Monday, 4 July 2011

Lord, graciously hear us ... pardon?

What does it mean to listen to the voice of God? How does the Word get through to us? This question formed the foundation of the first day of business for the Representative Session here at Southport.

As we began conferring, we heard about the Word:

  • How the Word came to Elijah as he hid in his cave. I've always been struck by God's question, asked twice, "What are you doing here, Elijah?". I've long wondered on which word God put the stress in the question and whether it was different each time: what, are, you, doing, here, Elijah. Was the inquiry followed by a pause, a question mark, a grunt or an exclamation mark? Eventually, of course - after wind, earthquake and fire - it was, as Ken Jackson reminded us, "the sound of sheer silence". [For a different take on that image, see here.]

  • Also, through the prologue to John's Gospel, how the Word came as a human being, made flesh for us in Jesus.

Ken referred to Lucy Winkett's book Our Sound is Our Wound: Contemplative Listening to a Noisy World and said that our conferring would invoke many things among us: it would inspire, irritate, anger, rejoice our hearts.
It would make us laugh and weep as people spoke with authority, tentatively, with passion or nervously.
But listening was as important as our speaking; active listening was urgent if we were to hear God's Word for today, to know what God, the Church and the world were saying to us.
The crucial thing, of course, is that w
e needed to make sure we were not just listening to one another and - as Ken's grand-daughter had said to him - 'You need to listen properly, with your eyes open.'

We then prayed - interestingly - a prayer that included the response Lord hear us, Lord graciously hear us! Perhaps we should have prayed May we graciously hear you, Lord.

So began a day of listening - moving into the General Secretary's Report, with the Rev Dr Martyn Atkins offering a bold vision which has come out of multiple conversations with people around the Connexion. There should be no illusions, he said. The journey towards becoming a "discipleship movement shaped for mission" would not be easy and has costs. It would involve choosing to do things and to stop doing others - it could not be business as usual but Martyn asked us to gather up our courage and our faith and vote for change.

Speaker after speaker affirmed what the report called "the direction of travel", variously referring to it as dynamite and urging that its energy and potential shouldn't be lost in its necessary passing on into the church's committees and working groups.

There was a real sense of 'moment' in the room as we enthusiastically supported Martyn's report. Decisions being reached here mattered for the sake of the people called Methodist and the Kingdom of God. We can make a difference.

In a link to the opening devotions, Fidelio Patron took the metaphor of Elijah's cave. Some caves, he said, were natural, some man-made but very few have windows and you rarely see a way out. This report allows us to see a way out, he said.

Caves very rarely have water, food or light and there would be an urgency to get out or die, said Fidelio. For the people called Methodist there was now a sense of urgency. "We’re very good at prolonging things," he said. "We are still pointing the way forward but we need to do something. How do we overcome our procedures and do something now."

Ultimately, we voted to continue travelling in the direction that Martyn told us the church had asked us to take. We heard him when he said: "I am convinced that God desires a healthy, more vibrant Methodism, offered anew to God as its proper ‘owner’ and as a fruitful and willing part of the One Church of Christ, for the sake of the world God loves and in Christ redeemed."

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