Being part of the Susanna Wesley Foundation Team is a real privilege. I am looking forward to our work being more widely known, especially within the Methodist Church. We are committed to high quality research and theological reflection that will aid the Methodist Church to better understand and practice its mission in Britain and beyond. In a time of anxiety, and even bewilderment, within the Churches at the pace of social change and the loss of a Christian foothold in the public square, it is important to glean as clear a picture of reality as is possible. SWF's role is to offer tools and insight to the wider Church to allow it to see the lay of the land.
Key to our work are conferences, literally 'carry or bear together', where people gather to share their wisdom and listen attentively to the experience and expertise of others. In Methodist terms, this is a holy business, for Christ has promised to be in the midst of any conference (Matthew 18:20). But whilst we have got used to 'Conferences' meaning hotel rooms of varying quality with agendas and papers, dinners and (sometimes) hangovers, the etymology is much more profound. In carrying or bearing together, there is the notion of pregnancy and bringing to birth. A holy conference is one where we expect to be midwives to the ideas of others, to see new wisdom (in theory and practice) come to fruition and be shared.
I wonder how much we see our Methodist gatherings as places for midwifery of any sort? Do we expect to work with others in the bearing of a shared burden for the present and future church? How would it change our gathering if we were fully aware of carrying the future within us, a future placed there by the Spirit of God? We have become adept at the handling of agendas and procedures, but lost the purpose of conferring - discerning together the holy purposes of God.
I met with a local congregation last week to talk about our vision of God, especially when it comes to mission and the future of the Church. It occurred to me that we might have got ourselves into a place where we now believe, for all practical purposes, that God is either stingey or cruel. In both cases, God has not given us the tools, people, resources or energy to engage in mission, yet still expects us to do it. We are being asked to make bricks without straw. If that is the case, then it seems to me that we have no business honouring that kind of God. Let's shut up shop and do something better with our time.
I try to work on the assumption that God is both loving and generous. If that is the case, then whatever we are called to do or be part of comes with the right amount of vision, resources, gifts and people. So our task is to reconnect those things - the proper purpose of conferencing.