26 June 2004

New Methodist President speaks of 'The Listening God'

'There are none so deaf, as those that don't want to hear'

The Revd Will Morrey used his address as the new President of the Methodist Conference to lay out his theme of "the challenge of listening." Will began his year of office with a speech that called on the Church to "run to the unexpected places where the Listening God is gathering people."

Will defined true listening as discovering meaning in and giving value to whatever or whoever is being listened to. After losing his hearing at the age of 19, Will found that in his deepest despair: "a voice was saying calmly 'I am still here, you know'. In a sense I had hit the bottom of the pit, and found that God was even there. My crying out was my prayer, and in the stillness I sensed the truth of the words attributed to Moses (Deuteronomy 33:27) 'beneath are the everlasting arms'. Paradoxically, I found that losing hearing led to a deep conviction in the Listening God, whose very act of listening transfigures life."

As he visits Methodist churches and districts around Great Britain during his year as President, Will hopes that: "people will give me more time to listen than to speak. Listening requires time and attention; some voices are hidden like birdsong among city traffic.

"Listening challenges the hearer, for we may be told what we would prefer not to hear. Any government that is deaf to the cries of those most in need or, worse, seeks to silence voices of dissent sows the wind and reaps the whirlwind. It isn't difficult to point to such behaviour in our world, and finding the ways to prophetically stand in solidarity with the unheard and voiceless is a Christian duty."

Will's speech was full of images and motifs. He said: "The image of running to gather in the unexpected places where the Listening God is gathering people means that, to put it a little provocatively, the world will save the church. To put it in a more rounded way, God at work in the world may renew the church."

In his speech, Will said he aims to build on the themes laid out by his recent predecessors. Ex-President Dr Neil Richardson called for a God-centred church, while Past President Inderjit Bhogal described God spreading out a table for all. Will agreed that the Church needed to respond to these messages, and not just seek to meet the needs of those who are already Methodists.

Will has worked for the last 17 years in Wales, and was presented with a cassock, scarf and stole by the South Wales District. He thanked the District for the gifts, which he described as "practical expressions of their love and care."

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