31 January 2024

Methodist Council – January 2024

The Methodist Council met online on 29 and 30 January 2024 and opened with a report from the Strategy and Resources Committee, and the Connexional Secretary updating the Council on the work of the Connexional Team.

Annual Reports and Accounts

The annual report and accounts were presented to the Council for approval. The Executive Director of Finance and Resources, Mr Matt Tattersall, explained the process for producing the annual report and accounts and the Chair of the Audit and Risk Assurance Committee set out the work the committee had done to assure itself of the robustness of the accounts. The Council heard that the total funds were lower due to reductions in investment values but these were anticipated to recover in future years.

The Council heard how the trustees of the lay pension scheme were progressing with their investment strategy to reduce risk through an insurance buy-in. The Council approved the acceleration of deficit payments to the pension scheme and a contingency budget to facilitate this work. These decisions do not commit the Council to progressing with an insurance buy-out and separate proposals will be brought at a later date.

Nominations to the Connexional Council

The Council received an update from the Secretary of the Conference, the Revd Dr Jonathan Hustler, on the work of the nominations to the Connexional Council. Dr Hustler explained that the scale of the work was great and had included taking advice from HR colleagues to establish the correct process. He reassured Council members that the job has been done thoroughly and the role descriptions have been appropriately put together and scrutinised. The recruitment process for the Connexional Council is now in progress with shortlisting and interviewing taking place in the next few weeks. The Council received the report and agreed a process for considering the nominations prior to the next meeting of the Council.

Action for Hope funding

The Executive Director of Finance and Resources, Mr Matt Tattersall, presented the paper which asked the Council to approve £3m of grants from the Connexional Priority Fund for Action for Hope grants. The money was received from property levies received in 2022/23 and has remained unallocated. Mr Tattersall told Council members that the money would be made available to Districts for the specific purpose of achieving the target of Net Zero by 2030. It is intended for making existing activities more sustainable and for making carbon-reduction adaptations to existing assets. Council members discussed the plans and the draft criteria for allocating the funds in groups. The Council directed that the £3m be allocated to districts to fund Action for Hope grants.

Embedding the Justice-seeking Church report

The Council was updated on the strategy to embed the Conference report A Justice-Seeking Church in the Connexion. The Director of Social Justice and Social Action, Ms Rachel Lampard, presented the report which sets out the vision for a justice-seeking Church and the four strategic aims: Integrating the ‘Principles for justice’, collaborating between partners, engaging with the practices and supporting local churches to engage with local communities within a justice framework. Council members took part in group work to discuss the paper and voted to receive the report.

Investors in People (IIP)

The Connexional Secretary, Mr Doug Godfrey-Swanney, informed the Council that the Methodist Council has been awarded Silver accreditation by Investors in People. Mr Godfrey-Swanney told members that IIP is an established and recognised management standard and gaining it is an acknowledgement of the hard work and a commitment to success. Only around 15% of organisations receive the Silver award on their first attempt. Work will now start on an action plan for the changes that will be made as a result of the feedback.

Safeguarding

Proposals to update the Foundation Module Safeguarding Training were approved by Council members who heard a presentation from Mrs Judith Davey-Cole, the Chair of the Safeguarding Committee. Mrs Davey-Cole explained that the module is updated every four years and is due to be updated this year. She told members that recent developments within safeguarding and in the church will be taken into account in the update, including resources from the Conference’s Theology of Safeguarding report. The Council voted to receive the report and approved the updated training module which will be ready to use by Easter.

In a separate proposal, Mrs Davey-Cole explained to members that those in senior leadership roles in the Church would be required to have advanced safeguarding training to inform and support senior leaders in their handling of and responding to serious safeguarding concerns. The Director of Safeguarding, Mr Tim Carter, told members that the Church of England’s training lead had advised in developing the resource. Chairs, Assistant and Deputy Chairs and other senior leaders (lay and ordained) in the Connexion will be required to complete the training. They will be required to refresh their training every four years. The Council approved both proposals.

North West England District; Consultation with the Manchester and Stockport District

Professor David Matthews provided the Council with an update on the consultation with the Manchester and Stockport District concerning whether to join the new North West England District, as well as with the four Districts which had already agreed to form part of the new District.  He reported that after consultation with the relevant Synods and Circuit Meetings, a vote on whether to join the new District was carried by a greater than 4:1 majority. Noting that there had been some who voted against the plans, the Council heard that work is ongoing with those circuits that had expressed reservations and voted against or marginally in favour of the proposal and this work will continue while plans are made to amalgamate. The President prayed for the new district and for those who feel outside of the process. The Council voted to receive the report and agreed to recommend to the Conference that the Manchester and Stockport District forms part of the new North West England District, which comes into being on 1 September 2024.

Financial Planning

The Council approved the parameters for how the Connexional Central Services Budget will be set in 2024/25. The District Assessment is to be reduced by a further 3% with the Connexional Priority Fund (CPF) being used to cover the transitional impact of these cuts. It was confirmed that where districts engage in reorganisation, any savings from reducing the number of Chairs would be made available to the affected districts until the end of 2027/28.

JDS Committee

The Chair of the JDS Committee, the Revd Charity Nzegwu, gave an update on the strategy for Justice, Dignity and Solidarity and how it is being taken forward in practice. There was a discussion on the training aspect of the strategy with Ms Nzegwu telling members that it has generated a lot of conversations and there has been some resistance which is putting pressure on the EDI officers in each district. The Council received the report.

Update on Part 11 Review

Mrs Joanne Anderton, the Conference Officer for Legal and Constitutional Practice, presented an update on the progress of the review of Part 11 of Standing Orders, which covers the Church’s complaints and discipline process. The report proposes a series of recommendations that will improve the process in several areas including communications, record-keeping and to be more flexible in terms of proportionality. Mr Dave Orford, Complaints and Standards Consultant, took Council members through the proposed new processes and group work followed. The Council voted to accept the report and endorsed the recommendations directing the Task Group to continue its work, noting that the full report will come to the next meeting of the Council before being presented to the Conference.

Minutes of the Conference and Directory of the Methodist Church

The Conference Officer for Legal and Constitutional Practice, Mrs Joanne Anderton, explained to Council members that the Conference has agreed that the Minutes of the Conference and Directory of the Methodist Church should be separated in order to enable the best circulation in the light of GDPR legislation. The Law and Polity Committee is working on the Standing Order amendments that are required to effect this change, and brought particular recommendations to the Council to clarify some of the questions that have arisen in the drafting.  The Council agreed the recommendations in the report, and will review the draft Standing Order at the next Council meeting.

The Council noted with thanks the grants provided in 2022 and 2023 by the Joseph Rank Trust. The grants made by the Trust support a number of Methodist Church communities across the Connexion.

 The next Council meeting will be held April 13-15 in Leamington Spa.

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