Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Tuesday at Conference

Today started at 7 am with a live interview with Radio Leeds following the death of the first 2 people from H1N1 (swine flu) in West Yorkshire. I'll have to get used to balancing my BMA and GP roles with that of this new one I've now taken on.

The main focus for our morning business was the major report on our response to climate change, “Hope in God’s Future”. It was presented by David Clough who had a major hand in writing the report and Steve Hucklesby from the Connexional Team who convened and supported the group. A large group of Conference members came forward to speak, most praising the well constructed and helpful report. It was resolved that the body of the report should be a draft Conference statement, to be sent out to churches, circuits and districts with the aim of bringing a final version to Conference in 2011.

The debate concluded with a resolution brought by members of the world church representatives, encouraging us all to work in partnership to find ways to address climate change. The representative from the Methodist Church in Samoa told us how rising sea levels could have a major impact on pacific islands. He told of how when missionaries first arrived in Samoa they told the indigenous population to “dress up”. Now they look around their beaches and they see partially clothed tourists lying in the sun and they are very tempted to turn to them and say “dress up”. His point was that it is no longer acceptable for the developed world to tell the developing world what to do. We now need to hear what they are saying to us and act on it. It is time for us to “dress up”.

The climate change debate ended at midday, just at the time that a minutes silence was being held in London in memory of the tube and bus bombing on 7th July 2005. Steve Hucklesby had been caught up in one of the incidents and in recognition of his response then, and his work with victims since, he was awarded an MBE this year. It was fitting to recognise that, as well as to be able to pray for colleagues at the BMA in Tavistock Square who also responded so well to the bus bomb that day.

Before lunch we had time to hear from the new President and Vice President of The Gambia, as well as uplifting stories from Russia and Zimbabwe which was part of the Methodist Missionary Society (MMS) AGM, which is always held as part of the Conference.

After a lunch hearing about the excellent work of Action for Children we dealt with the challenging business of the Methodist Ministers Pension Scheme. As with many other schemes, the pension scheme has a significant deficit that means that contributions needed to rise. The deficit is related in part to the situation on the Stock Market but also to the fact that beneficiaries are living longer. After a good but difficult discussion, Conference accepted the inevitable need to increase contributions to the Scheme by 7% which would be split between ministers and circuits (or those responsible for paying the stipend).

The remaining reports on the work of the Methodist Council, the Connexional Grants Committee and the Faith and Order committee were dealt with in good time which allowed us to catch up with unfinished business from the morning including approving the creation of another full time post in the world church relationships cluster within the Team.

Following the afternoon break we first dealt with the Stationing Committee paper as well as considering the response to taking forward the stationing review group’s report. We then had an interesting discussion on a resolution brought by the Bristol District asking that permission be given to advertise for a superintendent for one of their newly created large circuits. A large number of other district chairs lined up to speak against the proposal, arguing that large circuits should not be made a special case. The debate ended with the resolution being referred to the Stationing Committee for further consideration.

Towards the end of the day we concluded the business of the MMS when we heard about the mistakes that had been made preparing the report this year, but also of how the new ways of working had uncovered errors that had been made in accounting correctly for money in the Fund for World Mission. There was no suggestion that money had been used inappropriately but partly because of the complexity of the previous system the accounting was now recognised not to be good enough, and urgent work was to be done to rectify the situation. What was clear was that the amount of giving to the Fund for World Mission had fallen slightly to £5m and there is a need to inspire Methodists to increase their giving in difficult financial times if we are to be able to maintain our grant giving around the world.

The day ended for me with the annual world church fringe event, where we heard many positive stories from every continent. These are stories that all in the Church need to hear. It was an uplifting and enjoyable end to another good day.

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