All the pageantry and formality came out yesterday as Conference officially opened yesterday. We were greeted by the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, we greeted and then were greeted by our ecumenical and international partners. Then the main business of the day began. We officially elected our President and Vice President of Methodist Conference. They had been designated last year and took office yesterday to begin their year. No president has really had power since John Wesley held the office (I think no one wanted another Wesley), but the President and the Vice President represent the connexion and conference through the year. So, after the break, we heard their addresses to conference which set out their them for the year.
No one seems to know exactly what to expect from our new President, Alison Tomlin. She comes from the more liberal wing of the church and we have heard that she will challenge us and make us feel uncomfortable. As I respect anyone willing to put themselves through the year that the president will do, I wanted to go in with an open mind and listen. Whilst her language of God was less Christologically focused (she is more open to differing understandings of God – even the God within you), I could appreciate much of what she said. Her theme is ‘Listening to God’. Two things that stood out to me: 1)while we put God at the centre of our lives, God is often found on the margins with those on the outside. Absolutely brilliant. 2) As an example of how we give lip service (my words not hers) to listening to God, we approach church meetings with a ‘top & tails’ approach – we have a prayer at the beginning and the end. The business in between appears to have nothing to do with listening to God. I’m guilty of that.
As the first woman president of conference, she carries a good bit of pressure. I don’t know Alison, but I get the impression she will handle it fine.
Then the Vice President of Conference Eunice Attwood gave her address. She was simply fantastic. Her theme is Transforming Love, Engaging Faith. I simply cannot sum up her address – you need to go watch it online. She opened with a video of the work that she has been a part of in working with getting women out of prostitution, the, street pastors, and much more. She talked about coming from her younger life where people put conditional ifs on their statements of God’s love. Rather, she says, if God used twitter, he would say ‘I love you, I love you, I love you’ all the time. God’s love is transforming – he loves us as we are, but too much to leave us as we are. God calls us to be transformed and then call others to this transforming love of God. Her address was over an hour, but rarely I have been able to follow that long an address and stay engaged. I can’t do it justice. I enjoyed her passion and her desire to want us to be a church that isn’t looking to preserve what we have, but calling us to be a transforming people of God. Please go and watch her address online. I will likely do it again and maybe blog more later.
Today is ordination day. I will be off to Winchester Cathedral, and this will be my first ordination service since my own three years ago in Blackburn Cathedral. Prayers for all the ordinands – this is a special and wonderful day in the life of the church, and I look forward to be a part of the congregation that will stand and say, ‘They are worthy.’