding in every way.”
She goes on to say:
And how do we translate that? That needs to be conveyed and translated in the way we speak. So I do think about the pronouns I use when I speak about God. I do think it is important for the people of God to think about the images and the language that we use for God, because if it is true that God is beyond gender and greater than that, it limits our understanding of God if we only speak about God in a particular way.
Martin O’Brien asked Dr. Morris what she thinks she will see when she finally meets God. She answered:
Ah! My human mind is going to be limited in that. And I struggle with that and I think that’s alright. But when I think of seeing God I think of seeing someone who against all odds loves me. So I see a smile when I think about that meeting and I feel that it will be like coming home.
Dr. Morris shares my own view of ecumenism when she refers to other churches, and in particular the Roman Catholic Church, by saying that she longs to see all churches and Christians “partnering” again and again so that the need for all of us to work together will be properly stressed.
It seems to me that Dr. Morris has captured the theological and practical mind of John Wesley in her response to missional-ecumenism when she says, “I’m very fond of Wesley’s sermon on the Catholic spirit, ‘if your heart is right with my heart give me your hand’ and I think people of Christian faith can partner together.” (John Wesley’s response to Catholics in his own day was radically different from that of his peers. This impacted me more than two decades ago when I read what he actually wrote!)
Before this year’s Irish Methodist Conference a survey of Methodist representatives showed that more than 70 per cent agree that “the growth of God’s Kingdom is more important than my Church or denomination.” This, I believe, is one of the real keys to genuine ecumenism. It is also, very sadly, a principal reason for why so many pastors will not embrace ecumenism practically even if they see the good reasons to do so. Sadly, they seem stuck on growing “their” church, not on the priority of God’s kingdom. Or worse still, they connect “their” church/brand with God’s kingdom in a one-to-one correlation.
Heather Morris finds this recent Irish survey “tremendously encouraging” because “the Methodist people are saying the most important thing is God’s kingdom here, the work of God in the Church goes beyond [the Methodist] Church. The core calling to Christians is to partner with God in what God is doing in the world.”
Her theme for this year is: “A people invited to follow. ” This theme cites Joshua 3 and the story of the crossing of the Jordan into the Promised Land as an invocation to people to “get their feet wet” in the cause of doing God’s will and in building up his kingdom.
Rev. Morris is not short of practical examples of how Methodists can “get their feet wet.”
It could be the “radical hospitality of each Methodist in Northern Ireland inviting a Roman Catholic neighbor in for coffee with no other agenda than just building up relationships.”
Heather Morris’s PhD is in practical theology from the University of Edinburgh focussing on pastoral communication with confused elderly people. She recently shared in a debate in which the Methodist Conference supported a report rejecting Physician Assisted Suicide, stating that what is needed is not a change in the law permitting PAS in the UK or Ireland but “a major improvement in both nations, in the care of the terminally ill.”
Towards the end of the interview with Martin O’Brien the Rev. Roy Cooper, a former Methodist President, and the Church’s current press officer, intervened to say how struck he was by Pope Francis saying that priests should serve like “shepherds living with the smell of sheep.” Cooper, perhaps the only Methodist president anywhere to be installed in a Catholic Church – the Church of the Incarnation, Frankfield, Cork in 2007 – said the Pope had summed up “what pastoral ministry is all about, being close to your people as shepherds are to their sheep.”
Concurring with Cooper, Dr Morris said she found the actions of the new Pope “really hopeful, so welcome.” She added, “It is a prophetic action what he is doing. He is saying I live in a certain way to signal solidarity with those who are poor and it is absolutely welcome to see the type of Pope he is choosing to be.”
Dr. Heather Morris signals a new kind of presidency in the Methodist Church, one that will likely impact the Methodist Church in Ireland in a new way and one that is likely to impact others near and far. I prayed this would be so as I read the story of this Methodist leader last week.
My Latest Book!
Use Promo code UNITY for 40% discount!
Heather Morris alignes herself entirely with the Irish Methodism’s essentially conservative position on abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriage: “I am very happy to stand with where the Methodist Church in Ireland is on those issues, and I don’t think my gender affects the way I see those issues. So, for example, with regards to same-sex relationships, the Methodist Church believes that marriage is between one man and one woman, and that marriage is the place for sexual intimacy.” The Irish Methodist position on abortion can be found here in its statement to the Irish Parliament: http://www.oireachtas.ie/parliament/media/committees/healthandchildren/Methodist-Church-In-Ireland–Statement.pdf
Numerically, Methodists account for 3% of the Irish population. Whereas many English Methodists generally followed the lead of numerous American Methodists in embracing theological liberalism, the Irish Methodists have retained, more or less, the position of John Wesley on Christian doctrine.
John H. Armstrong, you refer to Wesley’s relationship towards Roman Catholics. I am aware of his sermon on a Catholic Spirit, but were there other materials you read which demonstrate his perspective on the RC? As a Methodist (not aligned though with the above denomination) in Northern Ireland, it would be helpful to be able to show people how ecumenical Wesley was.
I find it sad but not surprising that the growth of the Kingdom takes second place to growth of a church or denomination. Creeds and traditions are very meaningful but the Bible supersedes all creeds, and it is clear from scripture that the spread of the Kingdom is what Jesus talked most often about.
No wonder I like Ireland so much. Now I can identify as an Irish Methodist. 🙂
Jordan, you should read John Wesley’s ‘A Letter to a Roman Catholic’ responding to eighteenth century popular Irish prejudice against Protestants and violence against Methodists which led him to avoid visiting Cork in 1749. Two years later he returned and preached to a large crowd. In 1756 Wesley Chapel was built, the second Methodist Church to be built in Ireland. Cardinal Kasper, in a homily commemorating the 300 anniversary of Wesley’s birth, refers to Wesley’s letter as ‘an ecumenical classic’.
You will have to ask whether or not the 1749 letter demonstrates a change of heart and mind on Wesley’s part towards Catholicism. Ten years earlier he wrote to a Catholic priest expressing strong opposition to aspects of Catholic tradition and what he considered to be its dubious derivation from the Fathers, but he added, ‘Yet I can by no means approve the scurrility and contempt with which the Romanists have often been treated. I dare not rail at or despise any man, much less those who profess to believe in the same Master.’
These two letters can be found here:
Wesley once wrote to a nephew who joined the RCC: “Whether in this church or that church I care not. You may be saved in each or damned in each. But I fear you are not converted.”
@John – thanks for sharing the Wesley letters. I am a Catholic and big Wesley fan.
For those interested, there has been another first for a British woman in Church leadership. In May the Rev’d Lynn Green was elected as General Secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain.
Among a number of comments she has made, for me (who, I have to confess, am not yet convinced of the the case for women in ordained ministry), these two stand out:
1. I am committed to the priesthood of all believers, where women and men, young and old, rich and poor, are encouraged and released to serve the Lord , each one differently abled and unique. And I pray that we will be known as a deeply loving people. As Scripture says, “..if I have not love, I am nothing”.
2. For me keeping Jesus at the centre and allowing our lives to be shaped by His Word is essential. I also want to build on Jonathan Edwards’ focus on the centrality of prayer.
This report is from the Scottish Evangelical Rutherford House group’s website: http://steverholmes.org.uk/blog/?p=6969
And this one from Baptist Union of Great Britain: http://www.baptist.org.uk/latest-news/981-new-gen-sec.html
Thank you John Ross. This is superb and your response is the same. I wish more on both sides of the male/female leader issue would take the same gracious response.
Russell Almon liked this on Facebook.
Waldron Scott liked this on Facebook.
Steve Beard liked this on Facebook.
Denise Murphy Plichta liked this on Facebook.
LifeCoach Gwen Griffith liked this on Facebook.
Clay Knick liked this on Facebook.
Cheryl Bridges Johns liked this on Facebook.
Edmund Conroy liked this on Facebook.
Lauran Kerr-Heraly liked this on Facebook.