Methodist Conference Day 5: Down to Business

How do I sum up all that went on in the first day of business? I can’t. We covered so much, and honestly the details would bore. It was a little coma-inducing, and there was a lot of people who seemed to get up to talk just to talk. My only frame of reference is the Annual Conference in the United States, which seemed to have a more formal way of debating while Methodist Conference here tries to make it more like conferring.

For instance, in the South Carolina Annual Conference there was a motion that comes to the floor (often by committee or work done by a group). The main sponsors had a time of questions where clarifications took place (no debate). Then AC would move to debate where there were speakers for and against. If ever you couldn’t get one for each side, debate stopped (I don’t remember if there were time limits, but there likely were of some kind). If something is changed, an amendment is proposed.

Here, a resolution is brought to the floor. The contact person for it introduces and then it opens for comment. So even the resolutions for reports that conference just ‘receive’ (like the General Secretary’s report which just says ‘we heard it’) invited comment for those who wanted to say something. A lot of times you hear people stand up and say the same thing as someone else. There is a 4 minute time limit on each speaker, and then there is a limit to how much time is given to an issue. Otherwise, we would be there until next conference.

If something wants changing, there has to be a ‘Notice of Motion’ that has a person to move it, another to second it and six people who sign on. We did this yesterday (we, because I was a signer on it). In the pension debate, one of the big issues, we moved to change the proposed retirement date (not the official language, but it’s more or less what it is) to 66 rather than the proposed 68. Everything else seemed to go through with no problems. People kept saying that it will not hit older ministers the hardest, but the younger ones. Somehow this was to alleviate fears. Of course, something has to be done, but it does make me wonder if we will lose younger ministers and attract others to purse candidating. I don’t think this would be about people only caring about money.

At one point during the day we broke up into small groups to look at case studies on how people have been attracting the people in the missing generation, those in their 20s-40s (and sometimes 50s). The study we read sounded good, but it’s always hard to translate how anything would work in another church. I think would have preferred to hear what is attracting young adults to this rather than just what they did. Anyway, there is to be study on this that is going to look at Methodism (one person asked why we aren’t looking at those churches outside Methodism that don’t have a missing generation).

The business day ended with an inane vote on whether or not we would meet the candidates for President and Vice President of Conference. The problem was that not all candidates were at conference, so would it be fair to release the names last night. I understand the points on both sides, but did it really need that much talk and nearly a scrutineer count?

Our day ended with our district meal at a French restaurant with all the southeastern districts (that wasn’t on purpose). It all turned out to be great fun, as the chairs have a friendly rivalry. Of course, Steve Wild of Cornwall is a hard one to overshadow! Despite the sign in French that said no singing, he had us sing the grace. It was also a chance for us to talk to our own Chair of District, Stephen Poxon, who because of his role of past president, we don’t get to see him quite as much. The meal was the best part of the day!

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4 thoughts on “Methodist Conference Day 5: Down to Business

  1. Will,

    Thanks for these thoughts, they are helpful.

    I have commented on the pensions by twitter as follows:

    @willgrady #methconf pensions I agree consultation with circuits needs to improve but there are 3 big buts in this case

    @willgrady #methconf pensions But 1: Conference must drastically reduce the Connexional Team workload so they have time to consult

    @willgrady #methconf pensions But 2: Last conference expressed dismay with proposed assessment increases, asked Council to fix it

    @willgrady #methconf pensions But 3: Council reps should have got ministerial & representative district synods to discuss

    The point about Connexional Tearm workload is critical. They are very overloaded and while they are so overloaded consultation will always be restricted because they don’t have the time for it.

    Did conference also consider that the effect of the threat of the assessment increase to cover pensions seemed to be that many circuits decided to reduce the number of ministers. If these costs continue to go up fast then I predict we will soon see a collapse of some circuits and a big cut in the number of stations being offered.

    re the debate about candidates for President. I understand that at some point there were concerns that only people who were conference geeks got to be president and vice president. There are some notable exceptions eg I understand Neil Richardson was not at the conference that elected him president.

  2. Dave, thank you for your comments. I have tried to answer you the best I can. I do not see the decision to ask Conference to make the age more in line with what the government’s decision to have the effect you do. Rather than the sharp rise to 68, which would effect many trying to retire this year, it moves it to 66 (which the government won’t do immediately). All realise the age will go up, but we tried to slow it down.

    I do not deny the workload for the connexional team is critical. We would perhaps disagree on where the team’s focus needs to be placed, but I would say that this is high up there. I do not wish to add to the team’s workload and wonder what we can do to improve it.

    As far as discussions, my district overwhelmingly voted to scrap the new plan and return to the old one (see Memorial 13). Yes, I could see that circuit would have to make decisions to reduce ministers. But, I see a bigger problem influencing this decision that I don’t know if we are tackling yet: the reduction in numbers of ministers available for appointment. There are some 60 vacancies I think, and the situation will only get worse with the ‘tsunami of retiring ministers’ coming. Circuits are going to be forced to make these decisions. I don’t say this as a justification, but bring it to you as another ‘fact of life’ information point as you have given me. The scenario you describe will likely happen, and I doubt that changing the date from 68 to 66 (especially if we keep all the other measures in place) will have the effect you seem to think it will.

  3. Will,

    It is impossible to provide nuanced responses via twitter and of course I did not hear the debate.

    In looking at specific cases of ministers about to retire I understood that the change to retirement age 68 made only a small difference as all their existing years of service still counted in full at 65.

    But I agree that it was very quick to introduce a change to 68, staging it is better.

    I personally think the new scheme provides a good balance between preserving benefits for ministers eg defined benefits and making the costs more manageable for churches.

    My comment about the synods was because I read someone complain there had not been consultation. That is a clear role for synods, obviously your synod did consult.

    I am concerned that when we can get on to a spiral. The Connexional Team is overworked and so some things are not done as well as we would like. So conference tweaks them to make them better but this causes more work for the connexional team and so on.

    I want to hear of people standing up at Conference saying X is good and worthy but we cannot allocate connexional team time to it at the moment so it must be put on hold.

    I want the workload so reduced for the connexional team that we can free them for vision and leadership, that we can get a big increase in quality of reports, that they can model healthy discipleship, that we can have much wider consultation on important issues. I want to see the Connexional budget back on track with reductions in total cost.

    For this to happen Conference is going to need to take tough decisions on what will can’t do at the moment.

  4. I agree, and there is some of that going on. But, as you say not nearly enough. Also, we are spending way too much time on non-consequential matters (not non-consequential as in not important, but on issues that there will be no action on). E.g., we need to have a conversation about eucharistic presidency. There was a report on this in the Faith & Order report. Peter Phillips said it was a draft, said there was tons more work to be done, and we still talked about it for 20 minutes or so. Presidency is a big issue, but this isn’t the place at the moment. That needs to be done in other places rather than people just standing up at Conf giving their opinion!

    Anyway, hopefully more will come out about what we need to cut and how we are going to reduce the workload on the team.

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