Methodist Council meeting, April 2005

The Methodist Council met at High Leigh in Hertfordshire for itslast meeting before the annual Methodist Conference in June. TheCouncil addressed a number of major topics that will now go forwardto Conference.

The Church is addressing several issues that involve youngpeople. Council approved a report recommending that churches andcircuits be seen as the primary location for the Church'sengagement with students. Making the change from morecentrally-organised student work will allow circuits and localchurches to be more flexible in their student work, possiblyincorporating it in their youth work.

However, Council stressed the need for the Church to givestudent work a high priority amidst the wealth of other work thatcircuits undertake. The 120 Methodist chaplains to higher educationwill continue their work, and the Church remains part of theecumenical network of 200 chaplains serving further education.

Council also approved a report for Conference looking at thework of the 20s and 30s group within the Church. This group ischarged to look at how the Church can better engage with youngpeople and allow young people to engage with God. This group hasbeen behind recent successful initiatives such as the 11thCommandment competition, the Methodist sponsorship of the Church ofFools online church, and the Mocktails contest. The report alsoreaches some conclusions as to the best ways forward for increasingthe Church's involvement with younger people.

The Council received the introduction of the first report fromthe Joint Implementation Group, set up by the Methodist andAnglican churches after they signed their Covenant in November2003. The full report will be presented to both the MethodistConference and the Church of England General Synod this summer. TheJIG has been considering a range of issues, including developingcommon practices on the bread and wine used in Communion. It hasalso looked at how the Methodist Diaconal Order and AnglicanDeacons can work closer together. The JIG report also maps out howMethodist and Anglican structures (Districts and Dioceses, Circuitsand Deaneries) can work together. The Revd Peter Sulston, MethodistCoordinating Secretary for Unity in Mission, told Council "thereare varied moves within different parts of the churches. Weencourage meetings between relevant parts of the churchesstructures so that they can identify the most appropriate patternfor partnerships in their areas. We also stress that whereverpossible such talks should also include other ecumenicalpartners."

Council also sent on to Council a series of changes to theMethodist Church Standing Orders to allow ministers and deaconsfrom other denominations to become Associate ministers or AssociateDeacons serving the Methodist Church. Although the Methodist Churchhas long had the means for ministers from other churches withinBritain and from across the world to serve the British MethodistChurch, but these categories ("Recognised and Regarded" and"Authorised to Serve") both put the ministers involved under somedegree of control of the Methodist Church.

The new designations of Associate Ministers and Deacons willallow clergy from other churches to undertake specific functions(for example leading worship, preaching or offering pastoral care)on behalf of the Methodist Church while remaining under theauthority of their own churches. With increasing moves towardsecumenical working, both with the Church of England under theCovenant and with a number of other British churches, this changein Methodist Standing Orders, if approved by Conference, will allowmore clergy from other churches to become involved in the life andwork of the Methodist Church. The Revd Ken Howcroft, MethodistCoordinating Secretary for Conference and Communication, says,"this proposed change would allow local ecumenical work to proceedon a more formal basis, for the benefit of the churches involvedand the people they work with."

The Council heard details of plans for the new London RegionalDistrict, and how its creation in September 2006 will affectMethodist districts in the rest of the southeast of England. Thenew London district will, in the capital, replace four existingdistricts to create a single body able to represent and overseeMethodism in the area covered by the Greater London Authority. Eachof these four existing districts, however, also includes circuitsin the rest of the region, from southern Oxfordshire at one end tothe Channel ports at the other. The Revd Dr. Stuart Jordan,reported from the implementation groups currently looking at theseissues. The current proposals, which will now go forward to theJune Conference, are for the circuits outside London but in theLondon South East and South West districts will form a new singledistrict covering Kent, Surrey, East and West Sussex and - forhistoric reasons - Malta and Gibraltar. To the north, a similararrangement will lead to the creation of a new district to thenorth of London, although in this case some districts will transferto neighbouring districts, such as Oxford & Leicester.
Dr. Jordan said that the biggest problem to date has been findingnames for these new districts. "We want something that is bothaccurate and easy on the tongue," he says. "We have joked that weought to run a competition, but as time goes on that looks like anincreasingly good option!

David Deeks: "This is the biggest change to the districtstructure of the Church in a generation, and it is going verysmoothly. The new London District will enable the Church to relatedirectly to London government as well as ecumenical partners, whilethe suggested new districts to the north and south will enableMethodist churches in south east England to work better togetherand ecumenically. Methodism in London is vibrant, multicultural andgrowing, and these changes will promote the energies of the churchin the capital for further growth."