Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ministerial Education

Good morning God,
What do you need your ministers to know in the 21st century?
I ask because its the one question we seem reluctant as a Church to really engage with.
We will argue interminably about our buildings - which College to keep open, how many students to send them, what subsidy they will receive etc etc. but not about what we want to have happen in them.
We seem to make the same assumption that so many people make about Churches.
All you need to do to be a Christian is go to Church
All you need to do to become a minister is go to college
It's the building that's important - not what goes on it it - obviously!

Meanwhile, your people suffer because ministers are ill equipped to meet their needs, not because we don't have the resources - we do, we are embarrassingly rich in resources, what we don't have (yet) is a coherent picture of what we need to be teaching - and why.

Wesley's first Conference asked
What to teach. How to teach and What to do...
not where to teach, how many to teach and what to do about the cost of it all!

In my opinion, the most important debate in our Church this year on ministerial training has already happened - and most people missed its significance. (which speaks volumes!)
The Ministries, Learning and Development report broke new ground by wanting to look beyond what we do with our buildings, libraries, theological educators, trainers etc and actually explore what will be taught. The new 'Ministries Committee' which Conference approved yesterday will have responsibility:-

'for the general oversight of the learning infrastructure and learning programmes'


A gigantic step forward:
I can look forward to the day when we as a Conference can get excited again about the curriculum of what is taught in our colleges: The time is surely coming when we will once again focus our attention on how to communicate the gospel and how best to serve the present age, rather than how many bricks we need, or where best to store a library.

Hats off to the Discipleship and Ministry team - for a job well done.

Monday, June 28, 2010

And are we yet alive?

Good morning God,
The last four days have been so uplifting – thank you.
It has been good to be with so many friends and colleagues, to share in worship and fellowship, and  in celebration of our various  journeys of faith.
This year,  Wesley’s Conference hymn ‘And are we yet alive’ has been especially meaningful and for the first time (if I am honest) I was able to make the connection between individual journeys of faith and the life of the Church.
A Methodist minister’s seniority in the Church is determined by their ‘years of travel’.  Whilst this originally referred to the number of years that they had been itinerant, literally travelling around the circuits – it could just as easily refer to the journey of faith. There can be no doubt that I have ‘travelled’ this year . As  I read the Psalm on Friday’s service of remembrance,  I reflected on the fact that I have indeed walked, and in many ways am still walking, through the valley of the shadow of death. Whilst I can honestly say I do not fear any evil, because, yes I do know you are with me, nonetheless, the question which I have hardly dared to ask is whether or not I am still alive - to you and to my calling.
 As I look back over this last year’s conversations, I can see how I have fought for this life which defines me, inspires me and uplifts me. I can see how I have tried to trace a rainbow through the rain, and the extent to which your grace has held me in a love which will not let me go.. but I can see also how I have floundered for want of the fellowship and friendship of my peers, of a  travelling companion who understands the nature of the life that you have called me to and who might have asked me, not how my treatment was going, but how my soul fared - ‘ And are you yet alive?’. The journey has been dark sometimes, and has been desperately lonely in places  – even though you have clearly been with me.
Conference, with its traditional opening hymn, is a reminder that even though some journeys must be travelled alone, we all need to periodically gather and take stock, to pause and wonder at the fact that in spite of everything – YES we are still alive. Some Churches may have floundered, some circuits may have wrestled with closures and stationing problems: there is hope, there is joy, there are tears, and there are dangers – as Wesley puts it ‘ Fightings without and fears within’...

Yet out of all the Lord
Hath brought us by His love;
And still He doth His help afford,
And hides our life above.
These first few days of Conference have been powerfully healing and restorative: To be a part of a Church which has the courage to ask the same question and genuinely seek an answer is truly awe inspiring.  In an age of increasing secularity and creeping congregationalism in our Church, it is uplifting to be reminded how much time we commit to taking the time to listen attentively as our president says, to ponder how we, as a part of the body of Christ, are still alive. As the Vice president has pointed out, we grow in grace as we ask where the transforming love is found amongst us, and it is right and proper to reflect on how we engage with our faith. That we do this together at Conference is important. It reminds us that the Church is NOT a collaboration of individuals, but is one body  a connected body. We are in Connexion with one another and the life of one affects the life of us all.
It is, I believe,  when we explore what it is that we have spent our all our energy and resources fighting and  what it is that we are afraid of, that we are most likely to discover what heals and renews our life so that we might answer Yes – Praise God, when asked ‘And are we yet alive to YOU?
So, thank you God for giving Mr Wesley the insight to make of us a movement – a travelling people who know how important it is to take stock along the way.

Just one small aside God – how come this year Portsmouth is not host to the Methodist Conference, but to the Methodist Church in Conference?
Any idea what this little change is supposed to signify?

And are we yet alive,
And see each other?s face?
Glory and thanks to Jesus give
For His almighty grace!

Preserved by power divine
To full salvation here,
Again in Jesus? praise we join
And in His sight appear.

What troubles have we seen,
What mighty conflicts past,
Fightings without, and fears within,
Since we assembled last!

Yet out of all the Lord
Hath brought us by His love;
And still He doth His help afford,
And hides our life above.

Then let us make our boast
Of His redeeming power,
Which saves us to the uttermost,
Till we can sin no more.

Let us take up the cross
Till we the crown obtain,
And gladly reckon all things loss
So we may Jesus gain.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Meldrew Ministry..

Good morning God,
It's been some time since we had a conversation like this, mainly because I've been pretty angry - with you, with the Church, with the world - with me.
It crept up on me slowly, so gradually that I was not really aware of it happening, just a growing irritation with myself, disillusionment with the Church. frustration at the world.. you know the way it goes. It happens when ministry becomes institutionalized and the focus shifts imperceptibly and inexorably from the divine to the mundane. All too soon you wake up and find yourself with a 'Meldrew' ministry, where the constant refrain of a grumpy old man has replaced all the words of grace and joy.

I found someone had parked in the ministers car parking space at Church - I don't believe it!

I learned of a Church meeting where the members had been downright rude - I don't believe it!
I read a report in the Conference Agenda - I dont believe it!
I was constantly interrupted in my prayers by cold calling telesales - I dont believe it!
My cat sat on my keyboard and managed to delete my sermon notes - I DONT BELIEVE IT!

Of course I can find a million and one reasons for the slide into disillusionment , into anger, and - yes - despair - some of them are even valid.. but not one of them is worth losing my relationship with you - or my ministry for. The last thing the Word or the world needs is an angry, grumpy minister.. even if they are justified in their anger ! There are enough Victor Meldrews in the secular world - we dont need them in the Church as well!

So thank you God, for the wake-up call and for the reminder that forgiveness is not just about being forgiven - it's about seeking the ability to forgive yourself and others for whatever has caused the loss of joy and grace and contributed to the shift of focus. It's about being free enough of the petty and the mundane to delight in the divine - and rejoice!

My anger and disillusionment are not going to be fixed or resolved overnight, but by your grace, I can take the first step and refuse to allow them to define me. No matter how it might seem, the Church and the world are safe in your care and keeping - the good news is still GOOD NEWS even in a grumpy world. Now that's something I do believe !