23 May 2002

New look for London Methodist districts is considered

The geography of Methodism in south east England may look very different in the next decade, under plans for a reorganisation of the four London Methodist Districts.

The Methodist Conference is to be asked to recommend that the shape of the current four districts of London be redrawn as regional districts. This would be allow the Church in the south east of England to relate more effectively to civic and social bodies in the region, tackle social issues more effectively and better express the distinctive nature of the Church's multi-cultural membership in London.

One part of the proposals is a plan to create a new London regional Methodist district covering a similar area to that governed by the Greater London Assembly (GLA). This promises a focussed leadership for Methodism in the London region that will be better placed to relate to London Mayor Ken Livingstone and other civic leaders.

The plans are spelt out in a report of the Working Party on London Methodism that will be considered by the Methodist Conference in July. If the Conference accepts the outline proposals, further consultation will be undertaken to draw up the detailed financial and practical implications of the changes. There is at present no definite timetable for the creation of the new districts.

The proposals are designed to make the Church more responsive to the new civic bodies that have emerged in south eastern England in the past few years. In particular, the working party said that the Church needs to find better ways of relating to the GLA and the other two English regions that the current London districts fall within - the East of England and the South East of England Regions.

Currently there are four Methodist districts - London North East, London North West, London South West, London South East. Under the plans these would be reborn as three districts - one for the greater London area only, one for the parts of London NE and London NW outside greater London, and one for the parts of London SE and London SW outside greater London. Each of these districts would have a membership of between 17,000-20,000 Methodists.

The working party, chaired by MP Tony Colman and including representatives of each of the four current districts, was set up in January 2001 after calls by the four districts to consider the effectiveness of the Church in relating to the new regional structures. Consultation with churches, circuits and synods in the four districts, revealed a majority in favour of a new model of regional districts.

The Rev Stuart Jordan, a member of the working party and Secretary of the Methodist London Committee, said: "The election of a Mayor and the Greater London Assembly in 2000 was a trigger for the churches to consider their own institutional patterns across the region. The process of regionalisation offers the faith communities new opportunities to engage constructively with the public agenda." He stressed that, regardless of any change to Methodist districts, there would need to be significant ecumenical and inter faith co-operation to properly represent faith community interests with civic bodies.

The working party noted that the current district boundaries, which divide London into quarters, leaves "the centre of gravity in each of the London districts outside the M25. As a consequence, the specific concerns of London are likely to be minority interests within any one district despite their significance for the south east of England as a whole". The opportunities to recognise and celebrate the success story and distinctive character of London's growing, multi-ethnic Methodist churches are also weakened by the current district model.

Notes:

1. Districts are the regional groupings of Methodist churches that are most closely related to the dioceses of the Church of England or Roman Catholic Church. Their purpose is to 'advance the mission of the church in a region' and relate to the 'wider society of the region as a whole and address its concerns'. (Methodist Standing Order 400A). Policy in each district is decided by a district synod overseen by a district chair.

2. The current London Methodist Districts cover the following areas:

  1. London North East - consisting of the north east London boroughs, Essex, Thurrock, Southend, southern and central Cambridgeshire and parts of eastern Hertfordshire
  2. London North West - consisting of the north west London boroughs, central and western Hertfordshire, Luton, most of Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and Milton Keynes, and a small part of eastern Oxfordshire.
  3. London South West - consisting of the south west London boroughs, Surrey, the western part of East Sussex, the eastern part of West Sussex, Brighton and Hove, Windsor and Maidenhead, Slough, Bracknell and the north eastern edge of Hampshire.
  4. London South East - consisting of the south east London boroughs, Kent, Medway, and the eastern part of East Sussex.

3. The proposed new look districts would cover the following areas:

  1. A London regional district covering a similar area to the GLA
  2. A 'Home Countries' district covering the areas of the London NE and London NW districts outside the GLA area.
  3. A 'Southern Countries' district covering the areas of the London SE and London SW districts outside the GLA area.

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