This was always going to be the tough day and in many ways that proved to be the case but in other ways it was good too.
The day began with the 3generate and youth assembly report. The photograph is one of the various young people who are part of the ONE programme and who have been at Conference all week explaining what the programme is all about. Check it out on the Methodist Website, http://www.methodist.org.uk/search-results?q=The+One+programme
The report explained how 300 young people had attended the 3generate event to make their views known and it was both encouraging and challenging to hear some of their views shared with us. We really must ask ourselves the question “How many young people do we have on our church councils/circuit meeting ?” If we havent any “why not ?” “Could it be because of how young people percieve meetings ?” If so, do we need to change the meeting format ?
It was emphasised over and over again that we shouldn`t be asking what can we do for them, but instead what can we do with them and what can we learn from them ?
Sam Taylor the national Youth President did an excellent job in presenting the report and he seems to be carrying the task of
Presidency in a fine way. This was a tremendously exciting report and it is encouraging to see and hear of the fine work amongst and with young people.
As with yesterday the report concluded with prayer.
In the second session of this morning the difficult report that we were all dreading began, Fruitful Field. Basically this is a report outlining new proposals about how the Church would carry out its training from Presbyters and Deacons to Local Preachers to other training programmes amongst lay people. The difficult part for many was that it proposed a new system of creating two learning hubs around two of our existing colleges; the training would be disseminated from these two places into various areas around the country. The hard part was that the two hubs proposed were Cliff College, Derbyshire and the Queens Foundation, Birmingham. To adopt the proposal meant that all other training institutions would have to, in effect, close. For me that would mean my own training college, The Wesley Study Centre in Durham, (photograph below) would close.
The debate began with some wise words from our President Mark who asked us all to “speak with the love of God”. Mark then guided the debate with gentleness, humour and sensitivity. A Notice of Motion requesting this be referred back to Methodist Council for further work. This was resisted as it was felt it would simply delay the inevitable and cost more money in the meantime. Another Notice of Motion came through suggesting the Wesley Study Centre as a third hub, but this too was resisted.
At the end of the debate which lasted till 4.30 p.m. the proposal to go ahead was carried and so The Wesley Study centre (and Wesley House, Cambridge) is no more. Yes, it will take some time to close as it currently hosts students who will have to finish their courses, but close it will. For those of us who have been there almost since its inception this is a very sad day and many of us were in tears at the end. Even now, at 11.30 p.m., I`m still feeling battered and bruised.
However, there is peace also. The difficult issue was handled with a real sense of graciousness where both pain and humour, tears and laughter, agreement and disagreement could be combined. As I said yesterday, this was Methodism at its best.
Has Gods will been done ? Only time will tell but it felt today like a new start, a fresh beginning for Methodist training. No doubt there will be some who will never believe that it’s the right decision, but we trust in the God who calls, resources and leads us forward when we let Him.
The session concluded with the singing of “This, this is the God we adore”. As the President pointed out Methodists usually sing this with vigour and a certain amount of triumphalism, but at his request it was sung quietly today carrying with it our hope and our confidence in a good God who both understands and cares.