New Methodist President: “We have to learn to expect to see God in the mundane”

The Methodist Conference opened in London today with theinauguration of the Revd Ruth Gee as President. In her inauguraladdress to the Conference, the Revd Ruth Gee spoke of a Churchwaiting expectantly for glimpses of God's glory. 

"Waiting expectantly to glimpse the glory of God means waitingexpectantly wherever we are and whatever the circumstances," shesaid at Methodist Central Hall. "This recognition of the presenceof God is at the heart of mission and of evangelism which aresurely about enabling people to recognise God already present withthem, about introducing them to Jesus, about being the hands andfeet of Christ in the world." 

But she added that this recognition was a challenge. "At othertimes it is not so easy and we need to know God well to glimpse theglory. We have to learn to expect to see God in the ordinary, inthe mundane, because that is the meaning of incarnation; that isthe consequence of God's ceaseless movement into the depths."

The new president described Rublev's illustration of the Trinity- a fifteenth century Russian icon of God the Father, God the Sonand God the Holy Spirit - which features in the new booklet,Glimpses of Glory, launched by Methodist Publishingtoday. "Our belief in God as trinity means that we believethat God is dynamically relational," she said. "As you look at theicon, you are drawn into that space and into a dynamic relationshipwith God. God moves ceaselessly into the depths, reaching out to usin love and drawing us close."

At the end of her address, the Revd Ruth Gee emphasised that thecalling of a Church to wait expectantly for glimpses of God's glorywas no easy calling. 

"Let me be clear," she pointed out, "recognising the presence ofChrist does not deny the harsh reality of suffering and theexistence of evil, of those things that are clearly contrary to thewill of a loving God. This is the calling to stand alongside peoplein pain and suffering and to offer something of the love of Christeven there. This is the calling to recognise the presence of God inthe mundane and the ordinary and to help others to find God thereas well. Many Methodist people respond to this calling day by dayin their communities and places of work."

Her address also emphasised the importance of ensuring thatChurch spaces are safe places for children and the vulnerable, andthat the Church should challenge cruelty, indifference and violenceas contrary to the will of God.

The full text of the address follows:

Conference Address


Let us pray:

Father of everlasting Grace,

your goodness and your truth we praise,

your goodness and your truth we prove;

you have, in honour of your Son,

the gift unspeakable sent down,

the Spirit of life and power and love. 

                                  (Charles Wesley, Singing the Faith, 378)

Let us be still...

Let us be quiet...

Move among us Spirit of life.

           Kindle a warming flame in our hearts.

           Inspire us with hope and expectation.

Move among us Spirit of power.

           Fill our sails with the wind of adventure and discovery.

           Disturb our complacency with your insistence.

Move among us Spirit of love.

           Soothe our fears with your gentleness.

           Lead us to Jesus, to life in all its fullness.

Spirit of life and power and love

Move among us now.


(End of prayer)

Do you feel the Spirit moving among us now?

Do you believe that God is with us here?

Have you glimpsed something of the glory of God today?

Do you expect to do so?

A number of years ago, I was talking to a young woman who hadbegun to come to church. She had little Christian background andshe asked me where she had to be to get close to God. She wanted toknow where God was to be found and where she could pray. I said,"you don't have to go to a special place to be close to God, God iswith you wherever you are."  She was surprised because in theforms of spirituality that she had explored she had been taughtthat there were techniques that she had to get right before shecould find fulfilment. 

"Do you mean God is with me when I am at work?" she asked. "Yes", I said.

"And God is with me when I am at home?". 

"Yes, God is with you at home"

"And what about when I am walking down the street, is God withme then?"

"Yes, God is with you then."

"Wow!" she said, "That is amazing!"

And it is amazing isn't it?

That God who is eternal, without beginning or end; 

God who underpins and sustains all that is or ever has been orwill be; 

God who gently holds the threads of our lives and all historyand weaves them into an ever-evolving picture; 

God who is beyond our reason or imagination; 

It is amazing that God is with each one of us, that God knowseach one of us by name, and that we can know God.

Sometimes, I can forget how amazing it is.

I like this image of a pearl at the bottom of the ocean. Thosewho dived for pearls went down to extreme depths in a single breathand risked their lives in doing so. It was a hazardous occupationand few of the oysters that were brought to the surface containedpearls. But they dived because the pearls were precious.

God reaches out to us because we are precious to God, and Godhas reached out to us in the person of Jesus, given the nameEmmanuel which means God with us. It was a risky venture, it led toarms outstretched in love on the cross and days of hopeless waitingfor those who cared for him - a waiting and sorrow that were turnedto joy in the miracle of resurrection.

In recent weeks, the ex President has reminded us of thesovereignty of God. The theologian, Eberhard Jüngel said that thedistinguishing feature of God's majesty was "a ceaseless movementinto the depths"  This is a movement prompted by God's loveand a movement that reaches every part of our humanity. God reachesout to us so that we can know God and be the people God created usto be.

God reaches out to us, God moves ceaselessly into the depths,because it is God's nature, it is essential to God's very being,that God is relational.

This is well illustrated by Rublev's Icon of the trinity whichwill be known to many of you. This fifteenth century Russian iconis generally regarded as a depiction of the trinity, God theFather, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Much could be saidabout this icon but let me draw your attention to twothings. 

Firstly if you look at any of the three figures, you will findyourself drawn to look at the other two because there is a dynamicinteraction between the three. Our belief in God as trinity meansthat we believe that God is dynamically relational. 

The second thing to notice is that the three are sitting at atable and there is a space for another. As you look at the icon,you are drawn into that space and into a dynamic relationship withGod.

God moves ceaselessly into the depths, reaching out to us inlove and drawing us close.

During the last year quite a few people have asked me what thetheme of this address would be. My usual answer has been, "I amgoing to talk about God", it was truthful but not very informative.For those who would like the theme in a few words it is waitingexpectantly for glimpses of glory.

You see, if it is true that God is with us and reaching out tous in love, wherever we are and whatever we are going through inour lives - then we should expect to glimpse the glory of God atany time and in any place. It is not just that we will be surprisedby God, though in my experience this does happen, It is that weshould expect to glimpse the glory of God, we should be anexpectant people.

One night a group of fisherman and other friends of Jesus werein a boat on the sea of Galilee. Earlier that day they had beenwith Jesus and a huge crowd of people who had listened to histeaching and had been fed by him when they grew hungry. It was atiring day and, at the end of it, Jesus had gone into the hills topray and his friends were going back across the lake in theboat.

Then the storm began. The fishermen knew that inland sea welland were used to the sudden storms that often came. The wind wasblowing and the rain was beating down and they were struggling withthe oars against an adverse wind. It was then, according to theauthor of the Gospel of Mark, that Jesus came towards them, walkingon the sea. They saw him and were terrified thinking he was aghost. Jesus spoke to them and said, "It is I do not be afraid." Hegot into the boat and when he was with them the storm subsided.

 It is a well known story but I have always been intriguedby one short phrase in it. Mark writes that Jesus came towards themand "He intended to pass them by."  What use was it to passthem by if they were struggling against the storm and afraid ofdrowning? 

We have to look to other parts of the Bible to understand Mark'sreference to Jesus' intention to pass them by. In the OldTestament, we can read about the time when Moses was on Mount Sinaiand God told him to hide in a cleft in the rock, and the glory ofGod passed by. At another time the prophet Elijah was on MountHoreb feeling disheartened and abandoned when the glory of Godpassed by. Elijah recognised God's presence in the still smallvoice or the sound of sheer silence. In both stories the referenceto the glory of God passing by speaks of the real presence ofGod.

Those friends of Jesus who were struggling against the storm hadbeen with him for many months. They had listened to his teaching,they had seen him making people whole and restoring their dignity,and yet they didn't recognise him as he came towards them. Theydidn't recognise the glory of God passing by as it had passed byMoses and Elijah.

I think the real danger for those friends of Jesus was not thatthey would be overcome by the storm. The real danger was that theywould fail to recognise God with them, they would fail to glimpsethe glory of God.

And I suspect that is a real danger for us too.

I think that many of us have lost the expectation that we willglimpse the glory of God, we are no longer confident that God iswith us and we don't always recognise God in unexpected anddifficult places.

But with St Paul," I am convinced that ...nothing in allcreation will be able to separate us from the love of God in ChristJesus our Lord." (Romans 8:39)

I am convinced that we must be people who expect to glimpse theglory of God if we are to fulfil our calling as disciples, asfollowers of Jesus. 

I am convinced that if we are to be a discipleship movementshaped for mission, a fundamental part of that shaping is to growto know God so well that we recognise the glory of God passing byand we help others to see it too. 

We are called into relationship with God, through Jesus, enabledby the Spirit and we are called to invite others into thislife-giving relationship. 

So, what does all this look like, how does it play out in oureveryday lives as Methodist people. What will the church look likeand what will society look like, if we truly are people who waitexpectantly for glimpses of Glory?

Here are some suggestions as a starting point for a conversationthat I hope will continue throughout this year and perhaps beyond.A conversation that I hope will be resourced by the booklet,'Glimpses of Glory', that you have all received, and that areavailable from Methodist Publishing.  I am grateful to allthose who have contributed to it.

I believe that a church that waits expectantly for glimpses ofglory has to be a church of people committed to growing in theknowledge of God throughout their lives.

I enjoy watching detective series on television butunfortunately have a good enough memory to remember who committedthe murder. This means that the second and third time that I watcha series of Morse or Lewis, or Frost is never as good as the firstbecause I know who did it; there comes a time when there is nothingnew to be learned. 

 It is never like that with God. There is always somethingnew, something more, because even when we reach the end of life, wewill only have scratched the surface of the knowledge of God. Ourdesire should always be to scratch deeper. 

This desire is well expressed in the prayer attributed toRichard of Chichester:

Day by day dear Lord,

of thee three things I pray:

to see thee more clearly,

to love thee more dearly,

to follow thee more nearly,

day by day.  

                       (Singing the Faith, 444)

How do we grow in our knowledge of God, indeed how do we come toknow God in the first place? There are many ways in which we growto know God but I want to focus briefly on three of them. We growto know God through one another, through scripture and through ourtraditions. 

Of course, the fullest revelation of God is in the person ofJesus and we cannot hold anything as true which contradicts theteaching and example of Jesus.

For many of us there will have been significant people who havetold us about Jesus, who through their example have shown us God'slove or who have sustained and challenged us in our developingrelationship with God.

This is the appropriate time for me to thank some of those whohave been and are an important part of my journey of faith. Mymother and father, who first taught me to pray and brought me up ina Christian home. My father was a Methodist Local Preacher for aslong as I can remember. It was while attending church with him thatI first heard a congregation singing 'And can it be' and thought, Iwant to be part of a church that sings hymns like that. It was mymother, who is here today, who took me to Sunday School in theparish church in the village where we lived and whose quietlysustaining faith has been a powerful example throughout my life. Myhusband, Robert has supported me unfailingly and is the one who hashelped me to struggle with the most difficult questions and sharedin the greatest joys. Our children Andrew and Rachel, and ourSon-in-Law Andrew, have enriched my life immeasurably and helped tokeep me grounded when I lose a sense of proportion. There arefriends and colleagues too numerous to mention by name, and themany people in the places where I have lived and served, includingthose in the Darlington District, who through this year have beenpraying for me, and whose prayers have sustained me and will go ondoing so.

I am deeply grateful for, and still rather surprised by theprivilege of serving the Methodist Church as President this year. Iam fully aware that I can only fulfil the promises that I have justmade with God's help and with your prayerful support. Thank you,you are helping me to grow in the knowledge of God.

Among the people who have influenced me was a teacher ofreligious Studies who introduced me to St Paul's letter to theRomans when I was an A level student. As I studied that text andthen read the book on Paul written by Martin Dibelius and given meby my teacher, I was inspired by the depth of Paul's thinking andby the truth of the gospel, and I fell in love with theology, alove that has never left me. But at the heart of the love oftheology is the love of Jesus and the love of the God who I meet inscripture, through the written words of others who have scratchedthe surface of the knowledge of God.

In the Darlington District we are committed to encouragingpeople to engage more deeply with the Bible and to finding ways tointroduce people to this wonderfully rich and exciting, sometimespuzzling and often challenging collection of books. We arecommitted because we want people to grow in their knowledge of Godand we know from the work we have done that there are manyChristians who, though they read the Bible do not believe that itis significant in their lives. We grow in our knowledge of Godthrough scripture.

Bible study is part of the tradition of the church and there areother aspects of our Methodist tradition that have led me to adeeper knowledge of God. 

I think of the annual covenant service with its emphasis onoffering all to God and receiving all from God. 

I think of the hymns of Charles Wesley with their rich and deeptheology and wonderful phrases such as 'Our God contracted to aspan, incomprehensibly made man' - what a wonderful summary ofincarnation.

I think of our emphasis on shared lay and ordained leadership,our passion for social justice, our focus on working in smallgroups - all of these deepen my understanding of God. 

And in the wider Christian family I have learned to know Godmore fully from those of other traditions as I have talked, andprayed and worshipped with ecumenical colleagues. I have beenchallenged and inspired by Christians from other parts of theworld. 

Christian tradition has enabled me to grow in my knowledge ofGod.

Of course, not all traditions are good and wholesome, some growin the most surprising ways and we need to exercise discernmentabout the traditions we hold and recognise those which we need tolet go.

To be in a living and deepening relationship with God isessential if we are to glimpse the glory of God, especially in theunexpected places.

One day I looked out of the window of the staff room in theschool where I was teaching. In the distance, across severalplaying fields I saw two figures, they were too far away to seetheir faces or any other distinguishing features. As I watched themwalking along I realised that one of them was my daughter, agedabout nine. It was not where I expected her to be but I was sure itwas her from the way she moved. I knew her so well that I couldrecognise her when she was in the far distance, at an unexpectedtime and in an unexpected place. 

We should seek to know God that well so that we can recognisethe glory of God when it passes by.

There are some times and places where I find it easy to glimpsethe glory of God. When I stand on a mountain in Snowdonia and lookout at one of the best views in the world, I am conscious of theglory and majesty of God the creator. 

When I was welcomed by people in Bolivia on a recent visit toour partner church I glimpsed the glory of God in their generosityand love.

When I have had the privilege of sharing with people at times ofgreat joy in their lives such as weddings and baptisms - I easilyglimpse the glory of God.

In inspirational worship, in deep prayer, in moments with familyand friends, I glimpse the glory of God.

At other times it is not so easy and we need to know God well toglimpse the glory. We have to learn to expect to see God in theordinary, in the mundane, because that is the meaning ofincarnation, that is the consequence of God's ceaseless movementinto the depths. 

The Welsh poet and Anglican priest, R.S. Thomas knew that itcould be difficult to glimpse the glory of God. He once said in aradio interview that, as a naturalist, when out in the countrysidehe would often put his hand into a hare's form and find it stillwarm, though the hare had gone. That warm and empty place was likea room that some-one had just left and that is how he encounteredand could believe in God. Sometimes it is in the hint of presencethat we will find a glimpse of glory.

One of our Venture FX pioneers, Ric Stott explores ways in whichthe visual arts can help us to engage with life, spirit andcommunity. He will be with us on Wednesday, helping us to glimpsethe glory of God in our Conference through art. This is one of aseries that Ric painted while in Florence. Among all the beauty ofthat city, Ric found Christ in the forgotten, ordinary and dirtyplaces and painted his face on pieces of discarded cardboard. Herewe see the face of Christ on the pavement and in the background isthe Ponte Vecchio where most people's attention would be focused. This is what it means to expect to glimpse the glory of Godin every place.

Another artist who helps me to remember that I can expect toglimpse the glory of God in uncomfortable and hard places is SiegerKoder. In his painting, 'The Washing of Feet', we see Jesus washingPeter's feet. Jesus is bent over, we see his back and his feet andwe see Peter's discomfort.  If we want to see the face ofChrist, we have to look into the dirty water. It is in all thegrime and mess that we glimpse the glory of God in the face ofChrist.

Waiting expectantly to glimpse the glory of God means waitingexpectantly wherever we are and whatever the circumstances. Thisrecognition of the presence of God is at the heart of mission andof evangelism which are surely about enabling people to recogniseGod already present with them, about introducing them to Jesus,about being the hands and feet of Christ in the world.

The calling of a church which waits expectantly for glimpses ofGod's glory is no easy calling. Let me be clear, recognising thepresence of Christ does not deny the harsh reality of suffering andthe existence of evil, of those things that are clearly contrary tothe will of a loving God. 

This is the calling to stand alongside people in pain andsuffering and to offer something of the love of Christ even there.Our chaplains, presbyters, deacons and pastoral visitors stand inthis place as do many others.

This is the calling to recognise the presence of God in themundane and the ordinary and to help others to find God there aswell. Many Methodist people respond to this calling day by day intheir communities and places of work.

This is the call to recognise and respond to injustice. Oneexample of this is our response to the stigmatisation of the poorthat is happening now in Britain. Our Joint Public Issues Team haveled us as we have challenged those in government and the media totell the truth and avoid misleading statements about those who findthemselves in poverty.

This is the call to challenge cruelty, indifference and violenceas contrary to the will of God. 

This is the call to do everything we can to ensure that ourplaces are safe places for children and the vulnerable, in the nameof Jesus who welcomed the children and reached out to themarginalised. 

This is the call to wait expectantly for glimpses of the gloryof God even in our weakness. 

This is the call to follow the wounded and vulnerable saviourknowing that we too may find ourselves wounded and vulnerable andfinding glimpses of God's glory, even there.

I have gone into hard places, into difficult and painfulsituations, wondering how I could offer anything and recognisingthat all I could do was to pray that somewhere in that place Iwould glimpse God. Sometimes all that I can do is to be there.Sometimes there is a way forward. Sometimes, like R S Thomasfeeling the warmth of the departed hare, all I can do is draw on myconviction that God is present even if I can't seeclearly. 

God reaches unceasingly into the depths and there is nowhere wecannot glimpse glory.

We are called to be a people who wait expectantly for glimpsesof God's glory.

My prayer is that we will seek to grow in our knowledge of Godso that we can recognise the glory of God passing by.

My prayer is that we will be an hopeful people, a people whowait expectantly for glimpses of glory.

My prayer is that we will respond to this calling and will growin confidence to recognise God, present among us and to share thelove and knowledge of Jesus.

May the blessing of the God who reaches unceasingly into thedepths,

Father, son and Holy spirit,

Be with us now and forever.