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.