THE new President of the Methodist Conference is the Revd Sonia Hicks. She became the first black woman to hold the post when she was inducted during the annual Conference at the National Conference Centre in Birmingham on Saturday.
Ms Hicks, who comes from a Methodist family and whose great-grandfather was a local Methodist preacher in Jamaica, has served as a Circuit Superintendent in three connexions: Britain, the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and Americas, and the Methodist Church in Ireland. She is currently Superintendent Minister in Wembley, north London.
In her address to the Conference, which was held in hybrid form this year (both in person and online), she reflected on the racism and marginalisation that she and her family had experienced, and how the Church could respond to injustice and division in society today.
Ms Hicks recalled the experience of her Great Aunt Lize, who had arrived from Jamaica with her Methodist membership card only to be rejected from her local church because she was black. She and her family eventually found a home at Walworth Methodist Church in south London.
“In a world where people are excluded because of their ethnic background, their sexual orientation, their gender, or simply because, like me, they were brought up on a council estate, I believe that we are called to show God’s love for all people,” Ms Hicks said. “It is a calling that Christian people have always struggled with, but we can and should be better at making God’s love a reality in the British Methodist Church, overcoming the systemic discrimination that exists.”
Ms Hicks was a member of the Youth Exchange to Zimbabwe and has since been Convenor of the World Relief and Development Committee for MCI, and has served as a trustee for both All We Can and Christian Aid Ireland.
She continued: “As Christians we are to mirror the grace and the mercy of God. We are to find ways of issuing God’s invitation of acceptance to those we meet on a daily basis. No ifs, no buts. I believe that there is a place for all in the presence of God, at God’s table.
“But, as we acknowledge that everyone has a place, we also must acknowledge that we will therefore live with the tension of not all thinking the same. We will also have to recognise that living with such tension is never the easy option.”
Methodist ChurchBarbara Easton
Also on Saturday, Barbara Easton was elected and inducted as Vice-President of the Conference. Before becoming Connexional Director of Education in 2014 she was an RE teacher and secondary headteacher in the West Midlands. She is a local preacher and leads the Methodist Academies and Schools Trust.
In her speech, Ms Easton spoke of being adopted into a Methodist family as a baby. On ecumenical relations, she said: “I am urging you, my sisters and brothers, to see that we still have something valuable to bring to the Church’s table and to be confident about the colour and texture that we add to make the ecumenical quilt richer. If the Church is called to be a sign to the world, then we are raised up as a sign to the sign.”
The role of president is reserved for presbyters and that of vice-president for lay people or deacons. During his lifetime, John Wesley chaired the Methodist Conference but after his death the Conference determined to elect a President annually. Ms Hicks and Ms Easton will serve for one year.