We've been meeting as the European Methodist Council at a critical time. Inevitably, the topic of some of our sessions - and many of our conversations over lunch and dinner - has been Brexit and the future. I feel that we are now getting to the end of the initial shock, anger and recriminations and, as the fog begins to clear, beginning to think about what happened and what we do now.
I think it is important that we try to recognise what happened. There has been a knee-jerk reaction from the 'liberals' that has sounded much less than liberal. 'How dare they!' is not an adequate response. We have been confronted with the stark reality that progress, as we understand it, is not inevitable. However much we believe that the hard-won freedoms we joy in Europe are now embedded, the shift in the mood of politics shows that the arguments need to be re-won in every generation. Progress is never finished.
Brexit has rocked us to the core, on both sides of the debate. Neither side expected it to happen. And one of the challenges in the current 'fog', is how to avoid increasing polarisation and demonisation in the conversation. The caricatures of the Brexiteers and the Remoaners fails to serve the common good and any decent public discourse. The impulse is strong and subtle, buying into images of the 'Other' that serves to reinforce our righteous anger.
I have lived on the island of Great Britain for the past 25 years. I have noticed that the discourse around Britain's imperial past has moved from embarassment and indifference to a re-assertion of Britain's role in the world. It is now, without pause, that politicians of all hues talk about Britain being a 'force for good in the world' and 'punching above our weight'. The promise of detachment from the EU is a major re-engagement with former colonies and others in the wider world. It has come as a shock to some that those, now emerging, nations have not been longing for a renewed relationship with the former colonial masters. In fact, some only maintained their current relations because of the UK's EU membership. Might it just be that the reason that the UK has maintained a relatively high prominence in world affairs exactly because of its membership of the EU not despite it? Whatever happens after March 2019, it highlights again the need to deal with the legacy of colonialism.
For Methodists across Europe, the next two years pose a question to our continuing commitment to Connexion. Whilst we rightly look to our own national issues as the context of our mission and ministry, I hope that we will continue to see the real value in strong relations with the wider Wesleyan family. In the British Isles, the English and St George's Channels seem to have formed an impermeable membrane, keeping other European Methodists at bay. So we have a job of learning more about our neglected sisters and brothers and looking at way we can enhance each other's mission.
Brexit is very likely to be a political reality in two years' time. It does not need to be, nor should it be, a spiritual one too.