Monday, 12 April 2010

Methodist Council

This weekend we met together for the last Council of the year, this time at Royal Holloway College in Egham, Surrey. It was to meet over 48 hours (stretched over 3 days) rather than the usual 24 hours because of the amount of work that needed to be done. This was reflected by an agenda of nearly 600 pages and which contained some major items that will undoubtedly provoke debate throughout the Connexion and certainly at Conference.

Our initial discussions were dominated by financial matters. We received the draft annual report and accounts for the year ended 31 August 2009 and the proposed budget for the coming year. The improvement in the financial markets has helped the situation but in order to balance the budget it is proposed that the emphasis of the Connexional Priority Fund be changed, together with the use of the Training Assessment Fund and World Mission Fund reserves. It still means significant savings need to be made. There will be less money available for district, circuit and world church grants. Lay Connexional staff pay will be frozen, although increments will be honoured which mean an increase in the pay bill of 2%. It was also proposed that stipend increases are capped at 2% rather than 2.65% which was recommended by the Connexional Allowances Committee but this was not agreed. Major projects have been reviewed and it is proposed that the Youth Participation Strategy is reduced in scale, and therefore cost, although the Church will still be spending around £3m over the life of the scheme. There are plans to look for additional external funding to support this important programme.

Sunday morning started with an early morning service of Holy Communion in the splendidly ornate chapel in the main building of Royal Holloway College.

Proposals were brought which outlined a review of ministerial committees and further development of the Church’s learning infrastructure and learning programmes and support offered to local preachers. In partnership with a range of partners across the Connexion it is planned to embark on “The Fruitful Field Project: Nurturing the Learning Church” which will map the current learning infrastructure, assess Methodist controlled learning institutions and value for money and setting some key actions such as consolidating resources and initiatives, and establishing new initiatives such as a comprehensive superintendency learning programme.

Two major papers related to safeguarding were presented to Council. One was an updated policy and guidance for good practice and procedures with respect to safeguarding children and young people. The second was a new policy for good practice in the care of adults when they are vulnerable.

In 2007 Conference decided that full-time pre-ordination training would be concentrated at three institutions but did not include Wesley College in Bristol. In 2008 the Strategy and Resources Committee agreed that a review of the College should be carried out and the report of the Review Group was presented to Council. They proposed a number of options, with a recommendation that Methodist International House and the Bristol Baptist College be brought together with the College, together with development of the conference centre, could lead to a viable future for the College. However SRC did not believe the financial plan or projected student numbers were realistic or realisable and brought a recommendation to Council that, with great regret, Wesley College should be closed. Council heard strong arguments in favour of both options and after a long debate agreed with the SRC recommendation. In addition it was resolved to send a pastoral letter to the principal and staff at Wesley College, recognising that this will be a very painful and unwelcome decision for many.

As has become traditional, the Journal of the Conference was signed at this Council meeting by the President, Vice-President and Secretary of Conference.

Another difficult debate centred on the review of the Resourcing Mission Office in Manchester. The recommendation from the review was to revise some of the roles and therefore reduce the number of staff. As the hope was to integrate these new roles within the rest of the Connexional Team it was recommended that most posts should be relocated to Methodist Church House in London, although 3 positions would be passed to Trustees for Methodist Church Purposes (TMCP) which would remain in Manchester. As earlier, there was a long debate, particularly on whether it was necessary to re-locate the new positions. Ultimately the decision was made to agree with the review proposals. A resolution was also passed expressing thanks and gratitude to members of the RMO for their many years of service and the way in which they had engaged professionally with the review.

At the last Council meeting we had received an early draft of the Israel Palestine Working Group report and suggestions where made then about revisions that should be made. A revised report was brought to this meeting and it was agreed that it should be taken to Conference.

We spent some time in groups in order to look at 5 areas in more detail including a discussion about the carbon reduction report, personnel files for ministers, support for Local Preachers and fundraising strategy.

The way forward for work relating to Equalities and Diversity took some time at the Council and eventually some amended resolutions were agreed for report to the Conference (along with a proposed standing order change). The amount of time taken to discussing this demonstrated a desire on the part of Council members to take the important issues covered by Equalities and Diversity seriously and to respond appropriately.

Our final morning covered a variety of themes - exciting plans for the Methodist International Centre; final agreement regarding Southlands College in the Roehampton University; a redrafted paper on ‘Social Media, revised in the light of a previous Council discussion and an open consultation (much of it online); a report from the Epworth Press Interim Reference Group.

We also discussed the Methodist Heritage Committee’s draft report for the Conference and had a chance to see and discuss the new-look, illustrated Methodist Heritage Handbook 2010 – well worth getting a copy! And we considered the work done on ‘Singing the Faith’, the new Methodist Hymn Collection, that will no doubt create a lot of interest and discussion at and around Conference.

Finally we spent some time considering the shape and pattern of future Council meetings. We thanked staff and others whose hard work had made our meeting possible, Gill Dascombe for being our chaplain for the year, and those for whom this had been their last meeting as members of the Council.


markrowland said...

Closures such as the one now intended for Wesley College, Bristol are largely inevitable consequences of the reconfiguration of training institutions that took place previously, to which you refer. I am saddened at the decision about Wesley College, Bristol, but I am more saddened by the loss to the connexion and to students training for ministries in the Methodist Church of access to many excellent centres. I am afraid that it appears to me - but perhaps others have different perspectives - that some of those retained offer training of a lesser standard than some of those that have been dropped. Furthermore, the prominent consideration given in many of our reports to setting ministerial training in the context of training the whole people of God seems to divert attention (perhaps intentionally) from the issue of the proper training and resourcing of clergy for our churches - which as we know are in short supply and much needed. I hope that urgent and serious consideration will be given to ensuring that the Methodist Church is generously and appropriately resourced with diaconal and presbyteral ministries to serve our present and future mission.

Revdgray said...

Various over the last few weeks portray the Methodist Church in this country as in decline and facing a very uncertain future. Wesley College – the once proud training institution of many past Methodist ministers set to close. Breakout - the somewhat poor relation of London Weekend – likely to finish. If the Methodist Church joins with the Church of England it would appear we would be subsumed.

All this paints a very bleak picture indeed.

But amidst the gloom there is a little ray of sunshine. Because the Methodist Council has decided that that the new authorised hymnody" will be called "Singing the faith".

So as the Titanic of Methodism slips beneath the waves we can at least turn to our new hymn book and sing "Nearer my God to thee". (Well no, we'll find that in one of the many other hymn books most of us already have.)

Andrew said...

The decision of the strategy and resources committtee to ignore the recomeendations of the review group begs the question as why bother to carry out a review if the resources committee already knew better? This suggests that the decision had already been made and that the review was simply a "going through the motions". In fact it would suggest that to all intents and purposes the decsion for closure was practically made the moment conferance confirmed the decision to remove full time minesterial training from wesley College. It would seem therefore that a greater level of courage and honesty at that time and since may have saved a lot of work, heartache and pain. I think the major question here is about the workings of Methodist Church leadership.

Wife of Bath said...

How does the decision to close Wesley College relate to the church's policy towards a greener way of being church. What IS the message we are sharing here? Church members are being challenged to make use of money available through EDEV for learning and nurture, but if they live in the South West, they must now travel to Birmingham? London? to find a Methodist centre... What message is this saying to world Methodism when we close the college nearest to Bristol, with the hugely significant links to the Wesleys?(Despite a creative ecumenical scheme for its future, oh but that wasn't with the Church of England...) What are we doing to ourselves?

Sally said...

I would like to thank the Council members for the work that they do and recognise that decision making can be difficult and will inevitably not be popular with all.

As far as the closure of Wesley College Bristol is concerned I think it simply reflcets the need to be practical about the number of institutions that are maintained for Pre-Ordination Training.

I would take issue with the comment that:

" the prominent consideration given in many of our reports to setting ministerial training in the context of training the whole people of God seems to divert attention (perhaps intentionally) from the issue of the proper training and resourcing of clergy for our churches."

I personally trained on an ecumenical course, often looked down upon as a lesser form of training. It was hard to train part-time and to work towards an MA at the same time, but the diversity of the whole people of God that I encountered on the course made me more not less determined to be Methodist!

I am pleased to see that carbon reduction is on the agenda and that time was given to it. Also that safe-guarding for both children and vulnerable adults was given a priority.

I will look forward to the new hymn book, but wonder whilst we sing our songs of faith whether we are truly asking how they are to be sung in the new landscape we find ourselves in?

We must be people who are willing to let go of the past, that is not to say that we forget it, for if a seed falls to the ground and dies it carries within it the DNA of the original. What we must not do is to have our eyes so firmly on the past that we fail to look to the future!

And above all as todays Gospel reading reminds us, first we must look up....

Anonymous said...

A Useless College?
At school I was told not to apply to University. 'You are not academic' and should 'get yourself a trade.' While excelling in practical subjects, I had struggled to keep up in other aspects of the curriculum. The inflexible targets set by bureaucrats obsessed with league tables meant that my teachers had to rush through the syllabus in order to keep Ofsted inspectors at bay. I’m dyslexic and I couldn’t keep up. Despite this I was accepted to study at Cliff College. There I was exposed to a broad range of subjects which whet my appetite for further study. When I came to Wesley College, as a candidate for the ministry, I was also encouraged to pursue knowledge for its own sake. Since then I have been encouraged to read more widely than I had ever expected. Works on philosophy, history, psychology, theology and more. Cautious and practical thinkers will ask of me, what, after all, is the gain of this Philosophy (etc). Will practical ends be achieved better or worse by its cultivation? To what then does it lead? Where does it end? What does it do? How does it profit? What does it promise? In short, what use does this knowledge have for ministry in the Methodist Church? If we allow these questions to consume our church it will become eternally useless. Sub specie aeternitatis

Anne T Bentham

acts2twelve said...

The decision making process is always hard and you can't please everyone! Some of the decisions pain me but we have to trust they have been taken following the Spirit's direction and they will ultimately glorify God and work for His purpose.