Some of you may know that Methodist Conference met last week at the National Convention Centre, aka the Motorcycle Museum, just 25 minutes away from this Circuit. It’s not often the Methodist Church makes the national news, but this week it did. If you were listening or watching the BBC or reading some newspapers you will have heard the outcome of the conferring and voting on the God in Love Unites Us report. These decisions have been reported in the press as ‘Methodist Church says yes to same sex marriage’. In fact this was just one resolution from the report details of which can be seen in the links below *. It’s a report which is familiar to our Circuit. In 2019 Conference invited all churches to look at the God in Love Unites Us report carefully, discussing it and conferring locally. The Bromsgrove and Redditch Circuit responded to this call by providing copies of the report and holding several workshop/discussion groups across the Circuit, as well as encouraging local churches to explore the report in smaller groups. The Conference of 2019 invited feedback from Districts and that information was gleaned from the local conversations in churches and in Circuits. The pandemic caused a hiatus to the timescales and the debate couldn’t be held in 2020, but finally this year 29 out of 30 District Synods voted in favour of the God in Love Unites Us report with its accompanying resolutions being presented in its current form to the Conference for debate and decision at the Conference of 2021. The conferring was broad and grace-filled. So, what actually happened?
There is more nuance to the decisions made at Conference than is being reported by the press. In principle, Methodist Churches may register for the marriage of same-sex couples as well as mixed-sex couple and ministers no longer prevented from officiating at those services. The decision lies with trustees of each local church. Ministers are also able to make their own decision but can only conduct the marriage of same-sex couples in a building that has been registered for that purpose. The conference acknowledges that there are differences of understanding over many things in the Methodist church and has explicitly recognised and affirmed two understandings of a marriage that some people believe that marriage can only between a man and woman and that other believe that marriage can be between any two people.
The conversations about whether or not to register a church for same sex marriage will be picked up at Autumn Church Councils, but there is no pressure to make a quick decision.
The President and Vice-President of the Methodist Church have written a pastoral letter, dated July 1st, and we have been asked to share that letter with our churches. The content of the letter follows here:
We wished to take this opportunity to write to you after the Conference voted on the resolutions contained in the marriage and relationships report.
We very much appreciate that these decisions will stir up many different emotions for our siblings across the Connexion. There will be some who will be deeply hurt and others who will rejoice by what has been decided.
Our Presidential theme this year is God’s Table: An Invitation for All, and God’s invitation is for every single one of us. The Methodist Church has held tension for many years and as a Church and a family, we must do all we can to live with contradictory convictions.
This work was first reflected on back in 1992 and we have been on this journey together since that point. During the past years we have continued to listen to and to pray for each other and remaining true to what God is saying to us. We must remember in all this, to continue to hold each other in prayer, and to support each other as we find a way forward, respecting our differences.
It is perhaps helpful to remember that there are other issues, some of them discussed at the Conference, on which we hold differing and sometimes strong opinions. We live with them and we do not allow them to impair our communion with each other. We respect each other’s consciences, we exercise judgment in when to speak and when to be silent, and we hold one another in prayer. We do all this not for our own sake but for the sake of Christ and the sake of the world which urgently needs to know the power of Christ’s reconciling love.
Our prayer for you, beloved siblings, is that in joy or sorrow, in pain or excitement, we might continue to live within that reconciling love.
The Revd Sonia Hicks President of the Conference
Mrs Barbara Easton Vice-President of the Conference
The original letter from the President and Vice President can be read here.
We await more information from Connexion on how to follow up on the decisions of Conference. Some information is available now on the Methodist Church website in the following places:
*You can see the resolutions as agreed on in full under sections 59 at : Resolutions in full
A summary and some frequently asked questions can be found here: Summary article
A podcast summarising and explaining the decisions, along with reflection on some of the other business addressed at the Methodist Conference, can be heard here: Methodist Podcast
If you would like to talk through anything raised in this communication with your Minister, please do contact them.
Rev Stephen Levett and Rev Ruth Wilson on behalf of the Circuit.