Trusted Needed and Loved - Transcript of the President's Address to the Conference

Below is the full transcript of the Revd Dr Mark Wakelin'sinaugural address as the President of the 2012 MethodistConference. You can listen to the address here. 


They are just one of our local choirs from the circuit.Fabulous. Thank you so much for coming this way and they will tellyou when the next bit's on because they are coming to sing againand they are here tomorrow. Thank you so much. That was great. Andthanks Anne-Marie for reading the Gospel to us. It's great to hearyou and to honour your contribution to part of my journey; but Iknow to part of the journey of ever so many people aroundMethodism. And while I do, to thank so many people who have beenhelpful here, not least for our candle-stand if you can see there,which is a bit hidden by the flowers but is very beautiful and wasmade by Micky Youngson with the glass at the top, mybrother-in-law, who is a minister here, who is a brilliant cabinetmaker and a friend of his who is a silversmith. So that's ourcandle stand, and I hope you noticed the three elements in all thatand all the symbolism.

It's strange being nominated as President, which happened a yearago, because of the reaction of people. There was sort of an amazedgasp around Conference at the time, divided between those whothought, 'Who de heck is he?' and the, 'Oh, no, I know him.' I hadsome extremely charming comments from people, but my absolutetiptop favourite was from Pauline Webb; and Pauline Webb came outand gave me a big thank you. She said, 'If Methodism had had anysense and got its act together about women, it would have been yourmother, years ago.' And there's a lot of truth in that and mymother is here to now, and it was wonderful to sing her hymn one ofmany hymns that invite us into sacrifice.

Well, I'm sure Mike and I will both agree that one of theoverwhelming is of just privilege. And the privilege comes out ofthe horrible sense that the unwarranted and free bit that you cometo stand here, and you stand in the place of many fine women andmen in the past whom I know I have grown up with and looked up to;and there's a bit of you who thinks, 'Oh, my goodness, they arewatching.' And there's a bit of me that says, 'Oh, thank goodnessthey are watching, because they are cheering us on; and some ofthem are here and some of them are in heaven, and they are cheeringus on. And that's part of the deal.

Pauline Webb's story, which I love and I will steal from her,because she said that to me earlier on. She said that once, whenshe was a little girl, she went to a church in London with herfather, and she saw this very old man in a corner; so she went upto him and said, 'Excuse me, are you Mr Wesley?' I believe thegentleman in question was Luke Wiseman, but I'll check withPauline. And Luke Wiseman said, 'No, I don't think so; but, when Iwas a little boy about your age, I shook the hand of a woman whohad shaken the hand of Mr Wesley himself.' I have shaken PaulineWebb's hand. That's what I call apostolic succession.

And as you notice and think about privilege, which you do andthe privilege of being listened to, you also recognise - Mike andif I may quote him - we talked of this - that the Methodist Churchdoes not easily privilege some people, and part of ourresponsibility as privileged people here, and particularly myresponsibility and Michael's, I think is to bother. And I hope thatis part of our Year together, and is something we ask of you; andwe use the phrase, 'quieter voices'. How do we pay attention toquieter voices and listen to them?

Well, we've both been told we've got a busy year ahead, and Isometimes think people just say that because they think you've gotnothing to do at the moment. But it's great to hear that it's goingto be busy. Judith, my dear wife will be glad to know that. And yetthe business has already started, and one of the huge privileges -and you just sit and think, 'Wow, this is happening to me!' I wentto Sierra Leone for an anniversary, a very important one - it wasthe first time a British Mission Partner had been asked to go toanother country and it's a long story which I wont tell now of howMethodism was already in Sierra Leone before the British wereinvolved at all, a lovely story. And there was in the WarrenMemorial Chapel, a service of celebration. And the Rt. Revd. ArnoldTemple, who is here with us today, he very graciously welcomed usto be with them and he gave me a part to play in that service. Itwas a fabulous service. It was Methodism at its utter best; witheverything from Judas Maccabeus right through to the mostgloriously sung bits from 'Sing the Faith' to 'Hymns & Psalms',brilliantly sung, brilliant preachers, lovely, lovely service; fivecollections. I might add, I only had rather high denominationnotes. So, all I could do was to make it absolutely clear that Iwas putting a large note in the collection box, because I wanted myreward about then, rather than waiting for it.

But we had this lovely service and at the end of it, this verylovely young girl came up to me and said, very politely, 'Excuseme, may I ask you a question?' I said, 'Of course, it will belovely.' And she said, 'If somebody wanted to be like you, whatwould they have to do?' Well, I thought for a moment, and said,'Eat too much and don't exercise - that would help.' But the Lordrestrained me from such flippancy, and I said as gently as I may,'It depends rather much on what that person would like to be like.'And she said, rather confidentially, 'Actually, that person is me.'And she said, 'I am tired of the suffering and poverty (and wordsto that effect) in my country. I want to help. I want to be apreacher. I thought, 'I can't imagine many, any, people in thiscountry believing the way to change things is to become a preacher.But that's what she asked. And we had a lovely conversation, andshe was most encouraging. And I listened to her and I said, 'Onething you might like to try is to preach to people when you can.'And she said, 'I already do.' She said, 'I preach to the youths.' Isaid, 'But that's fabulous.' And she said, 'May I preach to you?' Isaid, 'Of course.' So she stood in front of me, very politely, andshe preached a sermon to me. Perfect sermon - three minutes long;explaining why she wanted to change the world.

I wonder - if someone came up to you and said, 'What would Ihave to do to be like you?' Which bit of you would you hope theywould want to be like? Tell somebody next to you. It's a goodquestion, isn't it? What would you like people to be like if theywant to be like you in whatever way?  The Section AssistantSecretary of Conference, quite understandably, just said, 'It wouldmuch easier to say what you wouldn't want to be like.' I'd findthat much quicker to answer. The Methodist Church, we often telleach other, lacks confidence and there are various things we seekto try to do to help that.

The Methodist Recorder and - I cannot see someone from theRecorder right here, but we are very grateful to them. They come toConference every year and faithfully report this and do a hugeservice to the Church in that way. They have been running a seriesquite recently called Proud to be Methodists and I think they senseamong their readership many Methodists around that there is atremendous lack of confidence - confidence in preaching, whichwasn't shared by that young girl; confidence in Church and whatever- people feel lack of confidence. So, partly to boost thatconfidence is to ask what makes people proud.

As I read that I was just uneasy, partly because I realise thatmy understanding is, for me, is slightly more desperate than that.I love that song, 'Hungry'. Now, this is not whether you have avague lifestyle choice, in Christianity. For me, it's far more achoice of life. There is that hunger and need in me to be aChristian. And, because of my life experience, a huge sense thatGod has provided for me through the Methodist family. But I can'tsay only through that and I would have to say it's far broader thanthat. And my experience of Church today is of the richness of theChurch today. From the highest to the lowest; from the quietest tothe loudest; from the most theologically extroverts to the mosttheologically introvert. I have been blessed; and as I think aboutthat blessing, the word that keeps coming to my mind is one ofgratitude, of profound gratitude. And, as Jesus said, 'You are moregrateful when there are grater things that have been forgiven.'

I was trying to talk about this in a draft to this address and Iused the word 'needy'. I sense I am a needy person. When I wasyoung, we used to use that expression, that 'so-and-so is needy.' Idon't think we meant it entirely complimentarily. You have a needyperson to tea and you wish they'd go. You know that sense of thehuman black hole who absorbs. But I think there is somethingtruthful. I feel Christianity is far closer to being a recoveryprogramme, like Alcoholics Anonymous or Gamblers Anonymous orwhatever, a place for people to gather, who know they areneedy.  They need something. We don't all need the same thing;we are strong in some areas and weak in others. But I recognise,the older I get, that I am needy. And it's the Church that has metthat need for me, whether it's Methodist or other parts of God'sfamily that have made me feel so profoundly grateful.

So proud is great, but I want to go deeper for me and I want tosay, grateful, profoundly grateful. And, as I think about that, Irealise some of my needs, some might resonate with you, and I don'twant to be particularly self-indulgent and I want to point outthings that you may share; and one of them is a profound need tobelong; to feel that somebody somewhere knows who I am and eventhough they know me, care.

And I have been so grateful to the Methodist family throughoutmy life a Methodist in the Methodist family for that caring andloving and that sense of belonging; to little Mendi boys, when Maryand I were little ones, out in Sierra Leone, who took us undertheir wing and, admittedly they taught us some pretty poor things,like gambling and stoning lizards, but they welcomed us; to when wegot slightly older, we went to Mauri in Kenya, and what a lovelyvariety for us as children, where Mary and I used to sneak out andwe used to wake the night nurses on their daytime sleeping so thatthey would play with us. And Matron used to scold them terriblywhen they discovered us. The welcome they gave us, the welcome thatyou receive throughout the Christian family, where you are preciousand known. So, whether that is in Sherringham or whether it's inSunday School or in Readon Chapel or in Kingswood School, orwhether that's as you grow up at different time in Meth Oxon,through a life where people care, I have experienced belonging. Andthen travelling around the world, turning up in Sierra Leone, beingvalued and owned. How gracious a gift! Or turning up in other partsof the world and we saw that lovely display, just a tiny taste ofseventy five million Methodists who are with us today.

But belonging isn't something I've always experienced and Iwonder if that if some of you know that too. We have grandchildren.Now, I know you are looking at me and thinking, 'How can that bepossible?' Oh, you weren't - someone so young - and somethinglovely when they are young and they are here now so I won'tembarrass you, I hope. They are so lovely because they know theyare loved. They know they are loved with a confidence that I achefor. So, on New Year's Eve, when Judith and I babysat, and Bec andRichard went out and partied, partied, partied till 8 - 9 o'clock,late in the evening, when - it's what you do when you get rid ofchildren. So the little girls came into our room - cold feet andall - at 5 o'clock in the morning, and they didn't doubt for onemicrosecond that that wouldn't be the happiest thing that we wouldexperience that day.

When did you last feel that loved? When did you last feel thatwho you were mattered that much? But they didn't doubt it becausethat is the life they have so far experienced. But you get itknocked out of you as you get older. And so, dear Rebecca, theirmother, I won't say this again, Becca, my oldest and most expensivedaughter, is only because she made the fatal mistake of marryingwithin the clergy, which I told her not to from a very early age.'Marry for money', I said. Rebecca, when she was about six, sheused to come to our bedroom door, she used to quietly come in andsay, 'Is it Good Morning time yet?' Because, you see, there aretimes when it isn't Good Morning time. But I feel this profoundgratitude for the Church and a sense of challenge to the Churchthat we must be the place that welcomes people.

And a lovely, fantastic vision yesterday from the PartnersConsultation, and may I quote again my friend, Arnold Temple, camewith this vision of a future Church, and he said this, that rathershook me and puzzled me, 'A Church that smelt of cannabis andalcohol.' You'd think that's a weird picture. But no, what he wasmeaning was, a Church that welcomes people as they actually were,rather than cleaned up, dusted down, civilized, tamed and then putin a pew to hear about the God who loves them. I found thatprofound. I'm still working with it, so don't worry about it toomuch. I am not going to advocate that as an odour forMethodism.

But it's not just belonging that matters to me. And I suspecthave that need but some do. Some of you will have that need withme, which is a need to be different. My very worst school reportever, from the gym teacher, was, 'Mark has done his best'. He meantnothing kindly by it.

I am grateful to the Church, that it has never believed that Ihave done my best. I have never believed that. Because the Churchhas always had what Martyn calls 'disquiet', a sense that there ismore. That is a fabulous image of people who are called not only tobelong but to become. There is yet more in you; and more to comeand more to come. One of the many reasons why I am grateful toMethodism is my wife, Judith. And, all my life I have been giventhings by Methodism.

I went to a Methodist Mission compound as a child; I grew up inKenya and Sierra Leone; I was brought to England; I was brought toa Methodist prep-school, a Methodist boarding school; I was droppedin a Methsoc, and I met my wife at a Methodist Guild Holiday. Theyclosed it down since then, actually. And I am deeply grateful tothe Methodist Church for Judith. And, in fact, my family were. Atmy wedding, all my family - my father, my aunts - came up to Judithand just said, 'Thank you.' But one of the things Judith gave tome, ever so many years ago, and I quoted this a million times - shegave me a card, which is 'God loves you as you are, but too much toleave you that way'.

Who you are is precious - you are made in the image of God;destined for eternal life; purposed for salvation; made littlelower than an angel. C S Lewis said of us, 'If human beings couldsee each other as God sees them, they would be tempted to worship.'Who you are is extraordinary. You are precious in His sight. You donot need to be afraid. But it's nothing compared to what we aremeant to be. For we are called to be transformed, from glory intoglory till in heaven we take our place; till we cast our crownsbefore Him, lost in wonder, love and praise. I am grateful to thisChurch that it has never given up and has never accepted that whatthey see is what they will always get. And there is a challengethere still. The challenge to us to still believe in people, eventhough we have been let down and let down. To not give up on thosethat image of the Church do things that we wish they didn't. To letbelonging precede behaving, so that their affirmation andacceptance and the challenge and the accomplishment of the Gospelmay go before anything else.

But it's not just belonging and being different, beingtransformed that matters to me; it is also that I sense somethingthat aches in every heart in this room. And that's an aching desireto make a difference. Another lovely thing about grandchildren isthat you rediscover birthdays. You try to hide them at a certainage, but they don't want them hidden. So I had a lovely birthdayparty a little while ago when Elizabeth was about 3½ - 4. And shecame at my front door, so excited at my birthday and I wasn't, andshe made me excited. And she came in full princess outfit. She hada lovely, lovely dress on, with wings. I'm not sure why, but theywere there. She had a tiara at a slight angle, which gave her aslightly wild look. But there she was. I thought she needed theloo, because she was stepping from one foot to the other, but itwasn't. She was just so excited. And she had in her hand a bag, andin the bag were pirates hats; and she gave one to me and she said,'They are for you, Granddad, because you are a boy.' There is nopoint to that bit of the story - I just thought, 'Why?'

And, as I looked at her I thought of another girl - and myfamily will know this story. It was another girl, the same age,different country. She was from the children's ward of the hospitalwhere my father was a superintendent. And she had pushed her waythrough to our garden. We have a picture of her. I was going to puta picture up of all the things I have talked about. And it was afunny feeling because I said I had some pictures and somebody onthe team said, 'You'll need the permission of the people.' And Ithought, 'I can't get her permission.' And I don't want to showthat picture. She was a lovely young girl but very poorly. And wehave a picture of her on her own and a picture of her with mybrother Michael, who is here. And Michael, as now, looked lovelyand gorgeous and blond, and she looked poorly. We remember heramong many, many people we met, because she was the first person aschildren we ever met who died. And she died, not because of someexotic, foreign illness that they have over there. She died becausefrom the moment she was born to the day she died, she had beenhungry. Hungry, hungry in a world where people like me aredesperate to lose weight. What nonsense is that?

There is a sense in me and in you that things shouldn't be thisway; an aching belief that the world isn't as it should be. Youdidn't learn that from a book. You didn't learn that at yourmother's knee, even if it was a missionary mother's knee. You knewit because it was written in your bones by your Maker, who hascalled us to be part of His recreating work of healing andforgiveness in the world. And we need to have the courage to long,with the same passion that children long for Christmas Day, longfor their birthdays or long for their Granddad to put a pirate'shat on so the partying can begin. Because that little girl, thequietest voice of all, will not be heard unless we act.

I am grateful to the Methodist Church because here I have foundpeople who care and long for justice and peace and dare to believethat things could be different. And that is my final thought onthis. You see, Methodism, Christianity has given me language tosing the Lord's song in a foreign land. We are faced with suchgreat things, such mighty thoughts and feelings, what language canwe borrow? One of the sadness's for me at the declining ofreligion, or faith, or Christianity, is the loss of language, ofstory, that we can inhabit and embrace, and use. We do not what tosay of things that are so beautiful, so wonderful, so tragic and soagonising and the Church gives us a community, which holds ancientstories and powerful language that enable us to articulate thedeepest feelings and express the hardest questions.

So, in Church, we buried my father, when he died young. InChurch, as a minister, I have been with people, as their littlebabies were interred, or I have been in times when tragic splitsand breakings and we have found words and stories that have madesense of it. But it's not just the sad things that hurt you if youcan't articulate them, it's the wonderful things; it's themarriages and the baptisms. It's those extraordinary moments, whenyou don't know whether to laugh and cry and you are lifted up andyou find the song that says it all; you find the people who knowthe words because you live in a story that makes sense of a worldthat is beautiful and tragic, broken and being created. I once hadsomebody came - people say sometimes this happens; it did. She cameto the door and she wanted to talk about thankfulness. She had justhad a baby, and she didn't know what to do with all herthankfulness. She didn't know what to do with all her thankfulness... so she became a Methodist ... Yes!

There's so much joy, we need to articulate it. And there's astruggle here for the Church too, a challenge to boldly giving thelanguage and telling the stories that people can inhabit. ButMethodism, grateful though I am, has lost its confidence. Where maywe find it? Some believe that if we have good management theory,some may believe (he says with mild .rye smile) that if werestructure, everything will be OK; some that if we reshape ourgovernance or Standing Orders everything will be all right. But none of us really believe that. It's something deeper andbigger than that.

We are not very good at some things, you know. We don't do grandcathedrals. We don't do fabulous grand choirs; unless you go to theWarren Memorial. We don't have fabulous vestments and wonderful,wonderful bishops and priests and panoply, lovely, lovely beauty,transcendence. We don't do that very well. We don't do hats, youknow. I always think we should do hats, but we never got our mindsround it. What we do, it seems to me, is a young, frustrated,longing priest, in a room, who, after hearing the Preface, or whilehearing the Preface to Luther's Commentary on the Romans, wasoverwhelmed with the sense that his sins were forgiven and he wasloved. We are a rational, enthusiastic movement. We are anenlightened, charismatic movement. We believe that God can speakinto our hearts and tell us what we need to know. That that tellinglets us know things not just with our heads but with our hearts,that speaks deeply into us and warms us, and lets us know that weare needed, that we are loved and that we are being trusted.

And not a sort of wishy-washy pat-on-the-head trusted a genuinetrusting that says, 'I trust you, my good people. I trust you forthe vows that you've made in marriage and the vows that you've madein partnerships. I trust you for the gracious way you sought tofollow me. I trust you with the children that you have and with thefriends that you have. I trust you. I trust you and I know. Thereis this graciousness in God that God imparts into our hearts by HisHoly Spirit a sense of belonging. John Wesley knew his sinsforgiven. He felt his sins forgiven. And the thing I believe weneed as a people is an outpouring of God's Holy Spirit upon us, tobypass some of the things that we put in the way, and simplyoverwhelm us with the sense that we are needed, that we are lovedand we are trusted.

Throughout their lives, both John and Charles Wesley believedthat that gift was a free gift. They preached about it and taughtit as a free gift. But though it was free and remains free, it wasnever cheap. It was a gift that came out of struggle, of thestruggling of Jacob with the stranger, murmuring his flesh tocontend so long; who felt the pain of the struggle. And for theWesley's it was a disciplined life, their discipleship withdiscipline in it. Their Methodism was called Methodism becausethere was method in their Methodism. And it was a round and inwardjourney, a piety, of struggling in personal prayer, of Biblereading, of seeking to put God back on the map; of making sense oftheir lives in terms of God's providence and grace. An effort, astruggle - heart struggle and head struggle. It was a journeytowards other people. The trouble with people is that they arealright as long as you don't have to meet them. It's human beingthat you can love, it's people that you don't have to stand. Andactually, working our what love means in a group of people, a smallgroup of people, larger groups of people, enormous groups ofpeople, the Methodists were expected to make friends and loveordinary people like you and me. And there was a discipline intheir discipleship, a method in their Methodism that was actednever difference. Our equivalent of fighting for justice orcampaigning for development or debt. Out there street-pasturing.There was an activity in their disciplined discipleship.

The Connexional Team, one of the places that are more preciousto me in belonging, are doing an extraordinary amount of things,thinking through with local and local circuits and districts, aboutwhat we can do as a Church to encourage people in theirdiscipleship. And I have one little card that some of you have got,that will have some references there, of the work that we aredoing. And I commend that work to you and invite you to help uswith it, as you already have been doing by helping us explore whatare the disciplines today of our discipleship. It was free but notcheap.

And two images to end.

The first image is of a beautiful mahogany finishedclinker-built boat, polished, old, grand, lovely. It's there on theNorfolk Broads. I can picture it - choppy day, waves slappingagainst the wooden sides. The polished top, the beautiful finish,all there. But the boat is just bouncing around, not goinganywhere, motionless. Then some of the crew pull up the sails. Thesails go up to the top; they flap around and make a bit of a noiseand then the wind catches it. And the boat begins to move withgraceful, peaceful ease. The noise of the wind buffeting subsides,as the boat catches the breeze and moves across the water.

And the other image is this. It's the image of John chapter 20.Jesus comes to a group of disciples. They are afraid. The door islocked for fear of the Jews in the story. And that locked doorprevents the people moving out, fulfilling their ministry, theministry of the women and the men in that room. It stops themgrowing, it stops them becoming. And into that room filled withwomen and men who followed Jesus, who longed for justice, wholonged for the Gospel, Jesus appears. He shows them his hands andhis sides.  This is how much I love you. This is what itscost. This is who I am. You mark me by my scars. He gives them asense of peace. My peace I give you. Calm yourselves. But not justa peace of the head, but a peace of the whole body. That sense ofshalom, of community and life. He sends them, 'Go and get on withit'. But the heart of it is this: He breathes on them and says,'Receive the Holy Spirit'.

I think for a moment we need to set aside some of our battles,some of the oddities and the strangenesses that we associated withsome of the charismatic movement. Set this aside for a moment. Yousee, in John, the essence of God is love. 'God is love', he says inhis letter. And I believe that Jesus breathed on them, what Hefilled them with, is what Wesley well knew. They were filled withlove divine, all loves excelling; joy from heaven to earth comedown. He breathed on them and they received the Holy Spirit. Theywere overwhelmed with their preciousness, of how important theywere, of the fact that they were loved, needed and trusted. Theywere overwhelmed with the power of God as the Holy Spirit, thecreator of all things. And that love, as John says in his letteralso, drives out fear. And the door opened and they were able to goout and thus started something of the movement of God's Spiritthrough the Christian Church.

The Methodist Church does need good rules, standing orders,brilliant governance. It also needs good management and leadershipand organisation and all the rest. It does also need excellentpeople like our chairs, who and our superintendents who I have beenmeeting with. It does need our presbyters and our deacons and ourlay leaders. It does need all the volunteers of the Church whogracefully give of their time. It does need all that. But above allit needs God's Holy Spirit to be poured into our hearts so that wecan know and feel our sins forgiven. And my image is this - howclose do you have to be to somebody to feel their breath? For Jesusbreathed on them. How close do you have to be to somebody to feeltheir breath? You have to be as close as a mother and her baby. Youhave to be as close as two lovers. That's how close.

So my challenge to myself, to you, and together, to the Church,is if you long to belong, draw so close to Jesus that you can feelHis breath upon your face. If you long to be transformed, healed,restored and forgiven, then come close to the image of theinvisible God, the firstborn of all creation, in whom God waspleased to dwell. If you long to make a difference, to be part of apeople that long and long and long for justice and righteousness,then draw so close to the Son of a carpenter that His breath isupon your check and you sense His presence in your life. And if youwant to articulate in Gospel preaching and in worship singing inpraise and adoration, in anguish and hurt, in joy and inthanksgiving, then the challenge is this, come so close to yourMaker, that you feel His presence that you feel His presence inyour life.