11 April 2005

Methodist Council meeting, April 2005

The Methodist Council met at High Leigh in Hertfordshire for its last meeting before the annual Methodist Conference in June. The Council addressed a number of major topics that will now go forward to Conference.

The Church is addressing several issues that involve young people. Council approved a report recommending that churches and circuits be seen as the primary location for the Church's engagement with students. Making the change from more centrally-organised student work will allow circuits and local churches to be more flexible in their student work, possibly incorporating it in their youth work.

However, Council stressed the need for the Church to give student work a high priority amidst the wealth of other work that circuits undertake. The 120 Methodist chaplains to higher education will continue their work, and the Church remains part of the ecumenical network of 200 chaplains serving further education.

Council also approved a report for Conference looking at the work of the 20s and 30s group within the Church. This group is charged to look at how the Church can better engage with young people and allow young people to engage with God. This group has been behind recent successful initiatives such as the 11th Commandment competition, the Methodist sponsorship of the Church of Fools online church, and the Mocktails contest. The report also reaches some conclusions as to the best ways forward for increasing the Church's involvement with younger people.

The Council received the introduction of the first report from the Joint Implementation Group, set up by the Methodist and Anglican churches after they signed their Covenant in November 2003. The full report will be presented to both the Methodist Conference and the Church of England General Synod this summer. The JIG has been considering a range of issues, including developing common practices on the bread and wine used in Communion. It has also looked at how the Methodist Diaconal Order and Anglican Deacons can work closer together. The JIG report also maps out how Methodist and Anglican structures (Districts and Dioceses, Circuits and Deaneries) can work together. The Revd Peter Sulston, Methodist Coordinating Secretary for Unity in Mission, told Council "there are varied moves within different parts of the churches. We encourage meetings between relevant parts of the churches structures so that they can identify the most appropriate pattern for partnerships in their areas. We also stress that wherever possible such talks should also include other ecumenical partners."

Council also sent on to Council a series of changes to the Methodist Church Standing Orders to allow ministers and deacons from other denominations to become Associate ministers or Associate Deacons serving the Methodist Church. Although the Methodist Church has long had the means for ministers from other churches within Britain and from across the world to serve the British Methodist Church, but these categories ("Recognised and Regarded" and "Authorised to Serve") both put the ministers involved under some degree of control of the Methodist Church.

The new designations of Associate Ministers and Deacons will allow clergy from other churches to undertake specific functions (for example leading worship, preaching or offering pastoral care) on behalf of the Methodist Church while remaining under the authority of their own churches. With increasing moves towards ecumenical working, both with the Church of England under the Covenant and with a number of other British churches, this change in Methodist Standing Orders, if approved by Conference, will allow more clergy from other churches to become involved in the life and work of the Methodist Church. The Revd Ken Howcroft, Methodist Coordinating Secretary for Conference and Communication, says, "this proposed change would allow local ecumenical work to proceed on a more formal basis, for the benefit of the churches involved and the people they work with."

The Council heard details of plans for the new London Regional District, and how its creation in September 2006 will affect Methodist districts in the rest of the southeast of England. The new London district will, in the capital, replace four existing districts to create a single body able to represent and oversee Methodism in the area covered by the Greater London Authority. Each of these four existing districts, however, also includes circuits in the rest of the region, from southern Oxfordshire at one end to the Channel ports at the other. The Revd Dr. Stuart Jordan, reported from the implementation groups currently looking at these issues. The current proposals, which will now go forward to the June Conference, are for the circuits outside London but in the London South East and South West districts will form a new single district covering Kent, Surrey, East and West Sussex and - for historic reasons - Malta and Gibraltar. To the north, a similar arrangement will lead to the creation of a new district to the north of London, although in this case some districts will transfer to neighbouring districts, such as Oxford & Leicester.
Dr. Jordan said that the biggest problem to date has been finding names for these new districts. "We want something that is both accurate and easy on the tongue," he says. "We have joked that we ought to run a competition, but as time goes on that looks like an increasingly good option!

David Deeks: "This is the biggest change to the district structure of the Church in a generation, and it is going very smoothly. The new London District will enable the Church to relate directly to London government as well as ecumenical partners, while the suggested new districts to the north and south will enable Methodist churches in south east England to work better together and ecumenically. Methodism in London is vibrant, multicultural and growing, and these changes will promote the energies of the church in the capital for further growth."

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