Deborah Wills: September 2019
Hosted by the Shropshire and Marches Circuit, the Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury Autumn Synod introduced some weighty topics under the banner "So...What's the Story?", the question set by President of Conference Revd. Dr. Barbara Glasson and Vice President Prof. Clive Marsh for this Connexional year. The event, held at Shrewsbury College's London Road campus, was well-attended by representatives from across the District who, through a series of presentations and chat show style discussions, ended the day more knowledgeable about Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI), Racism and Unconscious Bias, the progress of developments regarding the Methodist Church's position on Marriage and Relationships and the efforts of rural church communities, that have achieved Eco Church status in exercising greater Care of God's Creation.
Opening worship led by the Circuit's very own Mission through Music gave way to an inevitable mention of Brexit. District Chair Revd. Rachel Parkinson presented a series of cartoons produced by D. Muthukumaranage, depicting the church's stance throughout the negotiations, suggesting that the church should be far more involved and certainly more vocal.
Prior to Synod, Revd. Parkinson had stated in her welcome letter, "Despite the Methodist Church taking a stand many years ago in declaring racism to be contrary to the gospel, and a sin, it's been painful for the Conference to recognise that racism is still present in the Methodist Church, together with a whole range of other discriminatory attitudes and behaviours. This deeply affects many brothers and sisters." This, she said, reinforced the need to address EDI issues from within. Following the morning's worship and business, a presentation by Molly Chitokwindo and a brief panel discussion, during which BAME contributors spoke of their experiences of unconscious bias, opened the topic. Molly informed Synod of the EDI toolkit* a Methodist resource designed to equip believers to "go beyond legal compliance, being based on the principle that all humankind is made in God's image, and therefore worthy of dignity and respect". Exercises from the toolkit were used in the workshops that followed, to help participants identify the unconscious biases (particularly regarding ethnicity and ability), all people sometimes ignorantly hold.
Revd. James Eaton-Challinor assisted by Rachel Wood and Revd. Chris Collins presented an update of the Marriage and Relationships Consultation on which Methodists will vote during Spring Synod 2020. He was keen to point out that while for many the emphasis of surrounding discussions has been on same sex relationships or equal marriage, the consultation focusses on "a whole lot of other things" such as co-habitation, sex and single people and divorced people in the church. He informed that for the most part, the hurt that LGBTQ individuals have felt due to the church is more historical than current and in looking at the story of LGBTQ church members, the question is "What's our story, in God's story, the story of God's creation?" The answer, he said, lies in "how we are made" and intimacy. "It's our relationships through which we see the grace of God. If we can see the grace of God in them then we should celebrate them." He urged that while reading the consultation and preparing for conversations in our churches, we consider co-habitation and how the Methodist church might broaden the concept of marriage to encompass things like liturgically marking the end of a marriage.
The presentations included an absorbing overview of Borderlands Rural Chaplaincy from chaplain and Director of the Brightspace Foundation, board member of Herefordshire Green Network and member of the Marches Christian Environment Network, Revd. Nick Read, charting the ecumenical organisation's growth and success in pastorally serving rural and farming communities in Shropshire and Hereford. Jon Cooke an "eco-warrior", environment pioneer member of Church Stretton Methodist Church, and founder member of Church Stretton Climate Care, spoke about the journey church members embarked upon in 2006 following the District's "Think of a World" Environment Conference, which has seen them achieve Eco Church awards from awarding body, A Rocha at bronze and silver levels. Joined on a panel by Revd. Shalome MacNeill-Cooper, (an ardent Care of Creation advocate who is heading the District's fledgling Care of Creation Group which was softly launched at Synod), Nick and Jon answered questions concerning what behaviours individuals could change to help combat climate change, after which there was healthy support for the Revd. Parkinson's suggestion that the District set a goal of achieving Eco District status.
A warm welcome to the District was offered to those who recently took up posts and, celebrating 150 years with a birthday cake, complete with a single candle and presented by MWiB's Dilys Jones, Action for Children reported that although there have been undeniably significant changes since their inception "much more needs to be done for many children". The charity has started a petition urging government to commit to a national action plan for children. Locally, birthday celebrations include a pop-up shop in Birmingham on October 10th.
Synod closed on a positive note with attendees seemingly eager to take what they saw and heard back to their churches to encourage others. Revd. Parkinson had advised, "By the end of the day we'll all leave with these questions: What have I heard? What do I need to take into prayer? What is the challenge for me? What am I now called to say and do?" Conversations over tea, cake and clearing up suggested that as many departed, they were giving the questions much thought.
*EDI Tool kit can be viewed online at:
Spring Synod 2020 is on April 25th.
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