Faith, Ministry & Church: Vice President John Bell addresses Conference

The new Vice President of Conference 2005/6, John Bell, is a retired business executive from the Chester and Stoke District. He was educated at grammar schools in Sunderland and Newcastle, later studying Economics at Manchester University and Industrial Management at the University of Leeds. He is married to Joan and has two grown-up children, Alison and Martin. John has a special interest in the role of faith in the workplace, and in the selection and training of people for ministry.

This morning John addressed delegates and guests at the Sunday morning worship service, welcoming a diverse assembly of people and inviting them to reflect on faith, ministry and church from their own perspectives. He spoke of those who had profoundly influenced and challenged him on his own faith journey, encouraging those present to do the same.

Speaking on the diversity that comes with faith, John commented that "Perhaps, the broader our base, the stronger we may become. Let us hold this in our minds when we consider the Conference report Pilgrimage of Faith, reflecting our shared journey on human sexuality. No, we haven't arrived; the journey is not straightforward; maybe we don't even know the destination. But let us continue to journey, safely, together.

"Our faith, with its amalgam of belief and unbelief, our confidence in God this day, even if we would have difficulty articulating these things, are a gathering of all that has gone before in our lives, perhaps shredded, honed and glued together again through the years. Like the two on the road to Emmaus, as we journey and wrestle, we will glimpse Jesus, the risen Lord."

This diversity of faith is carried into the ministry of the church in all its variety. John challenged ordained ministers to have the courage to follow their hopes for the Methodist Church in the 21st Century, and spoke of the need to recognise the value of lay ministry; "Yes, we may engage in the work of the gathered church, but we have enormous opportunity to exercise our Christian ministry where we work or otherwise commit and spend our time (whether in parenting, in retirement, in community service, in many other situations). What a wonderful opportunity we have! And yet, so neglected in the ecclesiastical pecking order. In my time with the Connexional Candidates Committee, I often asked candidates about their call to ordained ministry Ð it seemed a fair question Ð and was most dismayed by the sincerely offered answers that amounted to 'I want to give myself full-time to serving God. I can't do that in a secular job:' oh, no? Where did you develop this taste for luxury? Of course I knew what they meant, but it seemed to betray a narrow view of mission possibilities."

Moving to the final of the service's themes, he said, "What is surely beyond doubt is that 'the church' is the hardest bit. People say 'it's not just about numbers:' no, it isn't. If we reflect on the Old Testament idea of the remnant of Israel, maybe we are the Christian remnant today in whom God has put his trust. But we cannot be content that God expects nothing of us: Jesus' great commission in Matthew 28 to make disciples of all nations is direct enough. It's neither complacency nor panic, but faith and vision with a strong dose of honesty and realism that are needed."

John believes that being part of the Church involves four key challenges for each and every member; upholding the faithful through pastoral support, finding fresh ways or being and doing church, working in partnership with those of other denominations and learning from the confidence and success of our partner churches in other continents.

Finally John called for the Church to be open to new insights in the search for and pilgrimage with God, for which being open to the person and work of Jesus and the inspirational challenge of discipleship is essential.

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