Mind your language if you intend to offer proper pastoral care - that was the message from incoming President Leo Osborn this afternoon.He challenged us to think again about how we speak and the assumptions we make when we talk within church.
He asked: 'Am I the only person who cringes when I hear the word “visitors” used when folk are welcomed at the beginning of worship?' It was an improvement on “strangers” but still assumed we wouldn't see them again, said Leo, who added: 'Well as Jesus didn’t say “Blessed are those who expect nothing. They shall never be disappointed!'
His challenge to Conference - and the wider church - was to get a balance. He acknowledged his background as an evangelical, as someone for whom the sacraments have become more important and who longed for to encourage every initiative to bring nearer the unity of the church in visible form.
He said: 'I believe in the centrality of the Cross and Resurrection and in the overriding authority of Scripture but I don’t find that that provides me with answers to every question or that despite living in Newcastle every moral or ethical decision is black and white. Indeed I have some sympathy with John Robinson of Honest to God fame who towards the end of his life said that he believed more and more about less and less!'
While talking about us being theological, pragmatic and connexional ... his focus was on pastoral care.
'For at the very heart of the Gospel is the pastoral image of Jesus the Good Shepherd,' said Leo. It wasn't just an image: Jesus demonstrated in words and actions what knowing his sheep, calling his sheep, listening to his sheep, loving his sheep, laying down his life for the sheep reaching out to the lost sheep looks like as an indication of what God is like.
And Leo took us to the Presbyteral Ordination Services where the call to Peter to “tend my sheep and feed my lambs” is echoed over and over again, especially when The President says to the newly ordained: "Be shepherds to the flock of Christ. As you exercise mercy, do not forget justice, as you minister discipline do not forget mercy; that when Christ the Chief Shepherd comes in glory he may count you among his faithful servants".
He reminded us that ultimately people come to faith through people and that we become unbalanced if we think worship and mission don't need pastoral care.
After a tea break, we heard from new Vice President Ruth Pickles whose theme for the year is Learning as disciples of Jesus. She drew us to George Herbert's poem The Elixir, which we had sung as a hymn, including:
A man who looks on glass,
On it may stay his eye,
Or if he pleaseth through it pass,
And then the heavens espy.
Ruth will be using four images: window, door, path, and a child on the edge of the sea and she took us on a journey through her faith experiences using these images.
The risks and opportunities of Christian discipleship involved risk - looking through windows, going through doors, along paths and standing on the shoreline as new opportunities open up.