In her inaugural speech as Vice-President of the Methodist Conference in Britain, Ruth Pickles has said the church can help ordinary people do extra-ordinary things.
Echoing comments by the church's General Secretary, the Rev Dr Martyn Atkins, she encouraged Methodists to embark on a journey of risk-taking and vulnerability.
As a former district training and development officer, and currently a freelance trainer, Ruth chose ‘Learning as Disciples of Jesus,’ as the theme of her Vice-Presidential year.
Looking critically at the current scene in the church, Ms Pickes declared: “We perpetuate systems that patently have flaws without asking ‘Why are we doing it this way?’ And if we do ask, all too often the answer is, whether explicit or implicit, ‘because we always have’. But because we are God's church, our reflection and analysing has to be not only about how can we do things more effectively but ‘is what we are doing being faithful to the risk-taking, vulnerable God revealed in Jesus?'"
At its best, she said; “the Methodist Church has been at the forefront of helping ordinary people to develop into extra-ordinary people. Miners, fishermen, shop assistants, housewives… learnt how to read, to speak in public, to get engaged in community affairs, trades unions, politics.... all through membership of the chapel and their class meetings. Knowing God’s love, they felt valued as individuals; their learning needs were recognised and addressed.”
Ms Pickles concluded her address by asking those present what the future might hold for them and the Church: “I have my filled-in diary for the coming year, but don’t really know what lies ahead. It looks immense, exciting, daunting. How about you? Where do you find yourself on your journey? Will you too look with hope to the future? What exciting, but risky and costly, opportunities lie ahead for us as a discipleship movement?”
The Methodist Church has a vibrant history, but faces significant financial and related challenges, alongside other Christian denominations, in an increasingly plural British context.
"The Spirit of God is not limited by boundaries in the same way that we are, for which I am thankful," concuded Ms Pickles.
The Methodist Church is one of the largest churches in Britain, with nearly 241,000 members and regular contact with over 580,000 people. It has 5,237 churches across the country, and also maintains links with other Methodist churches totalling a worldwide membership of 70 million.