Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Earlier this year the Methodist Conference renewed our commitment to being an inclusive church. Our core convictions are that the good news of God's love is for everyone without exception. Everyone can be reached by God's love, can experience it and be transformed by it. It is this conviction that shaped the evangelism and social programmes that were started around the country by the brothers John and Charles Wesley. The Methodist Church has a long history of advocating for social justice and challenging injustice. The first report on gender justice came to the 1928 Wesleyan Conference and the first women presbyters were ordained in 1974. Long before the introduction of the Race Relations Act reports on racial justice were brought to the Conference in the early 1960s.
Honest self-examination shows in way that is very salutary for people like me who tick every box of privilege and power that we have often failed to live up to the expectations we have set ourselves. In all kinds of ways, the church has not been the kind of inclusive community that it aspires to be. The "Black Lives Matters" movement has reminded us that although we say many of the right things, all too often the way we organise ourselves, the things we do and our ingrained attitudes suit the white majority.
A combination of the BREXIT debate and the COVID-19 pandemic have exposed the injustices and prejudice in our society that affect people because of their race, religion, disability, age, gender, and sexual orientation. Our calling as Christians is to affirm that the lives of people from all these groups need to be protected because they are valuable. The Conference has called all of us to be disciplined – a word that has the same roots as the word Disciple – in rejecting any form of discrimination and calling to account those responsible.
When we recognise that diversity is one of God's gifts to us, encountering people who come from all kinds of different backgrounds and who bring different experiences becomes a cause for celebration. A diverse and inclusive community reflects the kind of community that Jesus talked about when he described life under God's rule as being like a feast where there is a seat and sufficient food on the table for everyone.
We have a long way to go and the Circuit Social and Climate Justice Group will be developing a programme to support us as we try to walk the walk of being an inclusive church. To help us a draft definition of "The Inclusive Methodist Church" describes us as a church that:
1. Welcomes in safety all who wish to be part of the life of the Church whether through worship, learning and caring, service or evangelism
2. Upholds the discipline of the Methodist Church in the face of discrimination, rejecting and resisting all behaviours which are discriminatory or belittling
3. Celebrates diversity in the variety of God's creation
4. Represents the diversity of the Methodist Church throughout its life and structures and affirms that there is no place for discrimination in our processes of selection, discernment and appointment
Grace, mercy and peace to you.