06 March 2020
World Day of Prayer and God in Love Unites Us
As o’er each continent and island
The dawn leads on another day
The voice of prayer is never silent
Nor dies the strain of praise away.
The World Day of Prayer reminds us of our fundamental unity as people of God; all over the world the Church is joined in a bond of prayer. As Jesus taught his disciples, we come to Our Father, with all our hopes and fears, from different contexts and in different languages, and with differing expressions of faith.
Occasions like the World Day of Prayer proclaim that unity in spite of our divisions. Whenever we celebrate what unites us we are conscious that our unity is impaired. There are divisions in Christ’s Church which go back centuries; there are examples of bodies that have overcome the separations of the past to create new unions, and there are conversations ongoing to heal our divisions. But each generation faces its own tensions and sadly those tensions sometimes give cause for fresh division.
In the same week as World Day of Prayer, we have been discussing God in Love Unites Us, the report received at last year’s Conference and commended it to the Connexion for study and prayerful discussion. It is a report that deals with some of the issues on which Christians have different opinions, particularly about marriage. Since the Conference, discussion has happened in many places as the Conference hoped it would, enabling all who wish to do so to engage with the report and the issues that it addresses. The video which accompanies the study material shares the testimony of the group which wrote the report, that such conferring leads to a deeper experience of Christian fellowship in the power of the Spirit.
It might be helpful to be reminded of what the Conference asked us to do. As well as commending the report for discussion, the Conference passed a number of provisional resolutions on which the District Synods have to vote. In voting as they will in the next month or so, the Synods will listen to what has been heard through the prayerful discussions and each District will have worked out its own way for that to happen. Please pray for the Synod in your district as in the next month or so the members of the Synod make their decision on behalf of the circuits they represent.
‘What if…’ questions still abound and some land in my inbox. They are expressed in different ways, but broadly they are two areas:
- Will the Conference be making a statement about the Church’s doctrine and discipline and what does that mean for those who each year have to affirm that they believe and preach ‘our doctrines’?
There are different views about whether or not what is proposed is a change in doctrine and/or discipline and if it is how it affects the affirmations some have to make. The Faith and Order Committee has been asked to reflect on the first question and will report to the Conference. Depending on what the Conference decides on that point, the Chairs and other Connexional Leaders will work together to ensure that there is clear guidance for all Ministers and Local Preachers about what they are asked to affirm and what the options are if they cannot.
- If a significant number of members of a Church or Circuit decide to resign their membership, what are the consequences for the trusteeship and management of property and funds? And what room do we have to be generous to one another if we can no longer remain together?
This is a question that has been asked in a number of places. Sadly, whatever decisions the Conference makes, some people are going to feel hurt and Methodist people will want to respond as lovingly and supportively as we can and see the mission of the Church continued whilst bearing mind that the resources for the Church have been given for the purposes of the Methodist Church. The Law and Polity Committee will be contributing to the conversation in the light of legal advice and again there will be a report to the Conference on this point.
The truth in the title of the report is that God in love unites us even when we disagree, perhaps profoundly. We have lived for a long time with contradictory convictions and I hope and pray that we can continue to do so, but I want to assure those who are worried that we hear the concerns.
We hear them against the backdrop of some of our partners having conversations about the same questions. As well as listening to each other, we are listening to the World Church with its many different contexts and viewpoints. We talk to each other, we pray with each other, we listen to each other and will carry on doing so not just on the World Day of Prayer.
Jonathan Hustler, Secretary of the Methodist Conference