For various reasons, I have been spending a bit of time recently thinking about the Presidency of the Methodist Conference and its evolution. It wasn't that long ago when the only chance the Vice-President got to chair the Conference was when the President nipped out to the loo! Thankfully, we have moved a long way from those days and recent amendments to Standing Orders has created a much more collaborative model.
Yet, we are stuck with titles that still make little sense to most Methodists, let alone anyone looking in from the outside. Unlike most political or ogranisational Presidencies, the VP does not get to take over from the President, indeed is constitutionally prevented from doing so. However, they are not the President's deputy in any significant way, but an equal but different office. Previous attempts to suggest other titles - such as Co-President - have fallen on stony ground.
Undaunted, I want to suggest two changes that would not fundamentally alter the nature of the offices as we now have them, but might give a clarity we still look for. How about changing the name of the office of Vice-President to 'Chair of the Methodist Conference' to sit alongside President? The collaborative nature of the Presidency would be maintained, with the (lay) Chair presiding over the business aspects of the Conference and the President presiding over its liturgy. As happens now, these would be shared by invitation. The advantage of 'Chair' is that it locates this lay ministry securely in the life of the Conference as well as giving it the prominence in the life of the Church that it warrants. It also relocates the office of President firmly in presbyteral ministry with its focus on worship and not administration.
If Methodism were to move to President and Chair, it would leave open the possibility of renaming the current President- and Vice-President-designates as Vice-President and Vice-Chair. This would not only make some sense to those looking on from outside, but also make clear to the wider Church that we, in effect, elect individuals to serve for three years rather than one. It would give substance to the Presidency as a six-person team and enable the Vice-President and Vice-Chair to represent the Conference in more meaningful ways during their year of preparation.
All of this leaves open the question of the Diaconate. Personally, I do not think that deacons should be eligible to stand for the office of Vice-President as it is supremely a lay role. However, I do think that the office of Warden of the Order should be given a much higher prominence in the Conference and the Church, deputising for the Presidency in appropriate situations. Perhaps the Connexional Leaders Forum could be rethought and simply include the Presidency, the Warden, the Chairs of the Chairs' Meeting, the Methodist Council and the SRC, and the Secretary of the Conference.
Just a thought .... And please remember, these are my own thoughts and I am not representing the Methodist Church or any other employer.