Elections can be brutal - the people speak and the next day, the removal vans take the belonging out the back door as the new incumbent arrives at the front. They are also an enormous privilege, both for candidate and voter. For the voters, they get to overthrow their government with nothing more than a stubby pencil; for the candidate, it is the chance to place oneself before the public and offer to serve and, in serving, make a difference. It is supremely humbling, both if you win, the knowledge that so many strangers place their trust in you, and if you lose, acting with good grace and offering genuine congratulation to your opponent.
I have had my name on a ballot paper a number of times including, most recently, at the Methodist Conference. The decision to stand for President (or Vice-President) of the Methodist Conference is not something to take lightly. It took me nine months of prayer and conversation with trusted and wise friends before I got to the point where I gave in and allowed my name to go forward. Unlike other elections, this one involves no canvassing, so we must trust that the mere 200 word-statement offered by each candidate is enough to prompt members of the Conference in discerning who God is calling to the office.
Huge congratulations to Revd Dr Barbara Glasson and Prof Clive Marsh, our new President- and Vic-President-Designate. To all those who put their name forward, I have the greatest admiration.
Like Barbara, I didn't stand for the Presidency for the title and prestige, assuming there is some! Many previous incumbents told me what a toll it would take on my personal life - one decribed it as a year-long migraine! I knew it would add many burdens to my life and the life of my partner, Mark and son, Dominic, with less time to spend with them. I knew also that my 'real' day job would suffer, as the Presidency involved significant periods away from home. How would my already-stretched colleagues cover my absence?
I stood because the Presidency only works if a wide variety of people are prepared to stand for it. I looked back at the list of Presidents over the last thirty years and struggled to find many who weren't Connexional Team members or District Chairs. The roles of President and VP are designed in such a way that they are open to any member, deacon or presbyter. They flourish when the incredible diversity of our Connexion is embodied in the Presidency itself, a mirror both to ourselves and the wider world of what being Methodist embraces. Sad to say, we have never had an openly-gay President, though I dare say we have had one or more who privately identified as such. I hope the next time an openly-gay person chooses to stand, it will be easier to be open and honest about who they are and whom they love.
My sexuality is only part of the picture. I spoke of my vision of a 'world-embracing, world transforming' Church, something that has shaped my life and ministry to date. For too many, the 'world' has become a scary, hostile place, enemy territory from which to retreat. Yet, Calvin spoke of creation as 'the theatre of divine glory', a place not only formed by the Spirit, but one where the work of God is on display. It reminds me that the 'Book of the World' is available to be read that we might understand better what God is trying to communicate to us. Whatever we might understand about the 'falleness' of creation, the world around us retains the ability to speak eloquently of its Creator, however faintly.
Embrace is an act of love, of welcome and hospitality. In offering an embrace, the Church makes itself vulnerable to the other, the stranger, the neighbour of any faith and none. But it does so with an agenda: transformation. Another way to put it, re-creation. In taking the world seriously as the location of God's glory, God's activity and God's mission, we receive our vocation or co-mission to become co-creators with the divine. In transforming, we are transformed.
Worlds can be incredibly small and we sometimes create our own worlds to enhance our sense of security. But the world I want to embrace and transform is nothing less than the whole created order. The Church I want to be part of is a community that knows itself a small part of a gloriously diverse World Methodist and Wesleyan family. I want to be part of a humble, but confident, Church that steps out into the public sphere and speaks the truth it knows as it listens for the truth of others. A community secure enough in itself, to be able to see its flaws and limitations and its own need of transformation.
We, as a Methodist Church, will be deeply blessed by the ministry of Barbara and Clive as our President and Vice-President in 2019-20. I wish them my best wishes, my love and prayers.