05 April 2022
The Council received updates on the work of the Strategy and Resources Committee and the Connexional Team. As part of the CT update, the Head of Mission Ms Jude Levermore updated the Council on ongoing work in response to the war in Ukraine including three webinars supporting churches who want to host Ukrainian refugees.
This April Council meeting was the last with Mrs Jill Baker as Chair, and the Council approved the nomination of the Revd Sonia Hicks to the Conference as Chair of the Council from 1 September 2022 for four years. Mrs Jill Baker said she knew Mrs Hicks would bring much grace and wisdom to the role.
The 2021 Conference had directed the Council to ‘establish a framework to establish the cumulative impact of all resolutions brought to the Conference’. The Connexional Secretary, Mr Doug Swanney, presented a paper on work which is being done on Impact Measurement which examines decisions made at the Conference and the impact they have on people locally, in circuits, churches as well as the Connexional Team in terms of what resources will be needed to complete the work. There were several recommendations in the report that the Council agreed to pass back to the Conference.
Oversight and Trusteeship
The Council received updates on work relating to Oversight and Trusteeship. The Secretary of the Conference, the Revd Dr Jonathan Hustler introduced this and reminded the Council that: ‘the church is not a monolith – we are not set in stone’, hence the need to look at new structures. The Revd Loraine Mellor shared an update on the work of the Task Group for District and Regional Structure Planning. The update included plans that the budget for District Chairs would be reduced by the restructure and the timetable for when changes would happen, with a target for completing the changes by 2027-28. The Council received the report, which will form part of the wider report on Oversight and Trusteeship to the 2022 Conference.
The Assistant Secretary of the Conference, the Revd Michaela Youngson presented the paper on the Constitution of the Conference and underlined the importance of the Justice, Dignity and Solidarity Strategy in encouraging diversity within the Conference membership and the wider Church. The proposals include reducing the number of voting members of the Conference from 306 to 221 with reductions being made in the number of ex-officio, Conference-elected and Youth Assembly representatives as well as reductions in the numbers elected by Synods. The report also proposes changes to ways of working and reducing the time spent in the Representative Session. These are proposed to come into effect in 2024. All resolutions were carried, and will be brought to the Conference as part of the Oversight and Trusteeship recommendations
Wales Synod Cymru
The Council heard an update from the Wales Synod Cymru Implementation Group which recommended the creation of Wales Synod Cymru as a District from 1 September 2022, which will mean the amalgamation of the two Welsh Districts. The resolution was carried and the recommendation will now be put to the two Synods before being presented to the Conference. The Council was informed that the conversations have been detailed and not always easy; the proposed new Synod will include a Welsh speaking circuit and as far as possible treat the Welsh and English languages on the basis of equality.
Methodist Ministers’ Housing Society
In response to the report of the Methodist Ministers’ Housing Society (MMHS), the Conference had directed conversations about the support of Supernumerary ministers and their dependents. Dr Hustler reported that those conversations had taken place and presented a report which clarified the position of the MMHS and assured the Council of the care which is taken and the help offered when there are particular cases of need.
The report was brought to the Council by Mr Keith Norman, deputy chair of the Ministries Committee.
Mr Norman highlighted the good work that has gone on during lockdown and how technology had, in some cases, been a positive force in enabling people to share others’ worship. He highlighted well-being research detailed in the report and acknowledged the hurt many contributors felt as a result of being overwhelmed with streamlining structures and an increased workload. Mr Norman took Council members through some of the resolutions including directing the Ministries Committee to conduct a thorough review of the Stationing Process and increasing supervision to all Local Lay Pastors and Pioneers working less than half of a full-time post.
The Revd Dr Roger Walton presented the Candidating Review Group’s findings to Council members. He explained proposals for a revised process for candidating for ordained ministry, which would be shorter and more focused, with some requirements being removed, including the need to be a Local Preacher before going through the candidating process to become a presbyter.
The Council was enthusiastic about the proposals and recommended them to the Conference.
The Chair of the Methodist Schools Committee, the Revd Dr Roger Walton, introduced the Report from the Schools’ Committee. Dr Walton started by telling Council members of an exciting International Schools Conference which will be held in Bristol in April 2023.
Dr Walton also gave an update on the Schools’ anti-racist RE resources which were released last year and are being accessed and used by over 1400 schools and said the Committee is delighted at the uptake. He also reflected on the Government decision that all schools will be expected to become academies and said while it was not surprising it will be a challenge as many Methodist Schools are not yet academies. Dr Walton said that positive conversations are happening with MAST and Epworth Trust schools and he was confident that we are in a strong position to respond to the Government’s plans. The Council received the report.
The Presidential Year
As part of the Sunday morning worship, the President and Vice-President reflected on their year, recounting their visits and sharing stories of how Methodist churches are doing innovative and inventive ways of reaching members of the community. The Vice-President, Mrs Barbara Easton, said they had met a man in Northwich who runs a board games café which attracts young men who are at risk of loneliness and the ‘butty van’ in Shropshire which goes out to listen to farmers and people who don’t come to church or talk about their feelings, but are experiencing huge levels of suicide in their industry.
The President, the Revd Sonia Hicks, opened her reflections of the year by saying what a great privilege it has been to be President to hear at first-hand what it feels like to be a Methodist at this time. She said it was hard to ignore the tiredness in our family but that there were signs of hope and God’s presence in many places they visited. Mrs Hicks talked about how many have had to take a leap of faith and let go of the past and embrace new ways of working and the impact that has had. She talked of a small group in Rugby who invited asylum seekers from a nearby hotel in for a meal and found that they wanted to cook for the community, it was a huge success and has continued. Some of the asylum seekers are being supported to work towards a hygiene certificate.
The President talked about things in the year of which we need to repent. She reflected on her Presidential address where she had talked about the racism her great aunt had suffered when trying to worship at a Methodist Church. She quoted from Job 10 and said there were times when we are filled with songs of lament and sadness and there will be times of conflict and times when we feel abandoned. She said many people throughout the year had shared their experiences of discrimination, including young black people in her own church.
The Vice-President talked about the experiences she had heard about where lay people had not been affirmed for their work, but excluded. The President concluded this part of her reflections by saying she did not want to be part of any church where there is intolerance for others who do not share our view. After group conversations, the service concluded with the Council praying for Ukraine.
The Revd Ken Howcroft presented a paper on the Ministerial Covenant, which looks at the relationship between the Church (and its members) and its ministers. Mr Howcroft explained that procedures in the past had not covered all the aspects needed and it was hoped the revised and retitled Code of Conduct sets out the expectations the Methodist Church might have of its ministers, and what expectation ministers might have of the Conference and those who exercised responsibility for ministers on the Church’s behalf. The Council agreed, in principle, that it would be presented to the 2022 Conference.
The Methodist Diaconal Order Rule of Life
The Warden of the Methodist Diaconal Order, Deacon Karen McBride, presented the paper on the Rule of Life which has been reviewed and updated since being discussed at the 2019 Conference. After the presentation, there were small group discussions on the content.
The Council received the report from the Connexional Allowances Committee and recommended it to the Conference.
Connexional Central Services Budget
The Director of Finance and Resources, Mr Matt Tattersall presented the Connexional Central Services Budget to the Council. Mr Tattersall explained that indicative savings mentioned last year need to be followed through, but setting a budget does not prejudge decisions the Council or the Conference may make. He explained setting a budget for one year and not for the following years does bring with it some uncertainty, so in order to help planning in the longer term it is being recommended the budget be looked at in the longer term. The Council received the report, adopted the draft budget for 2022/23 and voted to recommend to the Conference the district allocations of the assessment to the Methodist Church Fund.
The Pensions Schemes paper was presented to the Council by the Director of Finance and Resources, Matt Tattersall. He started by thanking the churches, circuits and districts who have made donations to the Pension Reserve Fund and told members that the donations have exceeded £6.2m with around 25% of churches making a contribution. Mr Tattersall told the Council that many of the churches who have given more than 15% (the suggested donation) actually have the least to give. The Council approved a contribution of £500,000 from the Methodist Church Fund to the Pension Reserve Fund and noted that a fixed levy on church and circuit balances was not justified. The Council recommended to Conference that the appeal for donations is kept open through 2022/23.
The Council voted to recommend to the Conference that the circuit contribution rate for the Methodist Ministers’ Pension Scheme increase to 29.5% from 1 September 2022 (approximately £700 per minister per year).
The Report from the Shadow JDS Committee was presented to Council by the co-chair of the Committee, the Revd Charity Nzegwu. Ms Nzegwu paid tribute to the enthusiasm and energy around the Connexion in supporting the JDS strategy and told members the implementation process has now started and many districts have appointed EDI officers. The Council voted for resolutions including recommending that a service of repentance, re-commitment and thanksgiving celebration be held at the 2022 Conference and then offered to circuits later in the year. The Council also noted the important work which continues to be done on the issues around Reparations for the Trans-Atlantic Slavery including assessment of the ways the Methodist Church has benefited from the enslavement of people. The Council considered how best membership data could be collected and used to monitor progress on EDI and recognised that more work is needed in this complicated area.
The Secretary of the Conference, the Revd Dr Jonathan Hustler presented the policy on Conversion Therapy which has been written as a result of the 2021 Conference decision immediately to ban conversion therapy anywhere within the Methodist Church. Dr Hustler told the Council that whatever Government legislation goes through Parliament the Methodist Church’s policy following the direction of the 2021 Conference is that no such therapy should take place on Methodist Church premises or in the name of the Methodist Church. Dr Hustler explained to members that this policy does not prohibit pastoral conversations with people who have questions about their sexuality, but making it clear that they would be an ‘open exploration’ of the issues. The Council voted to endorse the policy.
Action for Hope
The Head of Mission, Ms Jude Levermore presented a report on Action for Hope, the work to enable the Methodist Church to work towards being a carbon net-zero church by 2030. Ms Levermore set out the aims of the work and stressed the importance of working out what we are called to do and who we might work alongside when trying to achieve our goal. Many consultations have already taken place including with ecumenical and other faith partners, Methodist family organisations, and across the Connexion. The aims of the report are split into sections: assets, wisdom and lifestyles. Council members adopted the Action for Hope plan, including annual focus activities but voted against asking churches, circuits and districts to collect annual carbon footprint reports for travel and gas and electricity. The Action for Hope task group will continue to report progress towards net zero to the Council on an annual basis.
Faith and Order Committee
The Report of the Faith and Order Committee was presented to the Council by the Secretary of the Committee, the Revd Dr Nicola Price-Tebbutt. The report set out a review of the work of the committee and also the work being brought to the Conference. The Council received the report.
Audit of Safeguarding Practice
The Audit of Safeguarding Practice across the Church was presented to the Council by the Director of Safeguarding, Mr Tim Carter and Ms Jane Stacey, the author of the Past Cases Review and a member of the Safeguarding Committee. The paper is an amended form of one the Council discussed at its last meeting. Ms Stacey explained the audit will look at frontline ministers and presbyters to examine to what extent culture change has been embedded and what has helped and hindered. Ms Stacey said in ascertaining best practice across the Connexion it can be shared with others and that it will be a learning process. Council members received the report and voted to approve the audit framework.
The Chair of the Council, Mrs Jill Baker thanked those people whose term on Council finishes at the end of the Connexional year, and also to the Revd Dr Nicola Price-Tebbutt who leaves her role in August.
The Secretary of the Conference, the Revd Dr Jonathan Hustler then paid tribute to Mrs Baker who steps down as the Chair of the Methodist Council in August. He described her exceptional service to the Council and to the Methodist people in the last four years and said while it was not the term she would have expected, she had carried out her duties with great calm and wisdom. He thanked her for the tremendous care and attention she gave to being Chair, describing her as both gentle and firm when conversations have been difficult. Dr Hustler concluded: “Above all in all this you have reminded us that the Kingdom of God is very near. We have been blessed by your spiritual leadership – you have offered theological wisdom and our work has been surrounded by prayer. We thank you and thank God for all you’ve given us over the past four years.”