Last week, I was at the Methodist Conference in Birmingham, as representatives of the Manchester and Stockport District. For those of you who don’t know, Methodist Conference is the highest decision-making body for the Methodist Church in Britain - think a Church Council but for the whole country. It covers a lot of the same things as a Church Council - finances, electing office holders, and hearing back from charities we partner with. But there were a number of other big items.
President and Vice President addresses
Saturday saw the induction of the new President and Vice-President of the Methodist Conference, and followed by their addresses.
The New President, the Revd Dr Barbara Glasson spoke about the theme for the year ‘So what’s the story…?’ and used stories from her own life and ministry to reveal how we can find a ‘fragile strength’. Barbara has been involved in the Bread Church in Liverpool, Touchstone - an interfaith project - in Bradford, as well as with the recent Past Cases Review into safeguarding. She arrived at the Conference after walking 131 miles from Huddersfield to the Conference venue at the NEC, sharing her story with those she met along the way, and listening to their stories.
Professor Clive Marsh, the new Vice President of the Conference, set out in his address the importance of three Ps - pleasure, piety and politics - highlighting that ‘faith does not squeeze the pips out of life. On the contrary, faith allows us to enjoy life to the full’ and that piety ‘at its best is about having a balanced, grounded, nourishing approach to daily life.’ Finally, he called on Christians not to become detached and distance from the political processes of the world.
Clive is Head of the Vaughan Centre for Lifelong Learning at the University of Leicester and an International Research Consultant at Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham. He seeks to help people to think creatively about how faith, life and popular culture interweave. Each session of business at the Conference started and ended with a piece of secular music, selected by Clive, which he felt had something to say about faith.
Marriage & Relationships
One of the major reports we considered was entitled ‘God In Love Unites Us’ which explored a range of issues relating to human relationships and marriage, a report that is well worth reading.
The report looked at a number of issues around marriage and relationships, including:
• principles or qualities of good relating
• an understanding of cohabitation
• providing resources and liturgies to celebrate civil partnerships
• prayers for when marriages end in divorce
It highlights the need for relationships to be built on: self-giving love, commitment, fidelity, loyalty, honesty, mutual respect, equality and desire for the mutual flourishing to those involved.
You may have seen that the conference also gave its support to allowing same-sex marriages in the Methodist Church and how this may happen, as well as setting out that no minister, member or church would be compelled to conduct or be part of a same-sex marriage service if their can’t do so in good conscience.
The vote taken last week marks the beginning of a year of discussion across the country in Districts, Circuits and Churches. There will then be a second set of votes at the 2020 Conference to either confirm, amend or overturn this year’s vote.
There will be a Circuit Discussion on the report at Monton Methodist Church next Monday (15th July 2019) at 7:30, everyone is welcome to join us for that.
I was moved by the gracious tone of the debates on this issue, a wide spectrum of deeply held beliefs were aired in a loving and respectful way, where people felt able to share their views honestly.
Faced with a climate emergency the Methodist Conference called on the UK to achieve net zero emissions well before 2050. This follows recent initiatives including participation in the #TheTimeIsNow Climate Coalition lobby of MPs in London last month as well as engagement with investor bodies on reducing humanity’s global carbon footprint.
The Conference encouraged individuals and churches to reduce plastic pollution and for church cafés to consider signing up to a refill scheme, offering free refills for water bottles.
Refugee and Asylum Seekers
The Conference also received a number of notices of motion calling the Church, and individual Methodists, to act on issues relating to refugees and Asylum Seekers
Inspired by Onjali Rauf the author of “The Boy at the back of the class” the conference was challenged to speak out on the issues that refugees face. In her book the narrator befriends a new boy in their class who they later find out is a refugee and goes on a mission to help him find his family before the gates are closed on the country. We are encouraged to use the book written for 8-12 year olds to connect to local schools and then with the pupils talk to our MP about the realities of being a refugee.
It is not just as simple as getting the children to do all the hard work, as we are asked to think and act on how we can offer practical support and accommodation to migrants.
We were also asked to support the ‘Lift the Ban’ campaign, calling on the Government to lift the ban on Asylum Seekers working while they wait for their applications to be processed. There is more information, and a petition to sign, on the Joint Public Issues Team website.
The full official Methodist Conference Business Digest is now available here.