I was able to chat to Richard Vautrey our Vice President over my slight misgivings over some of what he said in his conference address on Saturday. In my post 42: Now that is what I call a good weekend I wrote in a slightly cryptic way.
The chat was good and has to a large extent confirmed what I hoped (and to some extent expected). The problem is not one of disagreement in substance but more one of presentation.
Richard made excellent points that I agree with totally on the essential contribution of lay people and the need to recognise all that already happens and ensure they are fully and properly represented in leadership (yes a debate on Lay President as a title instead of Vice President is needed and that connects with the need to consider Deacons and presidency plus longer term presidents as spiritual leadership - which is all too much to discuss here).
He also made good points about the need to encourage & support women in senior leadership within the Church. I would go somewhat further and lament the fast that on the platform at conference this year there are 7 people and they are all white men. Do we need to have quotas or something? I do note that of the 7 there are 4 who have been elected (former president & vice president and current president and vice president) but there are 3 who are not elected (secretary or assistant secretary, law and polity rep (at least I think that is Gareth's role) and precentor (person who leads worship, in this case singing).
That leads us to the area of concern. Richard noted with sadness the lack of younger and middle aged men in our congregations and suggested that our worship (indeed the whole of our Church) is perceived as feminine and that we needed to explore how to be more masculine to attract men (that is a poor paraphrase as it was Saturday I heard this, will add proper quote when I can [update see below]).
This concerned me as the argument that the Church is too feminine and needs to be more masculine is frequently used by people trying to bring in Male Headship in a surreptitious way. Male Headship is incompatible with a Methodist understanding of the gospel (and I thank God for being part of a Church that makes that entirely clear).
So we had a chat and I am sure there will be more to come. But we agreed that our task is to preach Jesus and to seek to model his teaching and lifestyle in the world. We also agreed that the person of Jesus does not in any way fit with an understanding of masculinity that is prevalent today.
I have always said that we should focus on living the gospel, on full discipleship in every sense and not compromise in order to be popular with particular groups of society. If we fail to attract people then it should be because we are modelling Jesus, too often it is because we are not. Let us be like Jesus and let the Holy Spirit worry about whether that is attractive to men. I am confident that living and costly discipleship will bring fruit, compromising that to appeal to masculine men will fail and is not of God.
Update: This is what Richard actually said:
Even after 35 years of women being ordained as Methodist ministers we still have some way to go to remove all the barriers that prevent women from taking a full role in senior leadership within our Church. However that should not stop us from also asking the fundamental reasons why boys and men are staying away from our churches. You don’t need a medical degree to know that men and women are different. Just as we like different types of music it may be that men have a perception that elements of worship or church life are designed with feminine characteristics in mind rather than masculine ones and therefore they may think that the Church is not for them. The Methodist Church of Great Britain | 4 July 2009.