The Methodist Conference 2021
This Methodist Conference has been like none I have ever known before. Its decisions have been historic and wide-ranging and give real encouragement to LGBT+ Methodists and our allies as well as Christian siblings beyond Methodism. The Conference has allowed marriages of any two persons to take place in Methodist Churches and to be conducted by Methodist ministers or other appropriate people. It has declared that no conversion therapy may take place in the name of the Methodist Church and called on the UK government to ban it without further delay. It has directed that future Conference documents use gender neutral pronouns in the general case and preferred pronouns when referring to an individual. A point of personal pride as I lead on the Methodist Church’s liturgical work is the publication of new liturgies for the Marriage and Blessing of a Marriage of any two persons. At the same time the Conference has re-affirmed the place of our friends who hold that marriage can only be between one man and one woman (and the existing service remains available and authorised). As a whole Methodist Church then, we aim to journey on from here in love for one another.
As a campaigner within Dignity and Worth, and as a member of the Conference, my overall feeling at the moment is simply exhaustion! It’s been hard work to get here and the week itself has been hard work. The complications of Covid have added to that, in particular the need for the Conference to meet for the first time in a hybrid form with about 60 of us in the room and everyone else online. We owe a debt of gratitude to the Conference secretariat, arrangements team and all the tech folks who made everything happen (remarkably smoothly considering).
Our process and conversation has been, on the whole, one of grace and respect as we have discerned the way forward. My hope and prayer, especially as a trustee of OneBodyOneFaith, is that these decisions not just be for Methodists in Britain. I hope that the message the Conference has sent will give encouragement to friends in other traditions and in other countries. I’ve been heartened by messages from LGBT+ colleagues around the world: some who’ve trodden these paths before us, and some for whom our decisions help them in their contexts as they seek to advocate for change. I hope ecumenically too we have modelled a way of working that can offer possibilities to others. I long for the day when what we have just done will not be exceptional but normal and ordinary.