Wednesday was a long, tough day for a lot of people, with the decision made to close Wesley College, Bristol. Around 40 people who travelled by coach to lobby for the college, watched from the gallery as attempts to convince us there was a future failed.
When these kinds of significant moments come up, Conference always behaves itself. There was a clear appreciation that in historical terms and its impact on individuals, this was a big deal.
As a member of the review group into Wesley College, it became clear as we pursued the very long process of researching the options that the story of the past 40 years and more had been of a failure to make decisions. This time the decision to close was taken with a significant majority.
A second group of watchers, representing an apparently agitated Jewish community, studied very closely as we received a report on justice for Palestine and Israel. The response of Jews in advance of Conference included accusations that Methodism was being anti-Semitic for advocating a boycott of goods produced in the Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories.
In the end we backed the boycott and encouraged Methodists across Britain to do the same. The decision is a response to a call from a group of Palestinian Christians, a growing number of Jewish organisations, both inside Israel and worldwide, and the World Council of Churches. A majority of governments recognise the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories as illegitimate under international law.
Christine Elliott, Secretary for External Relationships, said: “This decision has not been taken lightly, but after months of research, careful consideration and finally, today’s debate at the Conference. The goal of the boycott is to put an end to the existing injustice. It reflects the challenge that settlements present to a lasting peace in the region.”
It seemed to be a day for difficult decisions as we confirmed a cut in the multi-million pound Youth Participation Strategy. It’s still a multi-million pound pilot programme and still offers a real chance to engage with young people - the difference is that more of the financial cost will have to be met from districts and local churches.
There’s no rule about declaring an interest when you’re writing a blog but whatever the blogging equivalent is then I’ve just done it. We gave approval for publishing a hymnbook - to be called Singing the Faith - which will be launched with a ‘big sing’ event at next year’s Southport Conference.
The collection contains 772 hymns and songs, plus 59 canticles and psalms. It has been six years in the making, and will be the first authorised Methodist collection in thirty years.
The news release says “leading modern hymn writers, including many Methodists, are represented alongside the best of Methodist heritage, such as hymns by Charles Wesley”.
My declaration of interest is because I will have three hymns in Singing the Faith but I still feel as I did when this whole debate started: we don’t need a new book.
When it’s published, the full music edition will cost £30, the words edition £9 and the large print words edition £15. At a future date, these will be supported by electronic resources, including a website offering a free range of extra resources and products relating to the core hymn collection.
A quick tot-up with the largest church in the circuit where I work reckoned that to buy music copies for the choir and word copies for the 400 members would set that one church back £5,000. In a cash-conscious time a church that has equipped itself with contemporary technology will be satisfied with a copyright licence and a data projector.
So Wesley College, Israel-Palestine, youth work, a hymn resource ... all attention grabbers.
But for me the highlight of the day was the communion service which began the day and Vice President Eunice Attwood’s sermon.
She took the story of Zacchaeus and reminded us that:
- Jesus called him by name
- Jesus invited himself to Zacchaeus’ home
- Jesus didn’t make a diary date, but came straight away
- Jesus was happy to become ‘guilty by association’ with supposed ‘sinners’
Eunice’s challenge to us was to be aware of what we were clinging to and learn to be as extravagently generous as Jesus.
Jesus calls the poor and rich
to a carnival of praise:
dovetailed into heaven’s gala
by the carpenter’s embrace.
Jesus leads the dance of life,
calling each of us by name.
Partners on the road to freedom:
joy and hope eclipsing shame.
Jesus lays a feast for us
- once excluded, now his guests.
make outsiders heaven-blessed.
Gareth Hill Copyright © 2010 GraceNotes Music