Methodist Conference and Same Sex Marriage

Methodist Conference and Same Sex Marriage

When I heard that this year's Methodist Conference wouldn't be able to meet physically and that as a result we wouldn't be able to debate and finally vote on the resolutions we passed last year on equal marriage, I was deeply angry and frustrated. Though I understood why the decision had to be made, it didn't make it any easier. The provisional passing of resolutions in 2019 that would allow Methodist ministers and churches to celebrate same sex marriages meant that Methodist LGBT+ people and our allies had been eagerly looking forward to this year's Conference. Lockdown has brought much grief and loss to us all and this is part of mine, although I recognise it is as nothing compared to those who've lost loved ones due to this terrible disease. The long road to same sex marriages being possible in those Methodist Churches that would feel that is appropriate has been extended by at least a year. We hope that the Conference is able to meet physically next year and we hope that it does indeed decide to confirm the decision we provisionally took in 2019. But for now we still wait... My heart goes out particularly to those couples I know who had dared to pencil in wedding dates and have had to cross them out.

The Conference is so integral to Methodist processes that a lot of things don't work if it doesn't meet. To give one example, our ministers are voted into their positions annually by the Conference - without it we might have all been out of a job come 1 September! We have met in Conference as Methodists every year since 1744, even through the World Wars. This year we met on Zoom. I have to pay tribute to the technical teams and Conference officers who worked so hard to make it possible, and actually not just possible but very professional. The Conference always opens with the Charles Wesley hymn, And are we yet alive? which took on a much more poignant tone this year than it normally does and as we concluded (in the traditional way) singing "... as far from danger as from fear, while love, almighty love is near" I wondered again how those things fit together in the middle of this pandemic.

Although we couldn't debate and vote on equal marriage, that didn't stop us though from taking some steps forward on matters of equality which I think will be beneficial to LGBT+ people. They're the kind of institutional steps that sound boring - monitoring processes, data collection, empowering scrutiny. They don't have people popping the champagne corks but have the potential to change how we function, to bring injustice to light and to give us the opportunity to challenge discrimination more boldly. I was particularly pleased that the Conference passed a resolution encouraging Churches Together in England to allow Hannah Brock Womack to take up the 4th group Presidency position for which she was duly nominated but prevented from taking up due to her marriage. It may not change what CTE do, but solidarity can be an important thing.

Working for the flourishing of LGBT+ people in our various traditions can be an exhausting task. Every piece of progress has to be fought for and there are obstacles and setbacks that you would never have imagined. It's tiring and frustrating and it's a long road. Part of belonging to OneBodyOneFaith for me is to be alongside others who are working on this too. We cannot do it alone, but together we can achieve amazing things. Even Jesus had disciples with him and the Apostles in Acts never went anywhere alone. When we journey together, we can keep going, even when the way is long.

Mark Rowland

Trustee, Methodist Minister