Quite a long day today and I`m feeling that good old Methodist glow (a euphemism for `knackered`).
We began with the District team praying in the hotel foyer at 8.30 a.m. and then Conference opened with prayers at 9.00 a.m. Prayer has featured very highly today as both the President and the Vice-President concluded several items of business by praying for what was happening. This was in addition to the hymn singing which usually concluded business before tea break and lunch break.
The first item of business was the METHODIST COUNCIL REPORT. Conference actually `meets` all year round and not just for one week in the summer; it does this by discharging responsibility to various committees and to the Council. These groups do what may best be called the day-to-day running of the Conference rather than calling 400+ delegates together every time a decision had to be made. Out of this report came a very lively debate about the future venue for Conference itself. It boiled down to a decision between keeping the tradition of moving around the country, which some felt gave ownership of Conference to the Methodist people, or booking into a single venue for up to three years which would help with cost and continuity. The decision was close, 138 votes in favour of the resolution to seek the latter option to 137 votes against. As it was so close Council, who now have a mandate, said they would consider very carefully what to do.
That got us off to a good start. This was followed by debates upon the Methodist Ministers Housing Society who are struggling to cope with the number of supernumeraries. In order to deal with the subsequent cost they are having to put rents up, at a time when many are struggling to make ends meet as it is. They are hoping that many retired Ministers will b e able to apply for state benefits, but as it was pointed out there is no guarantee that benefits will always be there. Apparently, we learnt, that outside of London a couple with an income of £178.80 are classed as being in pensioner poverty !!
The Faith and Order group led us in a good discussion on authorisations to preside at the Lords Supper, with particular reference to Fresh Expressions of Church where the Presbyter may not be known by or sensitive to the needs of the local expression (because he/she aren’t in attendance often enough). This was passed, despite one ex-vice-President declaring it could take us down a slippery slope and we should hold our Wesleyan traditions. It was kindly pointed out to him that Methodism isnt just a Weslyan Church but a large part is of a Primitive background (i.e. from the old Primitive Methodist branch of the denomination).
The same group also led us in a new liturgy that has been written for those wishing to reaffirm their Baptismal Faith using Water. Quite a step forward for Methodism. It will be interesting to see if this is as much of a landmark in changing our thinking as some think it will be.
Towards the close of the afternoon we received a presentation on a new website which maps out Methodism in terms of mission statistics, in the hope it will help us in mission planning. It looks sensational. The address is www.methodist.org.uk/webmap
As I say Methodism at its finest; good debate, spiritual, prayerful, humorous and a real sense of fellowship even at moments of disagreement. I pray it continues.
Tomorrow (Tuesday) we receive our Youth report and the Fruitful Fields report about major changes to training within Methodism which will impact our Ministerial, Local Preaching, and local Church level training. Potentially the biggest report of the week. Please pray for all who will take part in it.