Faith, Ministry & Church: Vice President John Bell addresses Conference

Faith, Ministry & Church: Vice President John Bell addresses Conference

The new Vice President of Conference 2005/6, John Bell, is aretired business executive from the Chester and Stoke District. Hewas educated at grammar schools in Sunderland and Newcastle, laterstudying Economics at Manchester University and IndustrialManagement at the University of Leeds. He is married to Joan andhas two grown-up children, Alison and Martin. John has a specialinterest in the role of faith in the workplace, and in theselection and training of people for ministry.

This morning John addressed delegates and guests at the Sundaymorning worship service, welcoming a diverse assembly of people andinviting them to reflect on faith, ministry and church from theirown perspectives. He spoke of those who had profoundly influencedand challenged him on his own faith journey, encouraging thosepresent to do the same.

Speaking on the diversity that comes with faith, John commentedthat "Perhaps, the broader our base, the stronger we may become.Let us hold this in our minds when we consider the Conferencereport Pilgrimage of Faith, reflecting our shared journey on humansexuality. No, we haven't arrived; the journey is notstraightforward; maybe we don't even know the destination. But letus continue to journey, safely, together.

"Our faith, with its amalgam of belief and unbelief, our confidencein God this day, even if we would have difficulty articulatingthese things, are a gathering of all that has gone before in ourlives, perhaps shredded, honed and glued together again through theyears. Like the two on the road to Emmaus, as we journey andwrestle, we will glimpse Jesus, the risen Lord."

This diversity of faith is carried into the ministry of the churchin all its variety. John challenged ordained ministers to have thecourage to follow their hopes for the Methodist Church in the 21stCentury, and spoke of the need to recognise the value of layministry; "Yes, we may engage in the work of the gathered church,but we have enormous opportunity to exercise our Christian ministrywhere we work or otherwise commit and spend our time (whether inparenting, in retirement, in community service, in many othersituations). What a wonderful opportunity we have! And yet, soneglected in the ecclesiastical pecking order. In my time with theConnexional Candidates Committee, I often asked candidates abouttheir call to ordained ministry Ð it seemed a fair question Ð andwas most dismayed by the sincerely offered answers that amounted to'I want to give myself full-time to serving God. I can't do that ina secular job:' oh, no? Where did you develop this taste forluxury? Of course I knew what they meant, but it seemed to betray anarrow view of mission possibilities."

Moving to the final of the service's themes, he said, "What issurely beyond doubt is that 'the church' is the hardest bit. Peoplesay 'it's not just about numbers:' no, it isn't. If we reflect onthe Old Testament idea of the remnant of Israel, maybe we are theChristian remnant today in whom God has put his trust. But wecannot be content that God expects nothing of us: Jesus' greatcommission in Matthew 28 to make disciples of all nations is directenough. It's neither complacency nor panic, but faith and visionwith a strong dose of honesty and realism that are needed."

John believes that being part of the Church involves four keychallenges for each and every member; upholding the faithfulthrough pastoral support, finding fresh ways or being and doingchurch, working in partnership with those of other denominationsand learning from the confidence and success of our partnerchurches in other continents.

Finally John called for the Church to be open to new insights inthe search for and pilgrimage with God, for which being open to theperson and work of Jesus and the inspirational challenge ofdiscipleship is essential.