Not Quite General Conference …

Yesterday, I attended the North Lancashire District representative Spring synod. This might be vaguely comparable to the Annual Conference in a United Methodist Church. Districts don’t have the authority that an Annual Conference has, but there is some business that must be taken care of (electing representatives to the Connexional conference, voting on candidates for ordained ministry, etc.). Since there is not much business to justify bringing 120-150 Methodists from Lancashire together, our district chair (and president elect of conference) Stephen Poxon takes the opportunity to present the areas of ministry in the district that we hope to continue in the next year. Last year, it was ‘speed dating’ (we sat with the different representatives of ministry came to us with 5 minutes to talk about their work and 5 minutes for questions). The theme for this year is ‘Being the Living Presence of Christ’.

I have to say I was impressed with what went on yesterday. I will admit that I seem to be something of an anomaly. The two folk I talked to yesterday were less than impressed (OK, this is not a statistic sampling, but I didn’t have the chance to talk to many people about it!  Yesterday was April’s birthday and I left early to take her to see Fiddler on the Roof in Liverpool – that was awesome). Stephen divided us into groups and we would travel around Bispham High School to listen to four focuses. We only got twenty minutes in each.

  1. A Learning Church:  I have long said that the Methodists here are cool to the idea of lifelong learning (the joke goes that I have to explain that April and I are not childhood sweethearts because we met in Sunday school – we met in an adult Sunday school!).  We are joining with other districts to become a centre our training not only for ordinands, but for the laity (not being a British Methodist through training, I don’t understand everything here).  We have a course called ‘Called to Serve’, a chance to allow laity to further explore what it means to be called to be a disciple of Jesus.  A concern I have (not a criticism) is that there seems to be little development for ordained ministers.  Stephen promised me that this is included, and I hope so because this also continues my thoughts from last week on Loneliness in Ministry.
  2. Global Justice and Environmental Issues:  I have to admit that my mind was still on what I had just heard, so I am not all clear on what was said.  I did hear my friend and colleague Wilfred talk about the Asian Methodist Fellowship.  Asian Christians are among the most marginalised in Britain (not white and not Muslim).  Wilfred has a small, but strong and growing fellowship.  Then we heard some figures on what it meant to power and heat our churches and how we might look to use the energy more efficiently (I hesitate to use that word here, as it has caused some controversy in the Methoblogosphere, but I am confident that no one will think I am trying to make a point with regard to that conversation).
  3. I can’t remember this group’s name, but it was my favourite.  One of the guys from the District Review Team talked about how we can look at directing our churches future.  A lay person from Blackpool talked about the District Review Team’s visit and how it walked along side them.  Then he used the image of Emmaus and I wanted to shout out, ‘Yes, that’s what I’m using for my church!’  He gave a great closing line:  They walked along beside us, but it was still up to us to go back to Jerusalem.  Our Church Council has just voted to ask the District Review Team to come.  Then my former South Ribble colleague, Kathleen, gave the very moving story of her church that closed two years ago.  She talked about the journey of the church coming to the conclusion they could no longer maintain the building, do all the jobs, and look to change in the future at the same time.  But, that was not the end of the story:  after closing, they gave a kick up the backside to one of the other churches when joining and they have seen the Spirit moving there.  It’s a beautiful story.
  4. Fresh Expressions:  Our district evangelism enabler Nick led this group and talked about three fresh expressions that have started.  Usually, I get depressed in these situations because they are usually presented, ‘Look what we did and you can do this, too!’  That’s not always true.  But here, Nick spoke of the struggles of what it meant to be a fresh expression.  In my former circuit, they have started a ‘clean comedy club’.  My former church, Bamber Bridge, has a brand new building – but that’s not where the club is.  Nick said that it was a new understanding for a church to have a new building, but need to go to where people are.  He then spoke of what it meant to have a community there as they learn what it means to be ‘clean’.  One great story he told was when a comedian made a joke about deaf people – AND NO ONE LAUGHED!  No one had told them not to.  This is not a predominately Christian audience, but the culture that’s created there is an understanding that people’s disabilities are not funny.

I’m not sure why I found this one more inspiring than previous ones.  I am looking forward to hearing more about the first group and to work with the district review team.


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