Methodist Conference 2018 – A view from the pew.
How on earth did I end up here? Have you ever found yourself asking that question? Having felt challenged by some of the issues that will be raised at this year’s Conference, I put my name forward at the Autumn Synod and was voted to be one of 3 Lay Representatives (reps) from the Cornwall District along with 3 Presbyters (what is a presbyter? more of that later). The District Chair doesn’t have a choice about whether he goes to Conference!
I have never been a rep to Conference before, and as I approach this task with a fresh pair of eyes and in much trepidation, I wondered if it might be helpful for those back home in Cornwall whom I represent, i.e. you lot!, to know a little bit about what happens. I know that I, along with others, have often been frustrated by what seem to be decisions made from ‘Head Office’ and I am grateful for this opportunity to be part of the decision making process on your behalf. So call this a journal, a diary, a reflection whatever you like, but at the very least I hope this might be a way of sharing what goes on when, each year, a handful of people from the Cornwall District disappear to this annual gathering of Methodists.
What is the Methodist Conference? The Conference is the central governing body of the Methodist Church in Britain, and was initiated by John Wesley. It gathers each year at various locations around the country. This year it will meet in Nottingham at the University Campus. The Conference is a time for celebration as well as business. Deacons and Presbyters (that word again!) are ordained, a new President and Vice President begin their year, visitors from around the world are welcomed and the ‘business’ of the Methodist Church is debated and voted upon.
Last week I found myself at Methodist Church House, right opposite Madam Tussauds (which did look more tempting frankly!), thinking to myself again, how on earth did I end up here? A few weeks ago, an email arrived which said that it was the turn of the Cornwall District to send a lay rep to the Memorials Committee. You know when you say something like, well if no one else wants to …I suppose I could. Well, let me warn you, that can get you into real hot water, because here I was standing outside the headquarters of Methodism unable to navigate the intercom system to get into the building! Fortunately, someone rescued me and I was able to join the rest of the committee.
What is a Memorial and what does the Memorials Committee do? Memorials are proposals sent to the Conference by District Synods or Circuit Meetings. Reading all of the memorials sent this year before the meeting, I was surprised by the breadth of issues covered. Payment for manse water supplies, reducing the use of plastic, stationing, training of Local Preachers and Worship Leaders, conflict in Yemen; these were just some of the topics local Circuits and Synods want to bring to the attention of the Conference. The Memorials Committee meets to agree a proposed reply to the memorial which the Conference will then vote on.
One of the memorials sent by a Circuit asked the Conference to consider the use of clear language – an issue that was noted not only with regard to that particular memorial, but throughout the rest of the discussions. An example the memorial gave was the use of the word ‘presbyter’. Although we may hear the term used, do we know what it means? Is a presbyter different from a minister? Do we need these terms at all? Do they help or hinder us spreading the Gospel?
BTW the answer is:
‘presbyter’ when we mean someone ordained into the Order of Presbyters in the Church of God, i.e. to the ministry of word, sacraments and pastoral responsibility;
‘deacon’ when we mean someone ordained into the Order of Deacons in the Church of God, i.e. to the ministry of witness through service, and who is also a member of a religious order, the Methodist Diaconal Order;
‘minister’ when we mean an ordained person, irrespective of whether they are a presbyter or a deacon.” (Conference Agenda 2008, p558)
What became clear to me at that meeting was the importance of communication. Ensuring that communication is free flowing between all parts of the church. That everyone is kept informed of decisions that are made, how they are made, and the reasons for them. Our denomination describes itself as the Methodist Connexion. ‘This sense of being connected makes a difference to how the Methodist Church as a whole is structured. At its heart is an understanding of the Christian community as the ‘body of Christ’. Just as a human body contains different limbs and organs that depend on each other, so we should be close and caring enough to feel each other’s pain and delight.’ www.methodist.org.uk Which is one of the reasons why I’m writing this as a way of keeping the communication flowing…in both directions. So, I would also be interested in hearing from you if you have any comments or questions (I probably won’t know the answer but I might be able to find someone who does). You can email me at email@example.com, follow me on Facebook or Twitter. Now, I’d better start reading the Conference Agenda – all 621 pages of it! Is that longer than War and Peace?
Sheridan Pengelly – Lay Pastoral Assistant in the St Austell Circuit
(All views are my own)