Portsmouth has been beautiful, and I forgot to bring a camera! Yesterday morning I walked down to the Old Town where Admiral Nelson sailed out of on his way to Trafalgar. I walked along the remains of a fort and saw the beautiful coastline. Then I paid a short visit to Portsmouth Cathedral, a nice quiet cathedral half built in the medieval period (the Civil War destroyed the other half and then rebuilt).
Conference officially started at 2:30 yesterday. I don’t know many here (some I have known through blogging, some who came from my own district), but I sat a table with some of the Plymouth and Exeter delegation. I have always enjoyed getting to know new people at these conferences, and it was a pleasure to get to know them.
I was a little caught off guard when a bell rung and we all stood up for the entrance of the President, General Secretary, and Assistant General Secretary. It’s not so much that I minded the formality, but I thought strange for Methodism who often prides itself on not being this formal. I guess if Methodism is going to be formal, Conference is the place to do it, though.
The first session got some small preliminary business out of the way, but was mostly devoted to the President’s pastoral address. This is, if you will, the President’s swan song. David Gamble reflected on his year with four themes: 1) What impressed him, 2) What excited him, 3) [I can’t remember], and 4) What made him think. Among the things he mentioned were the ‘thousands’ of years of Methodism he celebrated at different anniversaries, the rising role of the Diaconate, the response of Methodist churches and organisations to the different national and international crises, and much more. It is a whirlwind tour of where God is moving in Methodism.
Rev. Gamble then turned the question on us to answer his four questions at our table groups. I made mention of one that I felt covered 1 and 4. Even though I struggle to find people to work in assorted jobs in the church, we had no problem finding people to run the youth club. I have reflected on that before, as we seem to think that if no one wants a church role (and we have MANY) that they don’t want to commit. But, it may mean that people want to work in the church but not in the assorted jobs that we maintain out of tradition. They want to make a difference. Our discussion deviated as it will across a wide range of subjects and in particular how we can relate to those outside the church when we need to stand for holiness without sounding condemning. A good thought: where is the church counter-cultural and where does it need to be accommodating?
The second session was a closed one, meaning it had to deal with the unpleasantness that sometimes must come up in the life of the church – appeals and disciplinary. Nothing more will be said.
A very interesting first day that ended where it started. A coastal walk, but this time against the picturesque setting sun. The breeze felt wonderful. It’s the weather I live for over here!