OK I’m not sure I feel optimistic yet for this is proving to be a Council like no other. But, as with the Council in which the Union made the ‘Apology’, this suggests that God is at work even if we can’t yet see it. Nevertheless, I think some trends are discernable which might shape the future in positive ways. (ie what follows are my thoughts not agreements of Council)
1. The future of the Union will more based in Associations and many of the things we do within our Central Resource will be curtailed*. What’s yet to emerge is how the wider Union balance is brought into this (though I can see several ways to do that).
2. One way of reading our recent history is to see it as the dismantling of J H Shakespeare’s work over 100 years ago, which set a path to creating a Free Church of England (a vision he never achieved but which led to most of the structure we have). With the Consultation in the mid 90’s and the restructure that followed we remoulded Associations but never got to remould the centre. This understanding might help us to see how our history and principles can guide our thoughts.
3. When Council (or the Union as a whole) is at its best it is thoughtful, theological and inclusive. It seeks to connect with the Mission of God and to encourage churches and ministers in the task of living out the gospel. The key to all this is mutuality: intentional relating together, deliberate working together and purposeful support for one another.
On this last morning I think we need to consider how we release voices with vision to lead / facilitate the journey ahead. Recognising the congregational nature of our life together needs a diversity of voices we need to give attention to people God might use to speak prophetically to us, and help us walk into a new chapter. People who will enable us to embrace risk and do things differently. My question to fellow Council members this morning is, “who are these people among us?”
* The first version of this post used a different word and it was pointed out to me that this read quite badly if you are someone currently employed by the Union. So just to be clear this could mean all sorts of things when the details are worked out, including more co-operation with BMS, working on things 'funded' by the Associations and so on. Ultimately the whole Union does need to cut costs but this is a process and I am just one voice among many. Over the next 9 months the picture will become clearer and the implications of any of the decisions will need to be worked through before decisions are made. So please don't panic!