Friday, 25 June 2010

Ministerial Session of the Methodist Conference, Portsmouth

After a year of travelling we have returned to Conference. Wolverhampton to Portsmouth is 150 miles, but we’ve covered thousands of miles to get here and had a wonderful time making the journey.

Whilst I stayed at the All Partners Consultation in London, David travelled to Portsmouth for the opening ministerial session. I joined him today after the closed session to listen to the presentation by Revd Dr Naim Ateek, the president and director of Sabeel, an ecumenical liberation theology centre in Jerusalem. It was good to meet him again after our visit to Israel in February.

Dr Ateek said that despite all the difficulties and injustice many Palestinian Christians face, their hope remains strong because they believe in a good and gracious God and are confident that this goodness will one day triumph. He spoke about how memories of the Holocaust can make it difficult for many outside Israel to question the current situation, and how many use the Bible to justify their actions. However he encouraged us to see that from the story of Jonah onwards, where God shows concern for the people of Nineveh, it was clear that God loved all people everywhere. The Bible moved from a tribal and exclusive view of the land to an inclusive and universal view, which was demonstrated in Jesus Christ.

He encouraged Christians to come on morally responsible pilgrimages to Israel/Palestine and he reminded us of the importance of the Kairos Document, which articulated the voice of many in the Palestinian Christian community.

He concluded by reminding us that the Greek word for righteousness can also be translated as justice, and so to remember Jesus’ words to “Seek first the Kingdom of God and seek justice” and “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be filled”.

After lunch the annual service of thanksgiving and remembrance was held. It was a moving opportunity to remember the many ministers who had died during the year, and to share this time with many of their relatives who had come to be part of the service.

After a short break the focus turned to some of the reports in the main agenda that would be discussed in more detail next week, including a proposal to create personal files for ministers and the planned changes to pensions. The afternoon’s business ended with time spent in discussion groups exploring what God was doing amongst us.

The final act of the day was to share in a service of Holy Communion. I was invited to preach which gave me an opportunity to reflect just a little on some experiences during the year and in particular focusing on the many good examples of joint working between lay and ordained people, giving thanks to David for being such a great companion as we travelled in partnership this year. I also raised the question as to whether it was now time to include lay employees alongside their circuit ministerial colleagues in the Minutes of Conference.

This is my final posting on this blog as Vice-President. Tomorrow we will join the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, Councillor Paula Riches in a civic reception at lunchtime before the opening of the Representative Session. I will then pass on the cross to Eunice and I know that she and her husband John have exciting plans for the blog in the future. I’m looking forward to following their travels and wish both Eunice and Alison all God’s blessings in the year ahead.

Both David and I have felt tremendously privileged to share our thoughts and experiences with you as we have visited so many exciting places and met so many inspiring people this year. Thank you for your kind comments and for taking the time to read it.

God bless.


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