Dear friends, as I write this I find myself in the middle of trying to prepare for Methodist Conference which begins in this coming week on June 28th for a coming week. By the time you read this I will be deep in the throes of argument and debate, joviality and laughter, moments of exuberant life and moments of absolute tiredness.
Conference lasts for a week and this year is being held in Plymouth (last year in Southport and next year in London).
One of the proud boasts about Methodism is its dependence upon Connexionalism; the system by which Churches are bound to each other in Circuit, in District and ultimately across the country through its annual Conference.
Those elected to Conference are attending as Delegates to discuss many varied subjects and this year’s list covers items such as Methodist expenditure to the use of Drones in warfare; we will receive reports on the current thinking of a new rite entitled “The reaffirmation of Baptismal Faith including the use of water”, on the Methodist Relief and Development fund, Ethics, Safeguarding and many others. Conference is the decision making body on the life of the Methodist Church at every level. Whereas we don`t exercise pastoral oversight through a system of Episcopacy (Bishops), in effect the Conference is our Bishop (all 4-500 people) and so Conference is an important time for us all.
Please pray for the delegates, for Rev Mark Wakelin who will be our new President of Conference and Mr Michael King who will be Vice-President, for our General Secretary and all the officials who have so much to decide and preside over.
In a similar way the work of the local Church is also exercised through its Connexionalism within the local Circuit, in our case Borders Mission Circuit (BMC). It is here that we seek to support and encourage each other in the mission and work of the local situation. Traditionally within Methodism there have been Circuit rallies, Circuit committees, Circuit structures; these were not bad in themselves but they served to produce an environment in which all the Churches supported the Circuit. Everything happened as long as it benefitted the Circuit.
As you will no doubt be painfully aware the world is changing and changing fast. Some of us would say “too fast” as we struggle to keep up with the changes, however we must try andsee the longer term picture; the reasons for change at Conference, District and Circuit level come under a document entitled
“The Methodist Church: a discipleship movement shaped for mission” and this is the paper that is driving much of everything else forward. The bigger picture is to try and create a Church in which people can be taught to grow in Jesus Christ.
In order for this to come about there needs to be a change to our way of thinking and here in BMC we are trying to create a new style of Circuit; one in which the local Churches won`t always be looking to feed the Circuit, but one in which Circuit structures, Circuit staffing levels, Circuit finances can actually help the local Church in their mission. It seems ridiculous to me to expect folk from one end of the Circuit to ignore their Missional opportunities in their own locality in favour of mixing with people. If people at Selston are engaging with mission in the village why expect them to travel 13.5 miles to Grassmoor (that’s the length of the circuit north to south !) for a talk about mission ? or Vice Versa. Surely it’s better for the Circuit to help them in their mission and encourage new disciples into the Kingdom.
In order to do this we need to look long and hard at subjects such as staffing levels, number of Churches (is it really wise to employ Presbyteral cover in a Church which by its own admission has `run out of steam` ? or is it better to sell the Chapel and use the cash to employ a new worker for that area), using our funds for mission and discipleship, training of Local Preachers and our relationship with other Circuits to possibly share resources.
I`ve always employed the image of a ship coming into port being buffeted by the wind and the waves, with fearful passengers on board, fearful of the future and fearful of the unknown. However I`ve always been encouraged by the boat in the storm on Galilee. As the disciples cried out for help they saw Jesus walking on the water; they were going to let him go by until Peter realised who it was and cried out to Jesus. It was only when Jesus got into the boat that the storm passed.
Friends we are in the good ship BMC, but if we invite Jesus into our hearts and into the heart of our Church and Circuit the storm will pass and the port will come into view.