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Methodist Conference ponders decline as latest statistics show numbers still falling

07 July 2017


Refreshed: the entrance to the New Room, in Bristol, the oldest Methodist building, first opened by John Wesley in 1739. A service was held there last month to rededicate the chapel after a multi-million-pound 18-month renovation effort including a new visitor centre and museum

Refreshed: the entrance to the New Room, in Bristol, the oldest Methodist building, first opened by John Wesley in 1739. A service was held there last...

THE Methodist Church has con­tinued its steady decline in member­ship, the latest statistics have shown.

Research presented to last week’s annual Methodist Conference in Birmingham revealed that 188,398 people were members of the Church as of October last year. This means that just under three in every thou­sand people in the UK are Methodists.

In the decade to 2016, the Meth­odist Church’s membership fell by an average of 3.5 per cent each year.

The Conference heard that there were now 3459 Methodist ministers, and 4512 churches. Just over 200,000 people attend a Methodist church each week, although almost 500,000 take part in some other form of Methodist activity, such as youth work, community events, or other programmes.

Doug Swanney, the Connexional Secretary, said: “While it does make for a challenging read, it’s important to remember that membership figures alone don’t tell the whole story. Across the country, thousands of Methodist communities are impacting the lives of hundreds of thousands of people every week in a wide variety of ways.”

One of the significant changes confirmed by the Conference is the introduction of one-to-one super­vision of ministers, one of the key recommendations of a safeguarding review from 2015 (News, 28 May 2015).

This supervision, modelled on the system used for social workers, will mean that Methodist super­intendents and others will meet one-to-one with ministers in their districts at least six times a year.

The Methodists believe that they are the first UK denomination to introduce such a scheme, which is expected to be in place for all min­isters by 2020.

The Revd Dr Jonathan Hustler, Minister Coordinator for the Oversight of Ordained Ministries, said that, besides providing a key safeguarding tool, supervision would also mean that ministers would get vital help for their “emo­tionally demanding and isolating” ministry.

The Conference also heard how all of the 1885 historic safeguarding cases which came to light as a result of the Past Cases Review in 2015 will have been worked through by the end of the summer.

Work is also under way to imple­ment the 23 recommendations of the report. Many are already in place, such as ensuring that each district has a dedicated safeguarding officer, and mandatory training for every minister and person working with young people.

The Revd Gareth Powell, the secretary of the Methodist Confer­ence (Back Page Interview, 23 June), said: “This must be our commit­ment because an apology can never be enough. What we owe as a Church to those who reported and continue to live with the memory and pain of abuse, is a deep, per­man­ent and faithful commit­ment to prevent any further abuse.”

The Conference also called for the status of EU citizens in Britain and British citizens in Europe to be finalised urgently as a priority in the Brexit negotiations. It said that Methodists should ask their MPs and MEPs to put pressure on the Government and the EU.

Meanwhile, the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ) has criticised an open letter about the Israel-Palestine conflict, which was one of the items discussed by the Conference.

In a statement, the CCJ said that the discussion was “lacking in balance and absent of practical solutions to the complex issues facing both Palestinians and Israelis”. The letter had been wrong, it argued, to state that Christians were prevented from visiting Beth­lehem and other sites in the West Bank.

“It is only through honest dialogue and practical shared un­­derstanding that the path of peace can be pursued. We are pleased that the Conference rejected this letter by agreeing not to hold a vote on whether they should distribute it amongst churches,” the statement concludes.

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