Methodist Central Hall, London
REPORT FROM THE YORK & HULL DISTRICT
Representatives to Conference from the York & Hull District this year were :
Revd Ruth Parry, Revd Rory Dalgliesh, Deacon Jill Taylor, Dr Stephen Leah, Mrs Heather Shipman, Mrs Eileen Clarkson, Mrs Jackie Gaitley and Miss Chloe Scaling. Revd Stephen Burgess, as Chair of District, is present at all Conferences.
In September representatives to Conference will again be reporting back to Synod with reflections regarding the Methodist Conference. This written report is in addition to those reflections which will be heard at Synod on 10 September.
Being a representative to Conference is a great privilege. It is fun, hard work and carries responsibility. If you would like to be part of that group please look out for nomination papers accompanying the Synod agenda and talk to current representatives for more information. Here is what the York and Hull District had to say about Conference ……………..
What an amazing week in Westminster both in and out of the Methodist Conference. What a time & place for conference to meet! Many people in the country were still struggling to grasp the full meaning of Brexit and many were particularly distressed by the horrendous level of racism that seems to have followed in its wake. Some of us (the presbyters) arrived during the events commemorating the 100th anniversary of the battle of the Somme, we were so very aware of the recent devastating shootings and bomb attacks around the world and we left on the anniversary of 7/7 and each day we walked past the tribute to Jo Cox in Parliament Square on our way to and from Westminster Central Hall. It seemed that something significant was happening outside each day. On the day the Chilcot report was released the press event was happening on our doorstep and we were celebrating communion. Hearing waves of protest during our communion service and particularly as we were sharing the peace was a reminder of the importance of our prayers and, right there in that moment, was so very powerful! So with that introduction - to the conference itself! We began in the traditional conference way by singing Charles Wesley's hymn "and are we yet alive" always a sobering thought! The Presidential theme of the Conference was holiness and justice, and Micah 6:8 was used as a central biblical text. “Act Justly, Love Mercy (also translates as kindness or even love), Walk Humbly” really resonated more than ever at this place in time!! We heard a strong message to go and DO justice......words without actions are not enough”. We were reminded that Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are. I was particularly moved by Ric Stott's paintings that had been commissioned for the conference and can be seen on line at "" along with a fleet ion on each one by the artist.
It was, as ever, such a privilege to be a part of the reception into full Connexion of our ordinand presbyters and deacons and, later that day, to be part of the ordination of just a few of them as they went to different locations for this high point in their lives.
A surprisingly inspiring report for me was that from the Connexional treasurer where he said "our accounts tell the story of how we engage in God's mission - the stories of our activities. They have important messages for us - we must not be guilty of burying our talents. In some places we risk going out of business with our barns still full". I will not regard financial reports as tedious again.
From reports entitled "Marriage and Relationships" to "The theology and ecclesiology underpinning the Diaconate" and "Larger than circuit" we tackled difficult subjects with dignity and respect - even when we didn't agree - when we acknowledge that we live with contrary convictions. I know that pride is a sin but there was a sense of pride that I belong to a church where we are ready and willing to deal with such things and do it with dignity.
The President suggested that we were pumpkins, the Vice President that we were broccoli - it's worth listening to both those addresses if you possible can - they were inspiring. In his reflections on his first year in office Gareth Powell reminded us that WE are the Connexion. The Connexion does not DO things to us - we are part of the whole and conference, through those we elect to represent us, is how our church operates. He told us that, in his view, if the most important item on the agendas of our church councils is not about "the work of God in this place" then he wasn't sure why those trustee bodies bothered to meet at all - that of course we 'discharge out trustee responsibilities' but only in the light of our conversations about the work of God'. He referred to the minutes of the Liverpool conference of 1820 where for the first time in the history of the Methodist church there had been a decrease in membership. Those minutes remind us that the only thing we have to offer is a cross and a crown.
Revd Ruth Parry
On first reading of the material for conference there appeared to be little that inspired me. I was surprised how challenging and inspirational I found conference to be. It was a great joy and privilege to welcome friends and colleagues into Full Connexion, including Revd John Hughes, Revd Julia Skiitt & Revd Steve Jakeman. As we left Central Hall the bells of Westminster Abbey to mark such a “liminal moment”, then later attend the Ordination service for the Deacons.
We were reminded that mission is “presence”, “being alongside” the poor. But who are today’s poor? Those living in rural communities, those with mental health issues, those on tax credits? Yet there appears to be a lack of ministers wanting to be alongside the poor.
The Methodist Church are committed to a strategic use of funds for mission. We have resources but often in the wrong place. If we fail to act we are in danger of ceasing to exist whilst our barns are still full. We are encouraged to apply for funding for Mission!
We were gladdened to receive the report of 3 Generate which encouraged local churches, districts to engage with children and young people about issues highlighted in their manifesto.
Theme 1 “Wonderful Me”
· How the church interacts with individuals making them feel valued and accepted.
· Challenging us how we invest in one another’s spirituality
· Allowing space for innovative and imaginative discussion
Theme 2 “Wonderful Church”
· Challenging the church to host and facilitate open conversations on issues facing us today – sex and relationships, death and political issues.
Theme 3 “Wonderful World”
· Challenging the church to look outward at the world considering issues such as war, refugees, homelessness, climate change.
Theme 4 “Wonderfully Prophetic”
· Challenging the church to be a prophetic voice.
We heard how attendance at 3 Generate increased from 250 in 2014 to 600 in 2015, having to turn many more away to the limitations of venue size. Many young people are also excluded, particularly in the North, including our District, due to the high travel costs as well as huge pressures on families to meet the cost of more than one child. Should we be encouraging 3 Generate to host at least 2 events, North and South, offering more financial support from District for this amazing work?
The issue of safeguarding was considered by Conference both in the Report on the Implementation of the Past Cases Review Report: Courage, Cost and Hope and in a separate report on Safeguarding itself. Amongst the changes recommended was a change in the frequency for designated training for Creating Safer Space Foundation and Leadership Modules to every 3 years. This was of concern to District representatives as being too short a period of time, and following representation to Tim Carter, the new Connexional Safeguarding Adviser the frequency required for designated training was revised to every 4 years on the order paper and agreed by Conference.
Joint Covenant Advocacy and Monitoring Group
Though not highlighted as one of the major reports coming to this year’s Conference, the presence of the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool, will be memorable for many representatives, not least for his unequivocal apology for some of the ways that the Church of England had upset their Methodist counterparts when we have explored the possibility of unity in the past. This report, together with the Ecumenical Report, encourages us to make full use of existing possibilities for working more closely together. Watch out for the appointment of a new role, that of Covenant Champions to be advertised shortly. It’s an exciting opportunity for the whole church.
The call for Oceans of Justice
Unusually for a Methodist Conference, there was little in the formal agenda on issues around social justice. However, this did not stop the need for justice being a key theme. We were led to focus on this through the brilliant speech of our new Vice-President Rachel Lampard, which the Conference heard during its opening session. As she began, she quoted from the prophet Amos, as translated in The Message, where it says, “Do you know what I want? I want justice - oceans of it. I want fairness - rivers of it. That's what I want. That's all I want."
She reminded us that 1 in every 4 children in the UK live in poverty, around 2 million people in the world die each year due to a lack of clean water or sanitation and around 1 in every 122 people is a refugee. She reminded us that the Church “absolutely does have a role in speaking out” and that this is why the Joint Public Issues Team of which she is a part has focussed so heavily on the “Rethinking Sanctions” campaign. We are a Church that is committed to justice.
A session resourced by the President and Vice-President also focussed our minds on the need for justice for refugees. We heard stories of how Churches are working to support refugees, with the work of the York Circuit to host a family of refugees from Syria receiving especial commendation. But we also thought about the scale of the problem, with 3 to 4 million refugees living in neighbouring countries of Syria as well as what we can do in the face of such need.
In the wake of the EU referendum, a Resolution was proposed and passed unanimously, calling “on the Methodist people to challenge racism and discrimination”, as well as for “a political debate which neither demonises any nor leaves the vulnerable (the foreigner, the immigrant and refugee) in danger of victimisation.” The Conference asked Methodists to send the statement to their MPs, and to assist with this, the full text is available on this web page http://www.methodist.org.uk/nationallife.
Other Notices of Motion on benefit sanctions, the building of community cohesion in the UK, Climate Change, Fracking and the Chilcot Report on the Iraq War, were also passed. The latter Notice of Motion reminded us once again of the excellent resource, “Peacemaking, a Christian Vocation”, which can be used to help Churches engage with the ethical issues the Chilcot Report opens up.
As a ‘first timer’ to Conference and in the weeks leading up to the event I was very apprehensive and wondered, on more than one occasion, why I had put my name forward to go. London alone was quite daunting never mind Conference. However, on arrival at our destination we were warmly welcomed.
Conference itself was very interesting, covering a wide range of topics. One subject that interested me was ‘Methodist Homes’. I have always thought they do very worthwhile work. I am presently an Activity Co-ordinator at a local care home and my role is to try and motivate the residents to do more than watch television all day. I had not realised just how large an organisation MHA is and it was good to see and hear how it is reaching out to the elderly and improving the quality of life for so many people.
As a ‘first timer’ at the start of the week I was given a ‘First Time Speaker’ card and so if I ever went up to speak, the President or Vice president (whoever was in the Chair)would give priority to those of us with a card. I was assured by my colleagues that I did not HAVE to go up and speak but I did think it would be a shame to waste the opportunity. It was very interesting to listen to all the debates and at times a lot to take in during the week, and then with nerves getting the better of me, on a few occasions I remained in my seat when perhaps I should have got up!
On the last morning, I thought I had left it too late. .. but God is gracious and I had my chance! Gareth Powell, Secretary of Conference, gave a final address to us and spoke about the need to keep God on the Church agenda. Although we are called to ‘Do Justice, Love Kindness and Walk Humbly’ it is essential that we remember that, as Christians, we are about doing the work of God. His words really encouraged me. The ‘Evangelism and Church Growth’ had been a topic for discussion the day before, but alas, with regret, I had not spoken in support of Ashley Cooper’s request to make sure enough resources were available for the church to DO evangelism as it should. So... with my ‘First Time Speaker’ card in hand I went up and thanked Gareth for his words. I was able to say I have a passion for Jesus and, like our Secretary said, it is vital that we keep God and His Work on our Church Council agendas.
All in all Conference was a great experience. Plenty of ‘Friendship, Fellowship, Food and Fun’ and a week I will never forget. Thank you for the opportunity of going. Thank you to my colleagues who really did ‘look after me’.