It is finished! Methodist Conference 2019 is finally over and all the representatives have returned to their homes in Britain and around the world. For those of us who are LGBTQI+, the decisions of the last few days are potentially momentous. Now, a year of hard work and careful listening begins to bring into reality, equal marriage in our churches. For those opposed to equal marriage, this will be a painful, frustrating and anxious time, and I continue to pray for sisters and brothers and siblings with whom I disagree.
Methodist Conference was always going to be difficult this year. After a bruising year, some of which I have shared in previous posts, Mark and I were not looking forward to attending. We knew we would meet many of those involved in the stationing process and we wondered what they would say. Some friends who had been in the room when decisions were made have been conspicuously silent for the last year and we wondered how conversations with them would go. We also knew that many others would want to know whether we were now ‘sorted’ for 2019-20, anxious to be assured that these loose ends had been tied up. And we knew that, inside, both of us were still raw from the experience, confused by the mixed messages we had received. Being told we were talented, and gifts to the Church on the one hand, and being offered nothing through stationing on the other, left us (and many others) bewildered to say the least. For both of us, the covenant relationship we had cherished with the Conference had definitely been damaged, and we were fearful that it might even be broken. So when people, trying to offer reassurance, talked about ‘next time’, we felt our hearts twinge with pain.
There is still much to process. We are hugely grateful to the South Warwickshire Circuit for stepping in and providing us with a place to live and work. We are also thankful for their part in helping Mark secure a part-time appointment with the University of Warwick which means we are not losing as much income as we first thought. For the next three years, we will be secure and are excited by the opportunities for ministry and research that lie ahead.
There was also some hopeful signs from Conference itself. We received an apology for what had happened to us and an acknowledgement of what we had gone through. Conference also committed the Church to a fresh look at our processes of Stationing and Complaints in the light of our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion commitments. Both offer us a sliver of hope that the damage done this year might begin to be repaired.
As for what happens in three years’ time, who knows. We are trying to be open to where the Spirit leads and where we can make the biggest difference, whether in Britain or elsewhere. For the time being, Whitnash here we come …!