Here is the official press release: Methodist Church elects new President and Vice President Designate: The Methodist Church of Great Britain | 8 July 2009.
A wonderful moment for the Methodist Church. The For the first time ever the Methodist Conference has elected both a woman as President Designate (Rev Alison Tomlin) and a woman as Vice President (Deacon Eunice Attwood). While we have had women serve in both roles before we have never before had both at the same time.
Many thanks to Anna in the media team for correcting me. This is not actually the first time that we have had women in both President and Vice President. The other time was apparently in 2001. As those who have tried to teach me in the past will testify history is not my best subject.
But far more important than there gender is that conference has elected two outstanding people of God, two people who I am sure have been called by God to lead us Spiritually.
I don't know Deacon Eunice, although I was impressed by her speech earlier in the week.
However, I do know Alison Tomlin, she has been the Chair of District for the Northampton District (well it was Oxford and Leicester District when I started) during my whole ministry and for many years before that.
I have found Alison to be a wonderful District Chair. Her Spirituality lifts the whole district, she inspires through example and through her outstanding pastoral care of all people. This year she led our District Retreat and I found it very helpful.
Don't just take this post as a sales pitch, just search 42 for Tomlin and see what I have written before.
This is wonderful news that demonstrates how God has not finished with us but is bringing new life and hope to the Methodist Church in Great Britain. Whooooo Hoooooo!!!!!!
[Update 23/7/09] See bottom of post for a response
At the Methodist Conference there are always a number of "Fringe Events" during the lunch break and in the evening. Beyond lots of meals to catch up with friends I like to try out a variety of these. I blogged about last nights in 42: Some beautiful women.
Tonight I decided to go to the Sacramental Fellowship's Lecture by Rev Helen Cameron on ‘The Extempore Sacrament'. I am not a member of the Sacramental Fellowship but I went for a number of reasons:
My thoughts are:
Hospitality: Sorry but the Sacramental Fellowship did appear a bit of a closed club. Clearly most people knew each other well and there was little attempt to integrate new commers. For example several were obviously going out for a meal together after the lecture but it was not announced and there was no invitation to join them. Poor marks, I do expect more and am not normally disappointed.
The Lecture was very interesting indeed. One of the things that struck me was the very different starting point and some of the assumptions that are very different to my experience. I wonder why the experience and therefore the assumptions should be so different. Also which is more typical of Methodism in general.
My training experience was in a very different establishment to Queens, one with (at least to start with) a much weaker Methodist input. It was also part-time rather than residential. Helen said
That was not the case at SEITE. We had a wide variety of Anglican forms of worship, although none of them very spontaneous and one weekend a year of Methodisty worship which was focused around the Covenant service which is hardly typical Methodist Worship (much as I love the Covenant Service it is quite different to Sunday worship the rest of the year). In our Foundation training at The North Bank Centre (now the Guy Chester Centre) all worship included spontaneous elements and was generally very free and very informal.
Even before that the Methodism I grew up with and the places I serve now are quite clearly different from Helen's expectations:
Gulp. This is so different from my experience it is quite hard to recognise. The Methodists I trained with (Beale, Dani & Kim) were all far more experienced local preachers than I yet all of us found it hard to adjust to the lack of extempore prayer and preaching. We expected it but it was not expected of us and so we had to sneak it in :-)
Looking before that. It was expected and normal in the Sunday Night fellowship when I was a teenager, also in Methsoc at University and when working for the United Bible Societies. In house fellowships it was normal to be able to ask pretty much anyone to pray at any point in the meeting.
When I was a Church Steward, with Terry Hudson as the minister, he quite correctly (according to CPD) expected the Stewards to be the Spiritual leadership of the Church and with that was an expectation of being able to pray in public (not just the Stewards either). If I had gone to the Circuit to ask about becoming a local preacher without them knowing that I could pray I think they would have just laughed. In my local preacher training my mentor expected some extempore prayer and reports on services would immediately pick up prayer if it did not include a balance between extempore and fixed.
In the Churches I serve there is also an expectation of prayer. I expect Worship Leaders to be able to pray extempore (although there is a range of preference). I expect the leadership team to pray and the same with house groups, we always have open prayer and pretty much everyone joins in.
In short I don't understand how anyone could get to pre-ordination in the Methodist Church without plenty of expectation and experience in extempore prayer. We are much more likely to find people who have never led worship straight from the Methodist Worship Book (in lots and lots of places it is only used for Holy Communion, Covenant & Baptisms so very rarely by local preachers).
One of the questions was about how to teach extempore prayer for Local Preachers as well as for student ministers. I was surprised that modelling was not mentioned. You learn how to pray from the example of those who are walking alongside you. When you meet to prepare the very first service you are going to share in, surely you start in prayer. When you go to the local preachers meeting surely there is plenty of extempore prayer as you go through the agenda. For more see 42: Moving Methodism: 21 ways to improve Local Preachers Meetings.
So I wonder, is it me that has some strange experience of Methodism? Or is the Sacramental Fellowship quite out of touch with general Methodism. Meanwhile make sure you are comfortable praying before asking me about ordination :-)
I received the following email from Rev'd Prebendary Norman Wallwork which I am including (with permission):
This evening I went to a conference fringe event. Yes I confess it was chosen at least in part for being very close (it was raining and time was short) and for including food (I am so predictable).
It was billed as:
It turns out I should really have been there an hour earlier for the food, but there was plenty left and we started very soon after I arrived. Sadly the turn out was very poor, I don't know why.
The format was simple, the chair introduced all the speakers and then each spoke for about 15 minutes sharing their experiences, views and spirituality.
They were all great and what is more they were all clearly experienced at listening to each other as connections between their experiences kept being drawn out. There was deep respect, humility, kindness, friendship and support between them (occasional prompts like "Why don't you mention x, we have found that really helpful" or just as y was saying I find ...").
When it came to answering questions they were thoughtful and again supported each other.
I would love to find a way for East Northamptonshire to benefit from the years of experience these wonderful women have as we have barely begun to scratch the surface. We are still almost in denial that there are people of other faiths than Christianity in the area. Also with only 1.7% described as Black and Minority Ethnic in the last census there is very little experience which sadly leads to problems with racism and prejudices and intolerance towards other faiths.
So a great evening, just very sad that so few benefited from learning from these four awesome women.
I want to write about a beautiful man whose loving Christian love touched me again in a powerful way.
Steve Wild is well known to the Methodist Conference, currently Chair of the Cornwall District he had conference cheering his description of Cornish Fresh Expressions of Methodist Heritage - which as usual for Steve included tales of sharing the gospel.
Anyway we passed in the entrance area after lunch and he said "Brother, can we meet at tea time so you can tell me about what is happening, I want to know because I keep praying for you". You may recall that I first met Steve two years ago when he was one of the leaders of the pre-ordination retreat (see 42: A major claim to fame and 42: The very best).
Remember, that I am a nobody at this Methodist Conference with no official status while Steve as a District Chair is hugely busy.
So we met up and then paused while Steve congratulated and thankedsomeone with a very different theological view to his own on something they had done during the closed session (no idea what it was).
Today being official Methodists go to Cafe Nero day we went and found a quiet corner. There Steve quizzed me on what is happening, was generous and loving with both the god and the bad. We had to rush off but paused outside the Civic Hall for prayer.
What a lovely reminder of the Christian support of those who led me through discernment, training, probation, ordination and my current ministry.
Another great reminder of why I continue to be delighted to be a Methodist Minister! Especially as Steve is not alone in his prayer support or encouragement just louder than most :-) I have lost count of the number of busy people this week who have taken time to approach me and offer me encouragement and prayer support.
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.
What a good couple of days!
For lots of reasons this has been a good weekend.
For a start Jane joined me at the caravan in Wolverhampton on Saturday morning and together we went to the Civic Hall for the "Opening of the Methodist Conference". It was great to share it together (last time two years ago I sat with the Ordinands) and with old friends going way back to University. Our official role was to cheer on Riachard Vautrey as he took on the office of Vice President of the Methodist Church of Great Britain. Richard and his wife Anne are great friends from the Manchester Methsoc and St Peter's Chaplaincy.
Sitting next to us to join the celebration & support Richard & Anne were Pete and Catherine, also friends from Manchester Methsoc (Pete and I shared a house for 2 years and they were both part of the team of advisers helping me get up courage to ask Jane out). On the other side were Robert and Pat Creamer, both Methodist Presbyters, Robert was the Methodist Chaplain at Manchester for my 2nd and 3rd years. Neil Richardson & Rhiannon were also around (Neil was chaplain in our first year, but as a former President of Conference had official tasks to do).
I was tempted to do some twittering in the 2nd half but was dissuaded by the 121 tweets from the press office and the heat of the netbook in my lap on an incredibly hot afternoon. I will be writing some reflections, particularly on Richard's address (excellent but an urgent need to be more nuanced in a certain area).
After the conference opening (audio is online at The Methodist Church of Great Britain | Methodist Web Radio) the 6 of us went to Costa to cool down before going to an evening "do". Got back to the caravan too late to have energy to go to my cousins 50th (and nephews 18th) in Bridgenorth.
Lovely to retreat to our own caravan with just the two of us (enough said).
Quick summary of wonderfulness of today:
A big thanks to my sister-in-law, Anne, for looking after the boys this weekend so we could spend it together.
This 2009 Methodist Conference has been my first experience of the Ministerial Session as the Ordinands retreat clashed with it for the Blackpool Conference in 2007 which was my only other time at Conference.
Even this time it was not a complete experience. I missed most of Friday as I chose to take funeral back in Raunds for a lovely member of the Church (I figured that as a Minister attending at my own expense, therefore not able to vote, the funeral was a much more important use of my time). Plus as I am not here as a representative member of conference I had to leave for the two (short) closed sessions (I formally propose that they be renamed "Costa" sessions as that is where several of us gathered).
As with many conferences there is huge value in networking outside the formal sessions, I have seen many friends and made many new ones (feel free to connect with me via facebook). Last night Mindy, Robin (who is an escapologist as well as a minister) and I were in Pizza Hut trapped between Steve Wild waving maniacally from outside and a table filled with ex Vice Presidents plus David Gamble (President designate) and his wife Liz who taught me during my foundation training.
The Ministerial session ended with a joint Presbyteral and Deaconal communion service which was wonderful. Both David Walton and Stephen Poxon preached (well shared a sermon) (we did have a chat afterwards about Stephen's very un-PC joke and whether we found it distracting or not - not one I am about to share on 42).
There are a number of practical business sessions and a number of traditional parts of the Ministerial Session. Some of which are very moving (well apparently, I did not get back in time for the "Service of Thanksgiving and Remembrance" which honours the presbyters who have died since the last conference).
On the other hand I suspect that the other elements are much harder to sort out so that they are really helpful. A large part of that must be related to our understanding of ordained ministry. With our representative understanding of ordained ministry there is not a great deal that we would want to discuss with presbyters only. Deacons and Lay People are equally important to any discussions on the future of the Church, of doctrine and practice. Spending a lot of time debating issues while gathered as presbyters only would, I suspect, be unhelpful. Other things that would be good to do together (prayer, Bible study for example) would work better in smaller groups in more comfortable settings such as District Retreats.
So for me stick to the worship (which is wonderful), the traditional ceremonies and the business. Then provide lots of opportunities for networking.