Welcome to 2019, and to what promises to be another interesting and challenging year in the life of our Circuit. Last November we held a Circuit Synod – a day to think and pray about our life together and to look at ways of reimagining and reshaping how we do things. Around 100 people were involved and while we were not aiming to come up with easy answers or quick-fix solutions, two clear messages were heard:
Neither is straightforward and both involve a significant change in how we work. Another key idea within our discussions was what being 'present' as a Church in a local community means. Too often our presence is linked to a building which is, or looks, closed – something which obscures the active presence of individuals engaging in God's mission. Conversely, there are many local communities which no longer have a Methodist Church building and where people therefore assume that there are no Methodists!
In trying to put a framework around the many other ideas and thoughts which were shared on the day, the familiar phrase "Unity in Diversity" seemed appropriate. Picking up on the theme of avoiding duplication, one group said, "We don't have to do everything in every church or the same things in every church" while another group put the emphasis on "lots of disparate small groups engaging people where they are with our buildings changing to engage with people doing things that aren't what we think of as church." Similarly, another group imagined a Circuit made up of "Local buildings as mission centres facilitating e.g. street pastors in parks, men's sheds and community activities."
The other related idea in terms of how we might organise ourselves is usually called "Hub and Spoke". Several groups suggested roles and services which could be focused on a central or an area hub, thus liberating and facilitating local churches to follow their calling. Allied to this was the suggestion of exploring a greater use of team ministry across a group of churches and the use of technology in order to live stream between churches and to link their activities together. and in all of this there was also the recognition of the need for ecumenical cooperation rather than competition, and the ability to celebrate our differences together.
It is a long time since the wise person from China pointed out that 'a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step'. Perhaps the Synod was that step but, if so, there are clearly many more steps ahead. The Circuit Staff and Stewards are meeting in January with a view to bringing some suggested steps to the February Circuit Council. In the meantime, I encourage you all to speak with your Circuit Council representatives and look at the more detailed report from the Synod that they have. And I encourage us all to pray together as we try to discern what is of God in our wrestling, our thinking and our planning.