Methodist Conference Day 2: Ministerial Session Again

Day 2 (and first full day of conference) went straight into Closed Session business to deal with candidacy, probationers, and ordinands. As it was closed, there is nothing I can say about it. But, it does build toward the excitement of Sunday’s ordination!

The second session of the day brought us Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek, a Palestinian Christian and director of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre in Jerusalem. His family was forced from his home when Israel became a state and now he works with the Centre for a peaceful, two-state solution. His talk was on how Israel spoke propaganda regarding the Holocaust and the Bible to justify their treatment. His point on the first is that the Holocaust was an evil event that should be condemned, but so is the way the Palestinians had been treated. For the latter he talked about how Jewish and Christian Zionists have interpreted the Bible to justify the violent treatment of Palestinians, ignoring the passages of God’s love and desire to love all people. He then encouraged us from the Kairos Document (written by Sabeel) to be people who proclaim God’s love and challenge the exclusivity of Zionism.

We had the chance to respond, and the first person brought up the issues of the dangers of Hamas and the speaker told a story of some who were more scared of a Hamas government than an Israeli government. Dr. Ateek didn’t deny the dangers of violence from the Hamas, which is why he stresses that Sabeel seeks a non-religious, two state solution and presses for peace.

I got my first chance to speak at Conference when I spoke on his challenge to us to engage with Christian Zionism. As a South Carolinian who grew up among those who side with Israel no matter what, I spoke about the need to be careful about the language and vocabulary used to encounter them if we want them to see an alternate side. ‘Liberation theology’ and ‘inclusivity’ are words that get evangelicals on the defensive. I admitted I hadn’t found a great way yet. I should have mentioned that he needs to target younger evangelicals, who seem to be branching out from traditional American models of evangelicals.

After lunch, we took part in a moving memorial service for those ministers who had died in the past year. We welcomed their families and read their names. It wasn’t long, but the scriptures were well chosen and the hymns appropriate.

The afternoon session began the debates on personnel files for ministers and then pensions. As we are not full conference, we could not vote, but since it affects us, they wanted to hear from us. Personnel files did not cause quite the stir and after some comments on the access and privacy, we moved on. The big one is pensions. We are simply faced with more retiring ministers and the future doesn’t look good for the pension fund. I cannot begin to explain all that was going on, and it is a tough issue because something has to be done. If you want details, then listen to the debate next week. I think one colleague summed it up best when he tweeted: wish someone would just say Pete you will get x+y+z = £abc and if we adopt this that will change to £bcd

The final session was a time for discussion in groups about the role of presbyters (ministers) in the church. We talked in my group about the changing expectations of ministers from what many trained to be.

The final act of the day was a communion service that saw the beginnings of the rest of conference filtering in. I have already seen the North Lancashire delegation arrive and today will begin the first day of full conference when our new President and Vice President take over.

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