MCCN The Hayes Conference 2005

City Centre Methodism – the Future

The Revd David Deeks David Deeks is General Secretary of the Methodist Church.

Paragraphs in black are what I believe were contributions from delegates – KT

David divided his talk using two themes: Priorities for the Methodist Church, and Changes in the Connexional Team.

He began by reviewing the way the Methodist Church had over the last ten years or so been struggling for a new identity. We had begun in 1996 with a single sentence, presented the four themes of Our Calling in 2000 and now had set out the Priorities for the Methodist Church.

Our Calling had encouraged local churches to try to break the circle of always doing the same thing year on year by setting up a project for the next twelve months which would be reviewed after that time with the aim of determining what the project for the next twelve months would be. The Priorities for the Methodist Church build on Our Calling by responding to the question 'Where are we heading?'.

Good things are happening in a context of overall decline and ageing. The local church cannot deliver everything and some basic issues must be confronted by the whole church. The Priorities emphasise 'in partnership with others wherever possible'.

David asked: Why is this meeting all Methodists?

People are going to Cathedrals, not necessarily regularly, and their size and scale is a problem.

No other denomination has a city centre network.

City centre work is specialised.

David reminded us if the appointment of Erica Dunmow with responsibility for Urban Mission. There is a need to work ecumenically and pull together right across the Christian movement – Methodists cannot go it alone.

David mentioned the key priority:

To proclaim and affirm its conviction of Godís love in Christ, for us and for all the world; and renew confidence in Godís presence and action in the world and in the Church.

He then noted that there is a sense of exhaustion as though the Gospel has lost its capacity to empower and excite and there is a need for the Methodist Church to enable its own adherents to recover a sense that the Gospel can refresh. There are many who have walked away from the church with an apparent disaffection for the Gospel yet who would still call themselves Christian.

Surveys indicate that two-fifths of the population of the UK 'brush against' the church in some way. How do we make our faith intelligible and communicate to such people? How do we make ourselves heard effectively amongst all the other communications that bombard the senses of everyone? And there are the three-fifths who do not brush against church.

Most of our energy is locked up doing things we have always done. How do we release people to address these Priorities. Some of our buildings are not fit-for-purpose, are in the wrong locations. In some places we have made significant changes, in others we have tinkered, in others our building remain a burden. If we are going to have buildings let them be in the service of the church. We could rent rather than own. We could be in partnership or use the buildings of other churches. We could meet in homes, pubs, …. In the case of listed buildings there was a temptation to lock up and leave.

If we leave the city centre we will never get back in. It is expensive to rent in the city centre. The movement of the focus of a city centre may leave an existing building 'high and dry'.

The response to finding 'new ways of being church' could result in the refreshment of existing churches or be very different. 'Cell' churches which grow and divide; church 'plants'; or 'niche churches' which set out to serve particular categories of people of particular purposes. (These niche churches would not be inclusive, but do we only pretend to be inclusive?) David mentioned the many forms of interaction and activity provide 'church' for people through meeting, communicating, networking and cited such things as a weekly women's meeting, groups who used mobile phones to frequently text each other, and the on-line Ship of Fools initiative.

Turning to cities in particular, David suggested that (as in London) it may be necessary to take stock across the whole city, not just the centre and that we should consider all the boundaries inherent in the Methodist Church as 'permeable'. Districts should encourage city circuits to work together. We cannot go on as we are. We must shed the maintenance mode. And there can be no single policy for all cities because of diversity and uneven resources.

The Methodist Church has £70 million tied up in circuit advance funds, £300 million in church reserves, and spends £130 million each year. Churches should have no more than one year's expenses in their reserves and we should rekindle the spirit of excessive generosity among the Methodist people. We must recognise where other denominations are doing what they do well and not try to do the same thing ourselves.

Finally, David moved on to the changes in the Connexional team. By 2008 there would be a cut of 30% in the resources represented by the Connexional team. The aim is to let the Priorities shape the changes. We are asking 'What does the team have to do?' and 'What does the team do best?'. Other things will not get done or will be achieved through networking.

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15 March 2005