30 May 2002

Leadership in the Methodist Church comes under scrutiny

The Methodist Conference, meeting at the start of July, is to consider a proposal that its two essential elements of leadership - as a faith community and as a mission organisation - should be held together by a 'new look' General Secretary.

A report entitled 'Leadership in the Methodist Church', on which decisions will be made, is being brought to the Conference by the Methodist Council. This report was prepared by a specially-convened Leadership Task Group.

The report says of the proposal to create a new General Secretary role: "We believe it is now right to give to that person the distinctive role and task of unifying these elements, holding the circle, becoming the crucial link between the Methodist Church as a faith community and as a mission organisation."

The office of the General Secretary, if accepted by the Methodist Conference, would combine the current role of Secretary of the Conference together with management of the Church's Connexional Team. The General Secretary would be the 'executive leader' for the Church - co-ordinating the leadership, management and oversight of Methodism's senior officers, including working in partnership with the Chairs of the 33 Methodist Districts around Britain.

The first appointment to the office would be a Methodist minister for a five-year term, but during the period of that appointment it is proposed to consider whether future appointments might be open to lay people. The current Secretary of the Methodist Conference, the Rev Nigel Collinson, is set to retire in summer 2003 - at which point it is proposed that the new office would come into being.

Among other recommendations going before the Methodist Conference in the report are:

  • That the President of the Methodist Conference remains a one-year appointment as ambassador around the Church and policy contributor. This "underlines the representative emphasis of Methodism. Each office holder brings a particular emphasis which the Church can take up either in part or as a whole as it sees fit. Thus the Church is given the opportunity to benefit from a wide range of gifts and experiences" every year.
  • That the practice of the recently-founded Connexional Liaison Group - which brings together the President, Vice President and Conference Secretariat, representatives of the District Chairs and the four Co-ordinating Secretaries of the Connexional Team - be extended for a year to allow proposals which would cement its growing importance.
  • That a second Assistant Secretary of Conference be appointed to help with the development of the Church's new discipline procedures introduced two years ago.

The report stresses that "the Methodist people are looking for spiritual and moral leadership as well as leadership in the most effective way of managing the resources available to us for our mission. The Methodist Church is both a faith community and a mission organisation".

Leadership must learn from the leadership structures of secular organisations or other Churches without copying them in ways that would be inappropriate to the needs of the Methodist people.

The Chair of the Leadership Task Group, the Rev David Reddish, said that a new model General Secretary, if accepted by the Church, would be "answerable to Conference and have responsibility for leading the Connexional Team as its Senior Officer". He explained that the General Secretary would continue to work co-operatively with the President and Vice President of the Conference as well as the 33 Methodist District Chairs to lead and manage the affairs of the Methodist Church.

The Leadership Task Group was set up by the Conference in 2001 to make concrete proposals for improving the effectiveness of leadership in the Church. This took place after motions brought to the previous Conference had "sensed a lack of clarity and certainty in the leadership of the Church".

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