A Sunday afternoon discusssion on "what is a minister for" and "should the Methodist Church be bound to provide an appointment, stipend and manse for every minister in Full Connexion" does not at first sight sound particularly exciting. But on 26 November, when a small group representing the circuit met at Martin Way to discuss the Methodist Council's report to Conference on the future of the Methodist ministry, the afternoon proved both stimulating and thought-provoking and far too short for the task in hand.
We divided into small groups to discuss a variety of topics such as whether all ministers should receive the same stipend and if so should it be based on an allowance or a salary; should the church have to provide a manse for every minister in full connexion (and if so what happens when they retire); should there be some form of contract for ministers, together with self-appraisal (as in current business practice).
As a participant with a working background of the London headquarters of an Anglican mission society I was intrigued to find parallels between ministers and mission partners (both clerical and lay). Both have to give up their independence and be willing to be sent wherever seems best to the church; both are dependent on others for their financial support and for their accommodation. Moreover for both the calling is not just for the individual but for the family. Those of us working in offices, shops or factories expect to be able to decide for ourselves where we should live, and to have freedom of action outside our working hours. We do not necessarily expect our family to be subject to the possibly critical gaze of our employer.
So should the church conform to current business practice or would that result in a shift away from the central instruction of Jesus to follow Him? And - to take it further - how far do the proposals for a more flexible ministry for the ministers apply equally to us the members of the churches? We had heard Rev. Barry Tabraham suggest ten roles for a minister. Casting aside 'leader', 'representative', or even (in some circumstances) 'scapegoat' he chose 'enabler' as the heart of the minister's task. David Eagle had pointed out that while ministers came and went the local churches remained, thus placing responsibility for Christ's presence in the neighbourhood on our shoulders not the minister's. Agreement with either of these speakers affects the part to be played by the minister as a member of the team that leads witness in the locality.
Perhaps these are some of the issues to add to the list for discussion as we at Martin Way discover where God is leading us over the next few years.