24 March 2021
The Methodist Council met online between March 20th and 22nd and opened with reports from the Strategy and Resources Committee and the Connexional Team. The Revd Tim Swindell was nominated as Connexional Treasurer and Chair of the Finance sub-committee for another two years.
Strategy for Justice, Dignity and Solidarity
The Council received the report from the Inclusive Church Implementation Group and commended the Strategy for Justice, Dignity, and Solidarity which aims for “a profound change in the culture, practices and attitudes of the Methodist Church so that all Methodists are able to be full participants in the Church’s life, so that this becomes not just something we say but something we live out in practice.” The strategy proposes that everyone in the Church uses this Strategy which contains various recommendations including comprehensive mandatory training for anyone in a leadership role (anti-racism, gender equality training and disability training) and mandatory actions for local churches, circuits, districts and the Methodist Council. The Council also heard the experiences of people within the Connexion who have experienced discrimination. The Council affirmed the report which stated: “We re-commit ourselves to taking responsibility for helping the Methodist Church to become the church that we believe God wants us to be.” The report will be revised in the light of the discussions at the Council, and presented to the Conference for its adoption and action.
Model Trust 20 Policy
Model Trust 20 permits sales of Methodist property to Methodist and non-Methodist charities (for instance Housing Associations) at less than best price in certain circumstances and subject to conditions. The Council adopted an amended policy for these sales from September 2021.
Council members heard that work is ongoing to consider permitting leases to Methodist and non-Methodist charities at less than market rate, and proposals will brought to the Council for approval in October 2021.
The Council agreed to recommend to the Conference a new policy for supervision which will replace the Interim Supervision Policy which ends in August 2021. It was proposed that supervision be known as Reflective Supervision to distinguish it from oversight, management and elective pastoral supervision. The Interim Director of the Ministries team, Paul Wood, told Council members that 665 people have received training in supervision and, in a recent survey, 76% of respondents said they had an improved connection with God’s presence and own sense of vocation and 73% said supervision had improved their wellbeing and reduced anxiety and stress. Overall 88% of those who responded said they had confidence in the quality of supervision being received.
The Reflective Supervision Policy is intended to run from 2021-26 with some lay roles and offices added to the policy by 2022. ‘Reflective supervision’ is an exploratory and reflective process in which one or more ministry practitioners covenant to meet together with a trained, resourced and approved supervisor to reflect on their vocation and practice and provide mutual support.
The Council was also asked to recommend to the Conference that a review of the policy, including the feasibility of it being extended to lay roles be brought to the Conference of 2026.
The Justice Project
The Methodist Council were informed of a two-year project looking at how the Church speaks out on social issues and challenges injustices. It will be headed up by Rachel Lampard, who is currently the Team Leader of the Joint Public Issues Team, and aims to make the Church more effective in speaking and acting for justice and transformation. The project will run for 2 years and will report to the Council and the Conference during this time.
Oversight and Trusteeship
The Council received a brief update on the aspects of the work on Oversight and Trusteeship which fall under the responsibility of the Council. The Council agreed to recommend to the Conference that the minimum size of a local church be raised to 12 members (from six). Churches with fewer than 12 members will not be expected to close or to cease worshipping, but to examine creative ways of working with other local churches so they are not over-burdened with matters of trusteeship. The Secretary of the Conference told Council members these changes would help a large number of churches and circuits with the coordination of their mission.
Reflections from the President, Vice-President and Youth President on their year in office
On Sunday morning, the President and Vice-President of the Conference reflected on their year in office. The Reverend Richard Teal started the morning reflecting on Philippians 4 and the Vice President, Mrs Carolyn Lawrence gave the Council the highs and lows of her year as Vice-President in lockdown. She described how after her trip to Brazil, the rest of the year had been spent at her desk but that her and the President had managed to meet more people in the year than if they had been visiting in person.
In the afternoon, the Youth President Phoebe Parkin was interviewed by the Chair of the Council, Jill Baker. Ms Parkin talked about the challenges and benefits she has faced carrying out her Presidency throughout lockdown and the impact of lockdown on young people, particularly around mental health. Other topics discussed were how to encourage young people to talk about their spirituality, and climate change.
Review of the Youth President’s role
Council members heard how the pandemic has had an impact on the work of the review of the Youth President’s role. The Chair of the review group asked for a year’s extension for the work which was approved by Council members.
The Council received the annual report of the Methodist Schools Committee. There are currently 66 Methodist maintained schools, 19 independent schools linked to MIST and six primary schools within the Epworth Education Trust (formed by the merger of the Wesley and Acorn Trusts.) The report highlighted some of the outstanding work undertaken by Methodist schools during the pandemic including the development of anti-racist RE materials. Council members were told how schools had responded to the Covid crisis with those in economically deprived areas working to make sure families who did not have access to appropriate technology or Wi-Fi were catered for with paper-based work which was hand-delivered. When pupils returned in September 2020, schools delivered a recovery curriculum focused upon delivering mental health and wellbeing support alongside the wider curriculum.
Mission Committee Terms of Reference
In January, the Council agreed to work towards the establishment of a Mission Committee. It appointed a pre-Shadow Mission Committee, which now brought to the Council proposed terms of reference for the Shadow Mission Committee. The Committee will have responsibility for ensuring the mission and activities of the Methodist Church in Britain are in keeping with the response to Our Calling and agreed priorities. It will explore the challenges and opportunities faced by the Church for mission, local and global, in the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-faith context that is the society today. The Committee, to be appointed by the Conference, will report to the Council to enable the Church to develop and maintain a strategic vision for Mission.
Reply to Memorial 6
The 2020 Conference received a memorial from the Gloucestershire Circuit, concerning how the Church could reach net zero emissions by 2030. The Conference referred the memorial to the Council, and the Council in January discussed the issues in detail. The Council agreed to recommend a reply to the memorial, proposing that the Conference agrees an aspirational target to become a net zero Church by 2030, recognising that all parts of the Church will have to commit significant resources to making it happen. The response also proposes that that steps are taken to ‘green’ our processes with regard to property including ensuring that all building schemes take seriously the need to reduce carbon emissions and ensuring that manses become as energy efficient as possible. It also suggests that partnerships are developed with outside agencies such as A Rocha and the Eco Church programme to help achieve the target.
The budget was presented to Council members by the Director of Finance and Resources, Matt Tattersall, who told members that now is the time to start taking action in response to the impact of the pandemic on Church finances. In light of this impact and the decline in church membership over a prolonged period, a reduction of 1% in the District Assessment is proposed for 2021/22 (with further reductions in the Assessment of 2% and 3% in the indicative budgets for 2022/23 and 2023/24). This reduction in funding will be partly managed by running a deficit budget on the Methodist Church Fund in 2021/22 and partly by holding down expenditure at pandemic levels wherever possible. Mr Tattersall told the Council that these reductions are aspirations and greater detail on the impact of these reductions will be required. Members heard that it will not be possible to continue to run a deficit budget and these reductions will require cuts to expenditure. The Council adopted the draft budget for 2021/22, agreed that the remaining free reserve balance on the Epworth fund is used to contribute to the God For All Strategy and approved the five year budget for the God For All strategy.
The Council approved interim guidance for Deliverance Ministry which has been produced after the Conference asked for such ministry to be suspended pending updated guidelines. The guidance covers the authorisation, training and supervision of those seeking to engage in deliverance ministry.
The Council will also ask the Conference to appoint an Interim Panel on Deliverance Ministry and the Faith and Order Committee will bring theological reflection in relation to deliverance ministry to the 2022 Conference.