"Let's change the culture" says new Methodist President in Inaugural Address

  • The video and audio of the Revd Loraine N Mellor's addressare available  here.
  • Photographs of Loraine and the Conference are available here.   
In her inaugural address made earlier today, the RevdLoraine N Mellor, the newly elected President of the MethodistConference, asked: "How are we disturbing the present in the Churchtoday?" as she shared her concerns with the current state of theChurch and her vision for taking radical risks to change itsculture.

Reflecting on her worries over the"declining Church",Lorainetook a sobering look at the current state of the Methodist Churchand its dwindling membership."We don't have too many churches, wejust don't have enough people in them..."

As a potential solution, Loraine implored Methodists to takeradical steps to change the shape of the Church, through a renewedfocus on God-centred worship, generous hospitality and beingunafraid of failure in evangelism.

"I know I am part, at present, of a declining Church, but I amnot part of a declining gospel.

"The gospel of Jesus Christ is here to stay, but has the timenot come of us to be radical? To take some risks in order that wecan grow…

"Because, you see… I don't believe that God is done with us justyet."   



Presidential Address text in full:

I remember the first time I ever sang that hymn just used as aprayer introit on sermons Sunday.  We sang it every year andone year my Sunday school teacher Mrs Wroe asked me to sing themiddle verse as a solo.  It soon became a firm favourite andstill is.

Thank you Mrs Wroe I have much to thank you for, firstly forintroducing me to God,  for instilling in me a passion forJesus, and for keeping it real,  keeping faith so real so thatI could encounter the Holy Spirit. 

When Mrs Wroe asked me to sing the solo, I was beside myself,humbled. It was the greatest of honours to sing on Sermon Sunday,at my church Cawdor St Methodist (formerly in the Farnworthcircuit). Such anticipation as the church would be packed full andin the crowd my family and friends, much like today.

To my family and friends who have travelled to be here thank youfor coming and supporting me, for your encouragement, love andcare, I do love you all very much and you are all very precious tome. Especially John, thank you for walking this journey that mayhave often felt to you like a solo gig; I know,  I cannot doanything without your prayers, common sense and deep abiding loveand friendship. Thank you.

While I am saying thank you, I want to say thank you to thedistrict team in Nottingham and Derby for all the support,encouragement and willingness to try out new things, to take risksand to fail together while still laughing. Thank you to the Churchfor entrusting me with this even greater honour of being President,not for one moment did I imagine that I would stand before youhaving touched Wesley's field bible, nor for a fleeting moment,wearing this cross around my neck.

I must admit, I feel a bit like I did on that day many years agowhen asked to sing the solo, hoping I don't mess it up, hoping thatthe words come out in the right order, hoping most of all that I donot let God down and hoping my prayers of doing it right will beanswered. After all, this is not Loraine Mellor's Presidency it'sthe Church's, of which we are all a part.

Yet,  I am immensely grateful to all the Past Presidentsand Vice-Presidents for all they have shared with us over the yearsand for the ways in which you  have shaped us as a church andfor me personally, as a presbyter helped to shape my ministry. Thisis our story, yours and mine. I have taken to heart and haveexperienced glimpses of God's glory of bringing one person tofaith, by being a discipleship movement shaped for mission, offinding a distinctive voice,  I am still and will continue towant to see pastors in every church,  being on the edge ofPentecost and so much more.

It was the talented and fascinating actress Katharine Hepburnwho said:

"If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun."

I am not sure if there are any rules for the PresidentialAddress but Jill and I have chosen together to explore thetheme Day by Day, engaging in Mission and discipleship usingActs 2 42-47. A reading which many of us know so well that paints apicture of the early church at the time of  the firstChristians, people of the way  and it still has a lot to sayto  us today.

I will over the next year, not today, be developing themes fromthe reading as we travel the Connexion. We will use the reading inworship tomorrow and so today for my part, I want to share thosethings that I know all of my predecessors will have done in sharingwhat I think God is saying to us as a Church and using the lens ofthe passage of scripture from John, which Sally read to us.

I have to say in all honesty, that I have really struggled withthis Presidential Address almost from the moment of my designationand more than one person has said when I explained my dilemma 'butyou have lots to say!'  And to a certain extent they are notwrong, but what is the point of the Presidential Address, why do wehave it, what is it supposed to do? 

In the end, I decided that it is not at all about what I,Loraine Mellor, might want to say to the Church, but what God issaying to us as a church. Yet, how do we discern that, how do wesort out in our minds what are our desires, what we want, what wecrave and what God wants or not saying to the church? 

Well of course, you know the answer; we do that through prayerthrough silence, through listening, through that still small voiceand the voices and stories of others and through discerning andexperience.  

Catharine Booth said: "If we are to better the future wemust disturb the present"

So how are we disturbing the present in the Church today?

I do not for one second believe that God has done with theMethodist Church just yet, and I am not at all ready for thefuneral.

But there is no getting away from the fact that we are adeclining Church and we have to stop kidding ourselves that we aregood at evangelism. Does this keep you awake at night? Because itdoes me! It worries me that we have dropped our membership figuresbelow 200,000. It worries me that circuits cannot attractpresbyters to their appointment, and the effect that has on thelocal church, the circuit staff and stewards. It worries me that alot of churches have a lot of money in trust funds that is notbeing used for mission and evangelism - £5 million in the districtwhere I serve alone and many, many more millions around theConnexion.

It worries me that some churches and circuits are still usingold models of ministry and have a seemingly inability to change andadapt to the context, which we find ourselves in today. It worriesme when I see ministers struggling with the workload, the number ofministers who choose to or are forced (due to ill health) to retireearly.  It worries me when I see the sheer number of meetingswe ask our lay people to attend.  It worries me when I thinkwe have so much as a Methodist Church to offer to our communitiesand that our connexionalism is a gift of God.

This is of course is from my perspective of a district chair whoweek by week engages with circuits. It's my view and you may wellsee it differently, but I think we need to change. I think thatchange needs to be radical in order that we will survive and grow.I also need to remind myself that Jesus is Lord of the Church, and therefore I do not have to be, because he is, I shouldsleep at night. So let us rejoice in those areas of our connexionwhere we are growing and are seeing new disciples.

I heard someone say a few months ago 'there is nothing wrongwith the gospel so what is wrong with the Church?' Now that israther simplistic I know, but it made the point and challenged meat the same time.  Because this was also asked in the samemeeting: 'if a local church has consistently failed to make newdisciples is it still Church?' My response was, 'my heart says welldone, good and faithful servants - mission accomplished here', butmy head says 'this is not the Church.' I believe we need toconcentrate on the gospel and leave the Church to God

I know I am part of  a declining Church, this is my storyand your story, but I also believe we are also a transitionalchurch as we have all read in the connexion magazine, so what arewe going do about it because, brothers and sisters? Because Ibelieve we must do something.

We have to change the shape, the narrative of the story and Icontend we do that when the story is about our worship, about thehospitality that we offer, about the generosity of our sharing, bybeing disciples who are shaped by Jesus and his cross and by makingdecisions that give us a hope and a future. They arereflective of course of the themes our calling: worship, learningand caring, service and evangelism. And they are themes that I wishto pick up from John's gospel.

The reading from the end of John's gospel gives us a model thatI want to explore this afternoon. So this Presidential address froma biblical perspective, well, at least I hope it is.

We are at the end of Jesus earthly ministry, it is not the firsttime that the disciples have encountered Jesus. And once again,it's Peter who exclaims 'It is the Lord.' So surely it is firstabout our relationship with Jesus and about our worship of him.

Roger said this in the last year: "In a world where amultitude of truths and an infinite choice of lifestyles seempossible, Christians need to shape their lives by the pattern ofJesus. We have to be Jesus- Shaped"

The only way we can become Jesus shaped is by experiencing Jesusin our worship. Our worship today needs be authentic,relevant, awe-inspiring and God centred.

Jesus is standing on the shore watching, waiting and praying forhis disciples. He prepares breakfast for them, they are not farfrom shore, and they can converse together. Initially, they do notsee who it is, but then Peter speaks, 'it is the Lord.' And here wesee Peter who loved Jesus, who followed him, learned from him,shared with him, been bereaved, hurt, anxious, faithless andfaithful and now hear the words, the words of worship of his Lord,how passionate, and poignant. You can almost feel Peter breathethem over the morning mist, words of worship and of wonder, 'It isthe Lord'. 

As disciples of Christ, our first priority must be to worship inthat worship we must hear the word of God preached and thepreached word must be relevant to our hearer. It must relate towhere we are and for many of us today in a church that is notmulti-generational, we are often preaching to retired, elderly,small in number congregations, so what can we say to them aboutwhat it means to worship and be energised and inspired?

That morning thousands of years ago on that lake, in that boat,Peter moved from being distressed and anxious, he had fished allnight, he had worked hard,  he had gone back to what he knewand in that moment was inspired and energised by his Lord. Ourreason for being, be it aged 9 or 90, is that we are to offer our'worth ship' to God.

Our 'worth ship' to God can be expressed in myriad of ways, fromthe great hymns of faith to the newest worship song from Taize toIona, in silence and in a joyful noise; it can be liturgical andextemporary. Yet, some of the worship some of us encounter can bedull and narrow. Our diet in worship is not worshipful, but centredaround our needs, what we like and we enjoy. 

I am sure some of you (like me) have had said at the churchdoor  as you shake hands after the worship- "I did not likeyour hymns much today," "I did not like what you said about thepassage of scripture." But that is about I, not about whatworship should be and our worth ship of God.

Peter was no longer thinking of himself when he realised it wasJesus standing on the shore he quickly put his clothes back on ashe rushed to make it to the shore swimming and wading to get toJesus. 

When our worship is vibrant, it is focused on God when the wordis preached and is relevant then our people are happy to invitefamily and friends. "Worth ship" is an imperative of ourfaith. That is where we encounter the living God. Where the placeof preaching plays a central role, when people encounter Jesusthrough the preached word, that's when people grow in faith becausetheir story resonates with the story from scripture.

We all know that Presbyters and Deacons are itinerant and LocalPreachers are local, yet in some of our circuits do we have thisthe wrong way round? Church growth commentators tell us thatconsistency in worship is important. When people in thecongregations see the same people week on week leading worship thisgives confidence. Churches that have a regular team leading worshipgrow and we know of these places around the Connexion where theyare seeing significant growth through worship, through the preachedword, through being able to encounter a loving God and experiencehis glory, power, and majesty for themselves.

So to enable our churches, to enable our people to encounter thegospel, worship needs to be of the highest quality, it needs to befocused on God and our 'worth ship' of Him. Where the word of Godis preached, is consistent and relevant, and its need to be ledevery week by a small collaborative team of preachers and worshipleaders.

Oscar Romero said: "A church that doesn't provoke anycrises, a gospel that doesn't unsettle, a word of God that doesn'tget under anyone's skin, a word of God that doesn't touch the realsin of the society in which it is being proclaimed - what gospel isthat?"

We see in this passage of scripture that the disciples arefishing, the commentators believe and we know from the scripturethat they had encountered Jesus since his crucifixion and this timeJesus tells them to throw the net on the other side of the boat.They must have wondered if life could get any worse. The agony ofthe last few days and weeks.Jesus is dead, what now? They go tofish and catch nothing, but they were fishermen, they go back totheir roots. They know this lake like the back of their hands.

They have fished it many times, both in the day and in night,week after week, month after month, they wondered would it havechanged that much over the last three years? And Jesus tells themto throw the net on the other side of the boat. 'Well  Jesusthat's just not done, we don't catch fish that way', but they aresilent and do what the man on the shore tells them to do, which isinteresting in itself, but 'What the hey? Could it get any worse?Let's give it a try!'

Does this reading suggest to you that Jesus referred to the fishas people? Yet many of us over the years have seen this in thepassage, and I thinks it's there. There is a link in ourminds  to the calling of the disciples when Jesus says followme and I will make you fishers of people. I want to suggest anotherway to look at it. It not for me about the fish caught, it is aboutthe disciples.  

When they drag the fishing net full of fish to the shore Jesushas already started to cook breakfast for them, yet he says, 'comebring some of the fish you have caught as well'. Hospitality andgenerosity seen in a sentence. The hospitality that Jesus offers tohis disciples in bread and fish and the way in which the disciplesare able to respond out of their abundance. Is this not the blueprint for our churches today to enable us to grow if our model ofmission and ministry is focused around hospitality andgenerosity?

A few months ago, I heard someone say that the key thing forgrowth is that you must see failure as your friend. If your learnfrom what you did you will make a difference. I know from my ownexperience that successful growing churches that share the gospelhave a long history of things they have tried and failed at.

Earlier this year the Archbishop of Canterbury said: "Wemust be cross-shaped, foot-washing, Jesus following, confident infaith and humble in service - and above all outward looking."

I wonder how many of us want to change the world, because I knowI do. I want every single person on this planet to know the love ofGod. And I make absolutely no apology for that at all.

So often our dreams are limited, how big are your dreams and wholimits them, not God, so it's us, the Church. If we are honest itis often us - we are afraid. I believe that our role as disciplesis to express hope in a society that is disintegrating. Our role isto be connexional as that is our gift, and to use the resources ofeach other, each church, each circuit, each district and to stopreinventing the wheel. 

Jesus asked the disciples to throw the net on the other side of  the boat and to come and share what they had caught,to do what they knew best and he added value, why should that notbe the case today for us in our churches? This God of ours, thisJesus whom we worship, this breath of the Spirit - I do not thinkthat he is saying do what we don't know, it's about doing what wedo know. 

There are masses of fish in the net, yet it didn't break, God'sgenerosity is infinite. Yet  many of us in the Church todayfind ourselves not able to  find people anymore to do the jobsthat need to be done. We can't find treasurers, stewards, pastoralvisitors, ministers, so why if that is the situation we are in, arewe are perpetuating a system and a structure that is creaking. Whyare we reinventing the wheel in every church, why are we notsharing our resources? Are some of us not being as generous and ashospitable as we could be? Jesus already had breakfast cooking, thedisciples brought what they had, and so it becomes a combinedbreakfast of sharing of what was on offer: a sharing of time, offellowship, of talking together, of love in action, and John paintssuch a beautiful word picture.  So why, I ask myself are wefearful sometimes of other churches in our own circuit? Surely, itis about building relationships about joining in about beinggenerous with what we have, about being incredibly and infinitelyhospitable.

Surely, it is about the rich church helping the poor church, andI don't just mean in terms of money! It is about people resource,about gift resource, it is about joining in and really beingconnexional.  

Now I know it sounds so simplistic. It is not just about beinggenerous and hospitable with each other, it's also about all thosewho day by day and week by week come into our buildings. The peoplewho live next door to us, who live in our communities. Yet, whatmight that generosity and hospitality look like for you in yourcontext?  What is the first thing we all have that we canshare? Now I know you that with however many of us there are herethis afternoon we will come up with lots of different ideas but Iwant to say today, it is about the gospel of Jesus Christ.

What can be more generous than sharing the love of God.

Many of us fearful of sharing our faith, of witnessing to thisgreat and mighty God who we worship and I can understand that wemay be fearful of being rebuffed. We may be afraid of the questionsthat we might not be able to answer. We may feel inadequate for thetask, well join the club as we all feel like that at some time orother, yet, I know we are not ashamed of God and ourfaith. 

However, the reality is that in some places we do hang on tostructures in the local church, which hinder our mission and do notmeet people's needs where they are in society today.  We arenot as hospitable and as generous as we could be. I know too, frommy own experience as a district chair we get bogged down by so manymeetings that we have no time for being involved in mission and insharing the Love of God. 

Do you think it all might be rather divisive and its easier totalk about what is not relevant and not to spend time learning howto share our faith?

A few years ago we had a resource as a Church called 'Time totalk of God' and it's still time to talk of God. And if you put'TIME TO TALK OF GOD' into Google this is what you get

The aim of 'time to talk of God' is: 'to recognise ourrole and responsibility in sharing our faith today and to gainconfidence in our personal story. So what are we doing in ourchurches to encourage people to talk of God? Do we have a growthplan in place, which includes a series of opportunities for peopleto learn what it means to share faith? Does the structure ofour Church maximise the opportunity for people to learn how to begenerous with what we have? Are our churches structured so that wecan offer hospitality to all those we encounter and does a cup ofinstant coffee and a rich tea biscuit after worship speak to you ofgenerosity and hospitality?

At our current rate of decline we need to make members at 3times the numbers we are making now and I am sure you are awarethat 85% of those who come to faith today are under the age of 25.I want to ask myself some questions. I know we are declining, thenwhy am I not encouraging every circuit to have an evangelist on theteam.  Why am I not encouraging every local church to have ayouth worker, even if it is only for a few hours every week? Irejoice that some churches and circuits have growth plans inplace.  I rejoice that some churches and circuits have abudget line for mission and evangelism.

I ask myself another question. 'How am I building confidenceamong our congregations to witness in evangelism?'.

What actually do we want our people to be generous andhospitable about? Honestly, I think it comes down to people knowingGod loves them, and so I want to keep our apologetics simple.Sharing our faith, which begins with honouring Christ in ourhearts. Remembering in every moment, of every day, that asChristians today we have good news to share, the very best news toshare and that is that God loves you.

"But in your hearts honour Christ as holy, always be prepared tomake a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hopethat is in you: yet do it with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter3:15)

My fear and my nightmare, is that as a church we will decline somuch we will go out of existence as Methodists, we will not havemany people around but we will be very rich as there are millionsof pounds locked away in church funds. I fear that we are not beinghospitable and generous with what we have. We are not usingour money to enabling people to learn how to share Jesus. Our moneyis not paying for an evangelist, not funding a youth worker,engaging with the one program, having an intern, not serving thepoor, not feeding the hungry, not sharing the amazing wonderfullife enriching love of God, but moreover, not appreciating thateveryone we encounter has something to offer as well.

Elaine A. Heath, in her book The Mystic Way ofEvangelism, puts it like this: "Evangelism isintrinsically relational, the outcome of love of neighbour, for tolove our neighbour is to share the love of God holistically. Theproper context for evangelism is authentic Christian community,where the expression of loving community is the greatest apologeticfor the gospel.

Let's build relationships, share this great gospel that you areloved by God.  That's where it starts, withrelationships.  The disciples had no reason to trust the manshouting at them from the shore, but subconsciously they knew itwas Jesus. Yet, Peter was the first to recognise him, but when theydid they came as well, they joined in, they trusted their leaderand in it all rescued their belief, their understanding, their commitment to the Lord and reignited their belief in thegospel and together they turned around a situation that lookeddoomed. Out all night fishing, caught nothing, but then overbreakfast they discovered that no all was lost. In fact it was justthe beginning and with the Lord it all changed.

We have to focus primality on our worship where we encounter ourliving God, we have to be generous and hospitable and we have tomake some decisions to give us a hope and a future.

The disciples had a number of decisions to make that day. Shouldthey go fishing at all? Having decided that is was worth it, theyhad another decision to make, should they throw the net on theother side of the boat when all there inclinations were tellingthem that it is not the right way to fish. Should they be listingto the voice of the man standing on the shoreline?  Then thedecision to follow to the shore dragging the nets full of fish, andfinally the last decision of all, to take what they had caught andjoin in the breakfast.

Decisions, decisions, decisions...

I think the reason some of us do not talk about our faith isthat we do not think we have anything to offer. Sisters andbrothers you have much to offer. Have confidence, we can asdisciples enable the Church to grow and to make disciples. Itsabout all of us, people of faith.

John Millbank  a Theologian at NottinghamUniversity, speaking about the Church of England, said: "Thefuture of the CofE's mission depends very much on the restorationof a learned clergy who will once again command culturalrespect." 

That quote rather assumes a lot, but made me question what arewe doing,  what decisions are we making that means that we arecontinuing to spread our ministers ever more thinly and not puttingpastors into our churches. The reality is we have too many churchesin the wrong places for our communities today. Great 100 years ago,but our communities have moved.  We don't have too manychurches. We don't have too many churches, we just don't haveenough people in them. Therefore we need a touch of Jesus so we cansee his glory.   

The disciples over breakfast had a touch of glory and moved bytheir decision making from one position to another.

So let's move too, lets replant churches, Jesus showed thedisciples another way, they had nothing in the nets, we know wedon't have enough people, not enough ordained ministers and in adeclining Church and an ageing Church and we ask ourselves whereare the ordained going come from unless we radically change ourposition.

Why do some churches not have a growth plan in place, but alsofor some, do not have a palliative pastoral terminal care plan inplace either?

The first 24 years of my life after school was in the healthservice, and I loved it. It was very different being a nurse in the70s and 80s than it is today. We had Matrons, I was terrified ofmine, she was called Miss Markham, but we phased her out. We thenhad nursing officers, I was one, but we then got phased out. Andnow we are back to matrons again.

Cancer then was a sentence, not a word. Macmillan nurses did notexist, we did not have end of life care plans we did not have careplans. We did not have terminal care plans now we do and theycontain pastoral, spiritual, physical, family care plans. When we know the end of life is approaching. Therefore, Iwonder, why do we not have that in place when we know the end ofsome of our churches life is approaching?

The Church is almost, if not past the tipping point when we allneed to take some risks in mission and our discipleship to enableus to grow. The disciples had to take a few risks that day.

I am trying to be positive and commit myself to telling goodnews stories and I flatly refuse to buy into the story ofdecline. 

But I don't want to be the sort of person who ignores the voiceof Jesus calling from the shore. I don't want to  buy into therhetoric in the fear that I might start to believe it,  but Ialso have to be realistic and I don't want to be seen as burying myhead in the sand either.  If we keep talking of decline, wewill come to believe our own publicity.

Therefore, my call today is as the Conference, as the Connexion,as a local church and circuit as districts, is 'let's change theculture.' Knowing that the word culture means how we do thingsaround here. Let's take some risky decisions, just as those firstdisciples did thousands of years ago and change as they did. Let uscommit to talk of God, to make new disciples.

Let us achieve this by being hospitable, generous and loving ourpeople, and encouraging our people to talk of God. Let's releaseour ministers to engage in mission and not maintenance. To be whereJesus would be, eating with them, sharing with them, with those whoare homeless: the hungry, the lonely, the bereaved, to do all thethings that Rachel and Roger have spent the last year encouragingus in - to develop new partnerships, new relationships. 

One of our charisms as a Church is that we believe that ourunique blend of social justice and that evangelism goes hand inhand. So let's continue to believe it. We have much to offer.

So what is your church and circuit's vision for growth? Remembering that old Japanese proverb: "Vision without actionis a daydream, action without vision is a nightmare" and thenthe words of an unknown commentator: "Where there is novision, the people perish, but where there is no process orstructure the vision is doomed."

In conclusion I want to take you back to 1932 to Methodist Union(is that right Mr Secretary? I got it wrong first time and I wascorrected) and John Scott Lidgett, a past President of theConference who died the year I was born (so now you know how old Iam). In his Presidential Address he said something which I verymuch warm to and something I want to share with youtoday: "Methodism has a calling to meet together, worship Godand do mission."

Well, you may not agree with this Presidential Adress and I havenever been a diplomat. I am not even sure because I'm not atheologian either, that it's theological. I may have interpretedscripture wrongly, and not listened to God well enough, but what Iwanted to say in a nutshell is this:

Let us focus on our worship where we encounter our living God,we have to be generous and hospitable and we have to make somedecisions which give us a hope and a future.

I know I am part at present of a declining Church, butI am not part of a declining gospel. The gospel of Jesus Christ ishere to stay, but has the time not come of us to be radical to takesome risks in order that we can grow? Because you see, perhaps inmy naivety I don't believe that God is done with us just yet.