Monday, 5 March 2018

Invisible Functions

Recently Methodist Presbyter Sam McBratney posted a provocative piece on his blog, "Ministry or Midden" about the way in which Presbyteral Ministry in the Church had become more burdened than other forms of ministry. Six months in to my probationer husband being let out into the real world I can understand that, even though his experience has been very good. However, far more important to me -as somebody who has been a lay employee in a different church for those six months and has also had a great experience - is the way he also talks of the way that "lay employees" have been looked at in a more functional way and how the vocational aspect has been chiseled away. 

Alongside this changing of the language used I want to argue there has also over the last decade been a fog of invisibility building up around lay employees who don't fit into any of the pathways that he refers to in his post.
According to last years Statistics for Mission report, “the Connexional database records 3,226 lay employee posts, many of them relating to premises and administrative support.” What we don't know is how many of these are full or part time, or any of the other statistics which might help us get the full picture of what the paid lay vocations in the British Methodist Church currently are, who is doing them and what the good and bad practice going on is. There is the argument that, ah but lay workers are employed by churches, circuits or districts on the whole - not the whole Connexion. But that is like McDonalds or Starbucks saying they don't know how many staff are working in their franchises, they only know about the head office staff and store managers.

The last report to explicitly look at lay ministry was in The Lay Workers Terms and Conditions report in 2007. Whilst lay employees' terms and conditions have changed in line with the law and equality and employment law updated regularly this does mean the basis of our understanding of lay employees is now over a decade old.

I know that there may be change in the air as having inquired with head office the Faith and Order Committee is bringing a report to the 2018 Methodist Conference on Ministry in the Methodist Church. However, I fear, especially in light of the wording erosion Sam has highlighted that this will relate more to the role and training of local lay pastors (who will have pastoral care for churches where a minister cannot be placed, often) than to the wider field of lay workers/ employees/ ministers within the Methodist Church. At the least the findings will need careful scrutiny by both Conference reps and lay employees to make sure amendments are tabled where necessary. 

I attended the Reimagine Circuits Conference in London this week and there was a real appetite apparent for developing lay roles more. However, for this to be effective we will need to be aware of and give proper recognition to the wider range of lay roles already being fulfilled by those with vocational callings to them. This again means, I would argue, we need to have an updated report into what lay employment in the Methodist Church actually looks like. 

So what can we do? Well, as I head off to Connecting Disciples with an activist handout on this topic, I have produced I have these ideas:

1. Put together Notices of Motion to go to our Spring District Synods. If passed these will go to Conference. 

2. To look at the report on Ministry in the Methodist Church when it is published online within the agenda for Conference and to talk to your Conference reps about any concerns you have. Work with them on amendments to submit and ensure they look at this report from the lay employee's perspective. 

3. Think about becoming a Conference rep yourself in future years to make sure the voice of lay employees is heard more loudly within Connexional decision making. 

4. Ask questions to the Connexional Team. They are not allowed to lobby on our behalf, but if we ask specific and targeted questions they have to answer them as they are able.

5. Share our stories - the greatest body of evidence for the need of a review will come from our experience.

6. Think about joining a union. Unite has a specific faith workers branch and a Methodist sub group within it. If lay employee in the union increases, so will our voice.