21 June 2021
Reflecting on my year as Vice-President
Carolyn Lawrence's final piece for the Methodist Recorder as Vice-President of the Methodist Conference offers a reflection of her year of office.
Carolyn and Richard at a rare face-to-face meeting at Wesley's Chapel in London
When I first tested the call to stand as Vice-President of Conference I said to God, ‘Please only let me get this role if I can cope with all the travelling involved!’ I’m not saying it’s my fault that we have all been tied to our homes so long but clearly God didn’t think I could cope with all the travel!! This has been a Vice Presidential year like none before it with practically the whole year spent sitting on my bottom at my computer either preparing for or taking part in online events as well as writing articles and recording video messages!
In my Vice-Presidential speech I shared my life verse from my baptism from Philippians 4 vs 13 which says, ‘I can do all things through Christ Jesus who gives me strength.’ This year, with all its difficulties and joys has certainly caused me to stand on that promise and helped me to trust God through all the uncertainty and challenges. I just want to use my final Methodist Recorder article as Vice-President to share a few reflections on the year.
There were lots of things I was looking forward to about this calling and year of office and I have to admit that there have been a lot of disappointments along the way. Starting with the virtual induction and giving my speech to a lone camera man instead of in a hall of people and missing out on a celebration with my loved ones, then going on to almost everything planned being cancelled or moved to Zoom. There have been unique opportunities for visits that will never come again and this has been a sad loss that I have had to come to terms with.
Despite the limitations of the past year, and the monotony of sitting at my desk day after day, Richard and I have discovered that technology has given us a wider reach than possibly any previous presidency. Whereas I may have travelled 300 miles to preach to a congregation of 100 I have been enabled to engage with many more people in lots of places. I never dreamed I would master omnipresence this year but one Sunday technology allowed me to preach in three places at the same time!
Similarly with our social media representation and our Facebook Live broadcasts many more people have had the opportunity to get to know us a bit and several people have told us how much they have enjoyed calling the phone line for a message or engaging with us in our Monday lunchtime sessions. Richard and I have had fun week by week teasing each other and bringing some lightness and humour as well as sharing some serious reflections on some of the issues faced by people over the past year.
The prayer card may as well have been torn up but there have been many invitations to small church groups – midweek Bible studies and prayer meetings, pre-recorded sermons for small churches, writing for various church articles and magazines – all extra things that have been possible because of technology and allowed me to meet some small groups of Methodist members I may never otherwise have met.
In my Vice-Presidential speech I called out bullying in various forms and have been contacted by many people during the year telling me their stories of being bullied in the church – stories from ministers, lay leaders and ordinary congregation members as well as some who have been put off joining the church because of the way they have been treated when they sought to become involved. This saddens me and also makes me angry but I am thankful that I have been able to work with the safeguarding team and Learning Network to produce a series of webinars on bullying to encourage people to engage with the materials that the church has produced. For some of the people who have been in touch with me, this has been a real encouragement as they have said they feel they have been listened to and that the church is beginning to take these issues seriously.
Over the year so far I have been inspired, encouraged and heartened by all the amazing stories of resilience, creativity and resourcefulness in the church despite the challenges. These stories give me so much hope for the future as I have seen this passion to continue to be the church outside the walls of the buildings.
I’m also so encouraged by the way churches are beginning to look to the future – many realising that big decisions and changes need to be made; some of which have been speeded up by the Covid pandemic. A number of churches are already deciding not to go back to the old ways but to continue to look for ways to be creative as we ease out of lockdown. As I said in my VP speech, the church of Jesus Christ is awesome and despite all her failings and difficulties, I know that God still has a good plan for us and continues to lead and guide us if we have ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to us.
As for me, I have reached the end of this amazing year serving as Vice President and in the summer my husband, who is a Methodist minister, is being stationed to a new appointment in Shropshire. I have absolutely no idea what plans God has for the next stage of my calling and am excited to see where he leads me next! Whatever he calls me to do next I know and trust that he will reveal his good, pleasing and perfect –plans and pray that I will have the courage to be obedient to the next call! I want to take this opportunity to thank the many thousands of people who have supported me by their prayers and encouragement this past year and I give thanks for you all. I truly could not have got through this year without all that support and love.
Finally, I pray that whatever the circumstances in the days to come, we will all continue to fix our eyes on Jesus and remember that ‘The best of all is, God is with us.’
Carolyn and her husband, Mark