03 February 2021
Report from the January 2021 Methodist Council
The Methodist Council was held online 26 - 27 January 2021
During the first day, Council members spent the afternoon in designated focus groups looking at the strategy documents for five areas of work: Climate Change, Property Guidelines, Oversight and Trusteeship, Education, and Budget. The results of their discussions along with recommendations were then fed back to the Council on Wednesday.
The Focus Group wholeheartedly agreed with the statement of the 2020 Conference Memorial M6 that ‘the global climate emergency is a crisis for God’s creation and a fundamental injustice’. It noted that this is a crucial year for climate action as government delegations from around gather for COP26 in Glasgow later this year.
The Council recommended adoption of the ambition to become a net zero church by 2030 noting that achieving this depends upon a significant commitment of resources, and effective engagement across the whole church and substantial work to many church buildings. The Council stated that if endorsed, all District Mission plans should demonstrate how movement towards net zero would be achieved. Further consideration will need to be given to the means for measuring progress.
The Council adopted the strategic guidance notes for the use of property in mission, for use across the Connexion. These replace the property strategy and highlight again that property is an expression of mission, theology and ecclesiology and we are saying something about ourselves as a Church in the way we deal with property. Our sharing together of this resource is critical.
The Council discussed issues related to the present Connexional Priority Fund levy on property sales and replacement project criteria and the Model Trust 20 policy concerning sales and leases at less than best price. Proposals will be brought to the Council for full consideration in March.
Oversight and Trusteeship
The group discussed three proposals: An ‘Executive Council’ to replace the Council and Strategy and Resources Committee and to be the Trustee Body registered with the Charity Commission; the number and purpose of committees that are needed for the work of the church to be governed and managed; and the minimum size of a local church, the number of trustee bodies needed by a circuit and the necessary size of a local trustee body. With the first proposal the group wanted to make sure that a variety of voices were heard and wished to emphasise the valuable role of the Presidency in the Executive Council. With the second proposal, the group emphasised the need to give some thought to different ways of conferring, so that different voices are enabled to participate, and the importance of new ways of working being a central part of this work. With the third proposal the group was undecided about the preferred minimum number for the size of local churches recognising that it is not simply about numbers but about discipleship and how a local church is living out its mission in a particular context.
The draft Schools’ Educational Strategy, which is currently out for consultation, builds on the work of the Education Commission and outlines a strategy for the Methodist Church for the next 10 years, which encourages the Church to grow our presence and extend our influence in children’s education as an expression of the gospel. The draft Strategy was warmly and widely welcomed by the focus group who found the Trusts are working in a profound way. They discussed: work with children who have special educational needs; early years’ nurseries as part of the strategy; recruitment and training; online assemblies; and the mental health crisis provoked by the pandemic.
The group discussed the five year projections focusing on potential reductions in the level of the District Assessment and looking again at how ‘means to pay’ is assessed. It was recognised that any reduction in the District Assessment has an impact on the expenditure budget. Representations had been made to the Secretary of the Conference asking for the connexional budget to pay for all ministerial stipends for a year from September 2021 at a cost of approximately £44m. The Council agreed that the request was not affordable for several reasons including restricted funds that cannot be used for paying stipends, properties that provide income that could not be sold in the short term, and that the majority of the Church’s reserves are not held in Connexional Funds but by individual trustee bodies across the Connexion. The Council will consider the budget in detail at its March meeting, in order to present it to the Conference.
Council members heard from the Connexional Team’s Safeguarding Adviser, Tim Carter who introduced the updated Domestic Abuse policy and procedures. Mr Carter said Domestic Abuse has always been an issue for concern, particularly over the past year when incidents of Domestic Abuse have increased in society during lockdown. He said the updated policy reiterated the Church’s commitment to victims and challenge those who have the power to abuse. A scrutiny group was appointed to undertake detailed scrutiny of the policy and procedures, and was delegated the authority to sign the policy off on the Council’s behalf.
The Methodist Council gave consideration to the memorials brought to the 2020 Conference, M7, M8 and M9, that call for the Joint Advisory Committee on the Ethics of Investment (JACEI) to advise the Central Finance Board of the Methodist Church on a revised policy on investments related to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. The memorials ask for an adjustment to the existing policy of engagement and selective disinvestment such that there is an avoidance in “all companies that profit from activities in illegally occupied areas, as a matter of ethical and economic justice”. The Council requested that the JACEI review the Central Finance Board Policy Statement on Israel/Palestine within a manageable timeframe and propose a schedule for this work to the Conference.
The Council noted with thanks donations totalling £359,000 from the Joseph Rank Trust an independent grant-making body which aims to advance the Christian faith and to help the less fortunate members of society.
A statement on Modern Slavery was adopted by the Council for year 2020-21 which covers activity such as the Connexional Team’s procurement processes and due diligence in relation to existing suppliers.
In the afternoon session on day two, the Secretary of the Conference, the Revd Dr Jonathan Hustler, made a presentation to the Council on ‘Looking to the Future’. He focused on three areas for a post-Covid church pointing out that the pandemic has accelerated many changes that had already started. Dr Hustler said that while there may be a light at the end of the tunnel for Covid, there is not for climate change and the effects of global warming are having an impact on whole communities. He also pointed to the impact the Black Lives Matter protests had on communities and what ‘whiteness’ means. He talked of the importance of moving from words to action highlighting the Methodist Church’s ‘Inclusive Church Strategy’. Despite the Church being smaller than it has been, he concluded by saying there was cause for ‘informed optimism’ from the Methodist past to the success of A Methodist Way of Life. Groups were invited to discuss the presentation and then fed back their thoughts and observations to other members.