Knowing you Jesus, there is no greater thing were the words that greeted hundreds of Conference reps as they made their way into the Southport Convention Centre theatre on Saturday morning.
The Conference band were welcoming us in for the opening act of worship as Fridays Ministerial Session gave way to the Representative Session - the full Conference mingling for the first time.
As ever, Conference is a glorious mix of worship and work, and for 2011 we are mining the resources of Singing the Faith, the new hymn resource for the Methodist Church. Publication of the book and electronic resource will now be in September.
So we sang Andrew Pratt's words:
Best of all is God is with us
hearts are challenged, strangely warmed,
faith is deepened, courage strengthened,
grace received and hope reformed.
And God was with us, both in the worship and the seamless way we switched into business, with points of order and proposals as the agenda took over before we split into five hearings and workshops on:
- Resourcing Mission Report
- Fruitful Field (development of the Church's existing Connexional activities in the field of learning, formation, training, theological education, scholarship, research and development)
- The General Secretary's Report
- MHS/ Action for Children
I sat in on the General Secretary's Report and Revd Dr Martyn Atkins developed his theme of Contemporary Methodism as a discipleship movement shaped for mission.
Martyn was, he said, mirroring back multiple conversations with people and the report was not initiative number 432 from Connexional Team but a recognition that we need to turn a willingness to change into strategy for action.
The language of holy risk was written large in the report and applauded more than once by the responses of those who spoke after the introduction. Its been a frequent phrase throughout the year as Ive sat in meetings of various groups at local and Connexional level.
Martyn was very clear. This is not the Connexional Team ploughing ahead, whether anyone else want to make the journey or not. God seems to be giving us the encouragement, he said. But we don't want to assume anything. We believe we are hearing the Holy Spirit say that this seems to be the way, keep walking in it.
And, as the report and later speakers affirmed, being a discipleship movement shaped for mission can only work if we consciously hold on to the truth of being a Connexional Church that affirms lay leadership.
Issues of patterns of ministry, Gods worthship and our worship, evangelism and making more disciples, partnerships with Christians locally and the worldwide family of Methodism are all part of the opportunities for us as a discipleship movement shaped for mission.
A stream of speakers affirmed the report as exciting, thrilling, demanding much of us but the right report for this time in our history. In the words of the report: the direction of travel we need to take.
(Uploaded by Anna on Gareth's behalf, due to technical issues).