now almost five years since I came to the District to be its District Chair,
and in the same year ,by co-incidence,
the Methodist Conference agreed a
paper called "What is a District Chair" so - by now I should know - though it
still does sometimes feel that it is simply what everyone else sits on !!!
Whenever I go to the barbers (some would
say I should go more often!), and I am asked what work I do, I have great
difficulty in explaining - "Well, I'm a church minister." "Oh, where is your church?"- "I don't have one"
- they look very confused - "I'm a bit like a Methodist Bishop"... and that
really stops the conversation !!!
It is often said that the Chair is the Connexion's person in the
District and the District's person in the Connexion. That is not a bad
description - though it has the failing of suggesting that the District and the
Connexion are separate from each other - when in reality the nature of
Connexion is that it is the sum of the Churches, Circuits and Districts. I
spend something like one day a week on connexional business - I chair the
Committee on Ethics of Investment, I attend Chairs' meetings, Connexional
Leaders' Forum and Stationing Committee. I am also on a number of other
committees that serve the wider church.
Within the District, I do "as it says on the can". I am formally chair
of any committees of the District - though in practice many committees do
function with their own chair. I am responsible for discipline in the District
- though again there are others who, in practice, work with me on that. This
also includes "Safeguarding" where quite often there are matters that need
decision. Seemingly at odds with this, is that I have - shared with the Circuit
Superintendents, a key role in the pastoral support of ministers, and to a
lesser extent lay people who are serving the District.
Stationing of ministers forms one of
the largest tasks I have. I believe that this is closely associated with the
pastoral role. Since appointments to circuit are usually for a five year period
I have now been involved in some way with the appointments of all the ministers
in the District, and with the circuit stewards of all the circuits across the
District. Stationing happens in the Methodist Church as a result of the
working relationship between the leadership of circuits, ministers and the
connexional stationing committee which I attend. Assisting me in the District I
have a lay stationing representative, (David Kirby from the Stafford Circuit).
He shares in most of the conversations, acts as a colleague with whom I can
discuss matters in confidence, and deputises for me if, for some reason (in
emergency), I can't be at stationing committee. Since the church is very short
of ministers, most years we end up with some circuits not being able to find a
minister, and in which case I work with circuit leadership teams to ensure that
the best arrangements possible are made for the staffing of the circuit.
Much more difficult to describe is the leadership role I play in the
District. The District covers Shropshire, Staffordshire, the Black
Country and the Welsh Borders. Across that area I seek to
encourage, inspire and lead. This means that I often attend special services -
church openings, circuit services as well as ecumenical and civic occasions. I
preach in different circuits every week - there are about 250 churches in the
District and so it does take quite a time to get round all the churches! I
share in meetings and work closely with circuit superintendents.
There are then opportunities to develop particular pieces of work. I
have played a lead role in the developing of the District relationship with Rwanda -
KOMERA. I have led a youth residential for a week each February for young
people across the District - the Ski Trip, I have encouraged the development of
"Fresh Expressions of Church" and new ways of being church in differing places.
I do enjoy most of the work - I see much that is best in the church and
much that is worst. Sometimes it does seem that I am simply trying to minimise
the harm done by people in the church who are failing to live out their calling
to be followers of Christ - neglecting important things for the church -
breaking rules - but these times are eclipsed by the many times that I see the
church being the kind of presence in communities that bring the best out of
people. Individuals living wonderful caring lives, communities working for the
good of all, especially the frailest and poorest.
I have recently been invited to stay on in the District for a further
so perhaps by the time I finish that time I will be better able to
answer the question
"What is a District Chair?"