The last few days have been interesting and varied. We've had some difficult work to do in the Council: particularly in the new constitution. That's not been so much because of its contents as because of existing issues between Member Churches of the Council which come to the surface in discussion of subjects of that kind. In general, I think it's been a bit regrettable that a number of issues and reports have come to us fresh on the floor of the council which we could have had sight of in advance and thereby had the opportunity to consider before coming to Durban. But be that as it may, we have, I think, worked hard to consider the material put before us and to reach appropriate conclusions on it. My slight regret is that it only seemed towards the end of yesterday that we were actually functioning together as a Council by which time our work is essentially done and the next time the Council meets its composition will be different.
Today the Conference started and it was a very refreshing change. The larger gathering of people, a move to a different place (not that there was anything wrong with where we were before, but simply that it is good to move sometimes) and the exuberance of the worship, singing and presentations provided us with an impetus which had perhaps become obscured. Various of the younger members of Conference met together over lunch and I was glad to learn more of the history and story of some of the American denominations which make up our Conference and Council.
In the afternoon, I went to the seminar on international Methodist/Roman Catholic dialogue. This is a dialogue which I generally find very inspiring. I think they have produced some good reports which are both honest and challenging - I can recognise in them both real Methodism and real Catholicism. We shared experiences, opinions and questions. At the end of the day, perhaps unsurprisingly, the issues boil down to the the challenges between us of Eucharistic sharing and of the ordination of women. It would be wonderful to be able to move forward, but I think on both sides we struggle to see how that could be achieved. I was a little disappointed in Council when we reaffirmed the goal of the dialogue as "full communion in faith, mission and sacramental life" without debate or consideration. It seems to me that we did not appreciate the challenging and serious nature of what we were committing ourselves to nor did we really engage with the sacrifices that would require of us were we serious about it. It's not a goal that I see any chance of being accomplished in my life time but I am pleased that we still hold it before us - I have been somewhat dismayed at moves more recently to suggest a reorientation of the ecumenical movement to some lesser goal.
This evening we had a good event discussing how we work together in a global world as the people called Methodist - arising out of last year's All Partners' Consultation conducted by the Methodist Church in Britain and out of work done by the United Methodist Church and the United Church of Canada. There was some encouraging conversation. From this, and from other events in the Council and Conference, I am struck by the situation we have of multiple Methodist jurisdictions in many countries. This is a scandal and a problem and we should be working to reduce it. However, it seems that current practices in many places are likely to increase the problem rather than to decrease it. As a speaker this evening said, it would be better to see one connexion in each place.
After all of that, we retired for drinks in the bar - much needed!