Modern media

Methodism's reliance from the outset on the printed as well as the spoken word was exemplified in John Wesley's extensive publishing activity (including the Arminian Magazine) and, as literacy became more widespread, in its nineteenth century newspapers. During the twentieth century Methodists were closely involved with the new communications media as they developed. F.W. Chudleigh and Thomas Tiplady were pioneers in the use of films to attract an audience. Lord Rank recognized film as an important medium for evangelism and the Home Mission Department, for which he was a treasurer, became a distributor for religious films. In addition he encouraged local ministers to visit his Odeon Cinemas on Good Friday to deliver an appropriate message in the interval between films. The first talking picture made by the Religious Films Society featured Lax of Poplar.

In the case of radio and television the policy has been to contribute to broadcasting in general, rather than seeking to own a separate channel. As the first Director General of the BBC, John Reith insisted that religious broadcasting should be on an ecumenical level. Regarding Sunday worship programmes, Reith had a Four Sundays policy - two weeks to the Anglicans, one to the RCs and the fourth to the Free Churches. If there was a fifth Sunday in the month, he offered it to two bodies he approved of, the Salvation Armyand the Quakers. By the 1980s with over eighty Trinitarian churches affiliated to the British Council of Churches, the distribution became a matter of editorial judgement, and not infrequent controversy. Methodists probably had a better than strictly proportionate share because some of them consciously made religious broadcasting an important element in their preaching vocation at a time when other Churches regarded the media with distrust and suspicion. Donald Soper and Leslie Weatherhead were among those involved in the early days. Kenneth Grayston was assistant head of religious broadcasting in London from 1944 to 1949. In 1978 Colin Morris became the first non-Anglican to be appointed Head of Religious Broadcasting and Pauline Webb was organizer of Religious Broadcasting on the BBC World Service 1979-1987. Josie Smith became Methodism's first Local Broadcasting Officer in 1982. Other Methodists who have played a major part in broadcasting include Eric Blennerhasset, Ray Short, Frank Topping, Frank Pagden, Roger Hutchings, Kenneth H.L. Lamb, John Newbury, Michael Meech, Christine Morgan and Michael Wakelin. Many others have worked in various capacities with local radio stations. Dr Glyn Tegai Hughes has been involved in Welsh broadcasting.

The Churches Television Centre, set up in 1959 at Tooting Central Hall, and then at Bushey, was supported by the Rank Foundation and was established to train the clergy to present epilogues that were broadcast by both BBC and ITV companies. It had a succession of Methodist ministers as its directors; Cyril Thomas, Leslie Timmins and Barrie Allcott. Now reconstituted as the Foundation for Christian Communication with a wider brief, it has become a major independent supplier of programmes to broadcasting networks.

Electronic forms of communication, based on the internet and the World Wide Web, have become increasingly important in the life of the Church. There is a connexional website and many Methodist churches and organizations now have their own websites on the internet. In recent years Methodism has also embraced those social media that use the internet for two-way conversations, as well as the library of online resources offered by websites. This is a fast-changing area, and although the Church has found services such as Twitter and Facebook to be useful so far, the underlying principle continues to be to use services that allow people to communicate with the Church and that allow the Church to reach out to and support people wherever they are.

See also Cadman, S.P.; Evens, G.B.

  • Methodist Recorder, 4 December 1997