24 June 2003

What's on the agenda in Llandudno at the Methodist Conference 2003

What's on the agenda in Llandudno at the Methodist Conference 2003

Anglican-Methodist Covenant

This joint-report of the Methodist Church and Church of England proposes a national covenant between the two Churches. Methodist churches, circuits and districts have voted on whether to accept the covenant during the past 12 months, as have similar Anglican structures. The results of these votes along with a recommendation to accept the Covenant will be put to the Conference on Tuesday 1 July. The same recommendations will be put to the Church of England General Synod later in July. The Covenant, if accepted by both churches, would be a mutual affirmation for the first time of the life and ministry of each other's churches.

Racial justice: concern over asylum seekers and far right politicians

"Some say the hidden cost of 11 September 2001 is an unashamed racism," says this stark report by the Methodist Committee for Racial Justice. It says that some governments' policies seem to give justification to popular racism - and warns about the resurgence of Europe's extreme right and anti-immigration political parties. This new racism is signalled by the demonisation of asylum seekers as 'flooding', 'sponging' and 'bogus'. It is noted with dismay that this 'criminalisation' of asylum seekers has descended into violence and protest in some communities. The report says that "black membership is one of the most visible areas of growths in Methodism yet black people remain invisible and silent particularly in leadership roles". It calls on Methodists to speak out more clearly and take personal action against all instances of racism. Among its suggestions are: "Refuse to laugh at racist jokes, walk out or complain to management or organisers of shows."

A General Secretary for the Methodist Church

The report 'Leadership in the Methodist Church' will ask the Conference to appoint the first-ever General Secretary of the Methodist Church (Monday 30 June). The Rev David Deeks is being nominated for the six-year office from 1 September 2003. The General Secretary, who will also be Secretary of the Methodist Conference, will be executive leader of the Church's Connexional Team and will work alongside other senior officers including the Methodist District Chairs in developing the key strategic decisions for the Church in Britain.

EU Employment Directives and employment rights of ministers

The Government is in the process of implementing EU Employment and Race Directives, which extend anti-discriminatory practices in employment to new areas such as sexual orientation and religion. Regulations will come into force across Britain in December 2003. Meanwhile, the Department of Trade and Industry plans to publish the next stage of its plans on statutory employment rights in July 2003. The DTI is considering a number of options on rights that might be extended to ordained ministers, including a statutory requirement to treat ministers as if they were employed, an "opt-out" system for denominations with adequate self-regulatory systems in place, or remaining with the status quo of ministers being office holders of a non-contractual status. The Conference will discuss the implications for ministers and deacons as result of these proposals.

Increasing legislation facing civil society

Civil society - associations, groups and clubs including the Churches - has historically given colour, variety and genuine amateurism to local community life. Government has traditionally intervened in civil society only with the lightest touch. But there has been a rapid escalation of regulation by Government into areas of civil society such as the safeguarding of children, the institution of marriage, health and safety rules, and accountability for the use of money. The Conference will discuss the pressures increasing legislation places on church life. Is this a necessary consequence of a democracy that Methodism has long championed or should Methodists resent the layer upon layer of regulation coming our way from the EU and British Government? Does there come a point when the Church is forced to consider civil disobedience?

Facing a time of radical change

A paper, "Where are we heading?" suggests that the Church is facing a time of radical institutional change. Rising costs, inappropriate organisational structures, the burden of inappropriate or too many buildings and the strain of trying to 'fill vacant offices' from a declining and ageing membership, all challenge Methodist members. This will open up a discussion by the Conference on a possible future in which the Church recovers confidence in its faith and worship and encourages a risk-taking, flexible and focused mission.

Methodist pension schemes

The Methodist Church, like all organisations and charities, has seen the value of its investments take a dip last year. One key area affected is the Methodist ministers' pension scheme, which faces a deficit of £11million. The Conference is being asked to approve a 3.5% increase in contributions to overcome this deficit. Meanwhile the smaller pension scheme for lay employees is increasing contributions by 4.9%, of which 1% will be contributed by lay employees themselves.

Other subjects

Guidelines will be considered to allow Christians of other churches to hold 'dual membership' in the Methodist Church. The Conference will see a policy statement on the ethics of investing in Mining Companies and will hear that the Church's Central Finance Board used its shares in several companies to vote against excessive executive pay in the past year. A look back at Methodist-Roman Catholic relations since the 1960s will call for fresh efforts to underline that lay ministry is valued alongside ordained ministries. A report on the Methodist understanding of Holy Communion will seek for the Church to grasp afresh the importance of Holy Communion as it acknowledges that Methodism may have failed to respond to the desire of other Churches for a fuller doctrinal development. A Methodist Youth Conference report will raise questions aboutschool bullying and ease the way for young people to become members of church councils.

Speakers during Conference week

Mr Alan Bookbinder, BBC Head of Religion & Ethics, gives the Beckly Lecture on "Religion's Public Place", where he sets out the challenge of the religious community to make its voice heard publicly (Fringe meeting, Wednesday 2 July). Lord Hattersleywill be interviewed by the Rev Leslie Griffiths on his latest book "John Wesley: A Brand from the Burning" (Fringe meeting, Thursday 3 July).

Outgoing President of the Methodist Conference, the Rev Ian White, reflects on his time in office and offers a few parting challenges for the Church. New Methodist Conference President, the Rev Dr Neil Richardson, will be inducted and will address the Conference (Saturday 28 June). New Methodist Vice President, Mrs Judy Jarvis, will address the Conference (Sunday 29 June).

Methodist Conference 2003 index

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