Back from Conference...

Did you miss me? Looking at the blog stats over the past few weeks, the answer to that is clearly no, but never mind... For those interested, I've been a little busy recently with a jaunt to Scotland for a family celebration, and another to Enniskillen for the Methodist Church in Ireland conference, with a couple of funerals thrown in for good measure. So I'm punctured now, and am likely to be absent from the blogsphere for a few more days as I have a bit of catch-up to do out in the real world... But first a brief comment on the conference...
Some people expressed surprise that I, and others were so positive about the past few days... I don't tend to look forward to conference... It used to be that it was a time that afforded us the chance to catch up with colleagues that we haven't seen for a year and long coffee breaks allowed important discussions to take place behind the scenes. In recent years a shortened agenda has reduced the space for those encounters, whilst a lot of the discussion on the conference floor has been more administratively focussed, and hence quite dry. Add to that a gloomy picture regarding church statistics and finances and it has tended to make conference a relatively depressing (if not infuriating) experience for me.
But something strange happened this year... I disappeared for the first day of the representative session in order to conduct 2 funerals back on my home patch, and as I prepared to come back, the comments on facebook and twitter (#mci12 if you're interested) suggested that things had been very positive in my absence, including the election of my friend and predecessor in Dundonald Methodist, the Rev. Dr. Heather Morris as the President-designate of the Methodist Church in Ireland for 2013-14. Now this is a pretty big deal in the context of conservative Irish Christianity, even bigger when we later, almost unnoticed, passed legislation that means that when she is installed as President next year it will involve 2 Church of Ireland Bishops, and she will be regarded by the CoI as an "episcopal minister" ie. a Bishop in all but name... Add to this the fact that she was elected by a significant margin and with many years of service yet to go (ie. it is not a "gold watch" appointment) and this is momentous.
There had been, apparently much discussion about the perilous state of our finances in my absence as well, but this did not seem to produce the grey, gloomy clouds of doom and depression that other such discussions had elicited, but rather a resolve to teach more about Biblical stewardship (including but not restricted to tithing), to trust in the boundless grace of God and to radically rethink our mission and how we resource it.
I did return to a somewhat rancorous debate on the future of one of our congregations, and there were some difficult discussions in the course of the rest of conference, but on the whole we managed to disagree without being disagreeable... Now, I may feel somewhat more positive than others in that in each of those difficult debates, I found myself on the "winning" side (a rare occasion indeed)... So I didn't leave conference with my customary sore head through frustration, and pray for those who did...
Perhaps one of the thorniest debates was that concerning the ability or otherwise of Methodist Missions and other church bodies being able to apply for Lottery funding, not for their own benefit, but for the benefit of those in situations of social need, when all other avenues of funding have been exhausted... Many found it impossible to square this permission with our church's continued implacable opposition to gambling of all forms, including the lottery... and this is understandable and laudable, but given
a) we accept money from "gambling" on the stock markets, and from various dubious sources including gambling, tobacco, alcohol and arms dealing, via both bank interest and government funding from taxation.
b) the UK government have irrevocably moved the goalposts re statutory funding, directing most partners in their so-called, "Big Society" towards the lottery as the main source of funding, with no real sustainable alternative likely (contrary to the proposed "third way" funding package proposed by our CSR Committee).
c) the black hole in funding within the community and voluntary sector due to the economic recession and the petering out of "peace money"
d) the dubious morality of any prophetic stance on the lottery being paid for by other people's jobs and programmes and services for the poorest people in our society being cut...
I and others argued and voted for the ability to apply for lottery funding under strict criteria. To be fair I would have liked more specific criteria and a mechanism for approval of such applications to make sure that they are not being made on spurious grounds, but by the time the vote was won I didn't want to start a whole new debate.
But I don't want to end this brief reflection on a contentious matter, rather on two highlights for me...
First, the President for this year, the Rev. Ken Lindsay has chosen as his theme, "Strength through Prayer". Now, this is perhaps a little to close to the motto/title of the  Nazi "Strength through Joy" movement for my liking, and I never was a fan of snappy slogans, but it was borne out in the 2 Bible studies lead by Dom Mark-Ephrem Nolan of the Benedictine Monastery in Rostrevor. I missed the first of these, but the second was a real joy, and I hope the text of both will be published in full. Not only did he open up the Biblical text clearly and helpfully, but his presence, leading a Bible study in the Methodist Conference in Enniskillen is a sign of hope... Again I appreciate that some may not see it that way, but I do...
But finally, the final act of conference, with the ordination of 4 fine ministers with different gifts and graces reminded me that God hasn't finished with us yet...
Hallelujah

Comments

jools said…
yup. Couldn't agree more.

Hope that doesn't ruin your joy ;)
Just to clarify... I am now told that the protocols I had wished for re application to the lottery are currently being prepared for circulation by the Secretary of Conference and a small group, and, sadly, that the CoI may be slower than I had anticipated in passing the necessary legislation to recognise Methodist Presidents as "episcopal ministers", removing the hoped for irony in the installation of Heather into that office next year...

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