Monday, 15 February 2010

How connected are we? 4

How connected are we as a Connexion?

I suppose it would be reasonable to say that with this post we have reached the pinnacle of Methodism – The Connexion and by default the Conference.
I suspect that if I were to look further afield than my own circle of contacts I might find a very different picture but again my thoughts on this are based on what I see and hear in the local churches and chapels that I go into week by week, and what I know of my own fellowship.

It may be that if you went into any of our chapels with a survey giving a range of questions such as, What is the Connexion? Who is the current President of Conference? What does the Connexion do? What does the President do? You would get some interesting answers, you might even get no answers because I believe there would be people in our congregation who would not have a clue and don’t really want to have a clue. Of course it has to be said that there will be some (probably readers of the Methodist Recorder) who know all the answers or would certainly have a good go at them.
I am tempted to suggest that more of our members could identify the Archbishops of Canterbury or York with greater accuracy than they could the President and Vice President of Conference.
In some senses this is understandable because of the democratic way in which the system works – to become a member of conference for most of our grass roots members involves some degree of commitment – you have to be on Church Council, Circuit Meeting and District Synod and you have to attend lots of meetings each year (at least that is one view). In reality then out of a Synod of around 200 members we then elect a small number to go off to conference each year and it seems to me that you have to have been there a while for people to know who you are and therefore feel confident in voting for you. I know I was most unusual when I was elected as it was my first ever attendance at Synod, but I was fairly young and was unemployed at the time so I think that helped.

In a fairly sizeable district I would think it would be very unusual if many of our members knew those elected to go to conference on their behalf and equally unusual if the local members actually got any real feedback from conference except perhaps in the local church and circuit that the person belongs to.

In respect of conference and what is does I suspect for many of our members they see it as the source of much that is a nuisance to the ongoing work in our local fellowships – health and safety, safeguarding, fire policies, a new hymnbook, statements about this that and the other. I can sympathise with this view because it would seem that much of what we get from conference is this sort of stuff but very little concerned with the mission of the church and of course part of the reason is that much of the stuff is government inspired and we have to do it because of one piece of legislation or another.

It may even be that many of our members view conference and head office with the same sort of disdain and apathy that they view government and politicians.
I am writing this just after the President of Conference has made a speech to the Church of England Synod in which it appears he is saying Methodism may need to die to enable our collective mission to continue – I do not intend to comment on that as many more people have done elsewhere – however what I will say is that at the end of the service I led yesterday someone asked me what I thought of David Gamble’s speech and two people standing nearby said ‘who is he?’ I do think this is quite sad really!

So how connected are we? If I am honest I would have to say we do not seem to be connected very well at any level with the exception of those who are really committed to our cause and will be found on committees, church councils, circuit meetings, district synod and maybe even conference – but of course they are few and often the same faces will pop up at every level.

Unfortunately I cannot offer any answers to how we might connect better but hope that we might start to do so.


Rev Tony B said...

Just as the District is more than Synod, so the Connexion is more than Conference. I haven't been a Conference rep for a good few years, but when I was I enjoyed it. (Apart from wading through hundreds of pages of reports and stuff...) Just as District offers a wider canvas than the circuit or local church perspective, so Conference offered what I call an "up periscope" moment: meeting folk from all over the world, hearing what it's like in places which are not like yours, being reminded of what it is to belong to something bigger than your local scene - that's uplifting.

I also feel that we're more connected as a connexion than the Anglicans are as a Church. The Church of England may think it's one, but in practice it is 39 independent dioceses, each of which can do its own thing with little reference to anyone else. And they do!

The problem for most Methodists is that they don't feel connected. Most Methodists are actually congregationalists. But for those of us who have wider connections, the Connexion is a useful tool.

Fat Prophet said...

I like the up periscope concept but must admit it them made me wonder if conference is a little like a submarine - much of the time you don't know it is there!
I had never thought about the Methodist/Congregationalist concept but I think you are right.