THE Methodist Conference has agreed to relax some of its restrictions on commercial tenants’ selling alcohol and some types of gambling products. The relaxations apply only to premises that are "no longer required for model trust purposes", and will apply only where the buildings trustees have agreed.
The Conference agreed that "the restrictions on the sale and consumption of alcohol will be amended to allow a lease for any class of use other than drinking establishments or nightclubs."
The changes will also allow lottery tickets and scratch cards to be sold from premises owned by the Methodist Church; but restrictions on betting shops and fixed-odds gambling machines will remain.
The Conference also agreed a new liturgy for the "Reaffirmation of Baptismal Faith, including the Use of Water". The introductory notes for the new service emphasise that baptism is an "unrepeatable sacrament of entry into the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church"; but go on to say that "The Methodist Church recognises that some who have been baptised have grown away from the Christian faith, but have discovered afresh the claim of Christ on their lives, and have felt the call to repentance.
"They long to rededicate themselves to Christ by renewing the expression of faith associated with baptism and confirmation. The Methodist Church also recognises the deep pastoral needs of those who wish the reaffirmation of baptismal faith to include the sign and gift of water associated with the sacrament of baptism."
Those who have not been confirmed, it says, should reaffirm their baptism by confirmation. The new service "is in its entirety for those who have previously been baptised and confirmed, and who now seek to reaffirm their faith with the use of water".
A report by the Church’s faith and doctrine committee on the consecration of the eucharist over the internet has been sent back for "further work" after the Conference expressed dissatisfaction with its outcome.
The committee recommended that those presiding at holy communion "may not be permitted to use electronic means of communications, such as the internet or video conferencing, in order to invite those not physically present at the celebration . . . to participate by using their own communion bread and wine".
In a report to the Conference, the secretary of the Faith and Order Committee, the Revd Nicola Price-Tebbutt, said that the eucharist was "a sacrament of the Universal Church, and we do not claim the right to alter some of its essential features". But, she said, the committee was not against the use of the internet for other forms of worship.
Some Conference members agreed with the report’s conclusions, including Jessica Taylor, from Lincolnshire District, who said: "How long will it be before we start doing weddings over Skype, or baptisms over FaceTime?"
But Ruby Beech, from the Nottingham and Derby District, argued that the report did not contain "information about the actual topic of holy communion as it might be transmitted by social media".
After a debate, the Conference agreed to treat the report as "interim", and requested a further report "no later than 2018".
The chair of the West Yorkshire District, and the Methodist Church’s ecumenical representative to the General Synod, the Revd Dr Roger Walton, has been elected as the next President of the Methodist Conference. The next Vice-President will be Rachel Lampard, the head of the Joint Public Issues Team. They will take up their positions in July next year.