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Conferences

Here is a report of our conference in 2012 entitled

Life Together
Christian Ministry in Tomorrow’s World

The Community of the Resurrection, Mirfield

'Life Together' was the theme of the Society's most recent conference, held from Monday 3rd to Friday 7th September 2012 at the College of the Resurrection in Mirfield, West Yorkshire, UK. It was a new departure for us in that it was aimed specifically at people who have recently begun a public ministry, either lay or ordained, or who are students preparing for ministry. This meant that a number of those taking part, students in particular, were unable to meet the entire cost of the conference and travel. Thanks to the generosity of the Society's members and a number of national Churches we were able to offer a substantial bursary to anyone needing it. We are very grateful to all who contributed.

The result was that more than sixty people were able to attend, from the Uuited Kingdom, Finland, Greenland, Germany, South Africa, Tanzania, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Romania, Serbia, Sweden, Belgium, Estonia and Ireland. We were a diverse group, aged between 17 and 70, and we soon discovered that whatever our background we all shared a deep desire to be effective servants of Jesus Christ in our own particular contexts and that we had a lot to learn from each other.

The Programme

Each day included a creative mix of worship, Bible study, presentations, small group work, recreation and good food.

THE WORSHIP

A framework of Lutheran Morning Prayer, Anglican Midday Eucharist, Evening Worship with the members of the Anglican Community of the Resurrection, and informal Night Prayers ensured that everything we did was supported and sustained by communal prayer. The monastic community was very generous in providing us with our own chapel as well as inviting us to gather with them in theirs. Most services included a homily and hymns and songs from a variety of liturgical and confessional traditions.

THE BIBLE STUDY

Each morning we were guided through the scriptures by Dr Margaret Baxter. She took as her theme 'Adam in Worship and the World'. She started with the Qumran Community's Rule which says that the teacher of the community had to 'instruct the upright in the knowledge of the Most High and teach the wisdom of the sons of heaven ... For God has chosen them for an eternal covenant and all the glory of Adam shall be theirs.' In three challenging and exciting sessions she helped us to explore the idea of an 'eternal covenant' which transcended all the other Biblical Covenants, to examine the Adam story through the worship and traditions of the Old Testament, and to understand a little of how the New Testament writers understood the 'old' and the 'new' Adams. Adam's original task was to hold all things together in harmony, she said. That is what Christ as the New Adam does, and what we who are 'new' Adams incorporated in him, are called to do as people of the 'eternal covenant' which is based on loving kindness (chesed) leading to right decisions (mispat) leading to righteousness (sedaqa) leading to peace (shalom). 'And,' she concluded, 'the glory of Adam shall be ours.'

Much of what she shared can be found in her book, 'Creation: A Biblical Vision for the Environment' (2010) T&T Clark, London. To catch a glimpse of Dr Barker at work click here to look at the four daily bulletins we published on YouTube during the conference. Her Bible studies were greatly appreciated, especially by those of us from Central Europe and Africa for whom her approach was entirely new.

THE PRESENTATIONS

Four speakers offered insights from their own experience and areas of expertise to enable us to explore all kinds of issues that will affect us as we move on in Christian ministry.

We live in a context of rapid socio-economic and technological change. We can all feel the forces of change that are working on us now and bringing tomorrow’s world into being.

But what will that world be like? What value systems will be at work in it? What will be the relevance of the Christian Gospel and the ministry of Word and Sacrament in that world? How will the Gospel best be communicated in a world where there are so many new forms of connectivity? Where will Christian ministers find the support and resources they will need?

If we are to confront questions like these we need to start thinking seriously about aspects of the contemporary world that may not normally form part of conventional theological education. As theologians it will be essential to recognise and be open to the enormous range of expertise and resources available to us in the many communities to which we belong. The next generation of ministers can support and resource one another by sharing experiences and creating networks across denominational and national boundaries with people having shared interests and hopes.

 

1. 'Visions, Values and Changing Mindsets'

Ms Monica Schofield made the opening presentation and provided the context for the entire conference. It is difficult to look to the future, she said, without some trepidation. If we human beings continue our industrial and economic activity in the way we are today it is certain that life as we know it on this planet will be in a very precarious state within a generation.

Thinkers in the business community have put together a vision - 'Vision 2050' - setting out a pathway which, if followed by business, government and every individual, might enable us by 2050 to achieve a world in which ‘9 billion people live well within the limits of the planet’. Ms Schofield believes that theologians and church communities, if they are aware of the issues involved, can play an important part in helping to bring about the kinds of changes in attitude towards sharing resources that will be required.

To see a summary of her presentation click here.

 

2. 'Challenges and Opportunities for Ministry in Tomorrow's World'

Canon Dr Christina Baxter, until recently Principal of St John's College, Nottingham, UK spoke from her experience of the importance of helping people prepare for ministry in ways that will give them the theological, educational and personal skills necessary for them if they are to engage effectively in social contexts that today we can neither imagine nor understand. In Europe we are facing secularism and a much more assertive expression of atheism. On the whole, our media take up an aggressive stance in relation to religious communities. And ‘opinion formers’ distance themselves from the religious faith of their childhood. But, paradoxically, as all this is going on the secular world is full of uncertainties, forebodings about the future, and demonstrates itself incapable of articulating credible answers to the challenges the world faces. So Dr Baxter shared with us her understanding of the priorities to be addressed in helping to prepare people for ordination and lay ministry, and outlined some of the dangers to be faced and opportunities to be grasped.

Dr Baxter's presentation can be seen here.

 

3. 'How to be a Minister Before and After the Socio-Political Transition in Hungary'

Bishop Tamás Fabiny, Bishop of the Northern Diocese of the Lutheran Church in Hungary, presented a case-study, sharing his own experience of being a Christian minister in a wildly changing context. He has moved in the course of his life from living in complete or partial opposition to an overtly atheistic state, dominated by the Soviet Union, to struggling to find ways of navigating a new environment shaped not only by longed for democracy, but by western capitalism and resurgent nationalism. From a world in which free speech was suppressed and books circulated secretly, Christians in many parts of central and eastern Europe have, like him, moved into one in which the Christian voice now has to compete to be heard as one amongst many others.

Bishop Fabiny spoke about some of the traps that await unwary ministers, and of his own role in caring for ministers and their families.

You can find his presentation here.

 

4. 'Bonhoeffer on Life Together in Tomorrow's World'

Bishop Martin Lind, former Bishop of Linkoping in the Church of Sweden, focused on the witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He reminded us that, as a young Lutheran pastor and theologian, Dietrich had visited the Anglican Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield, where we were meeting. Being a passionate contextual theologian, Bishop Lind started with an account of Bonhoeffer's life and some of the key moments that shaped his theological explorations in Doctrine, Ethics and the Philosophy of Religion. He then drew out eight points to challenge his audience of new and potential Christian ministers. Bishop Lind said, 'Bonhoeffer forces us to reflect on our self-understanding as human beings and as Christians. His view on man is challenging in its naked radicality. Bonhoeffer can guide us both as regards the creation of ‘life together’ and as regards the commitment to live in the world, given by God, loved by God and reconciled by God.'

Bishop Lind's presentation can be found here.

 

THE SMALL GROUPS

All the conference paricipants, including the presenters and staff, were divided into groups which met at regular intervals throughout the conference. This enabled five or six people to get to know one another quite well, and care had been taken to ensure that members for whom English was not their first language could be with others able to explain things to them and help them explore some of the issues being raised. We can't say what happened in the groups, but we can report that whenever they met there was always a buzz of chatter and plenty of laughter.

 

RECREATION

Each day some free time was built into the programme so that people could explore the local area, enjoy a guided tour of the Community of the Resurrection's buildings and extensive grounds, or simply spend time reflecting together on what was going on.

On the Wednesday there was an outing to Bolton Abbey and its Priory Church where Christian worship has been offered continually since 1154. We were welcomed by Canon George Moffatt, the Vicar, and then Christopher Armstrong gave a brief description of the buildings and their history.

 

 

 

 

After that we enjoyed a picnic and walks along the river and in the rolling countryside, when we could compare notes about the conference so far, and about what we were experiencing and learning.

 

 

The visit ended with Anglican Evensong in the Priory Church. It was the perfect end to a wonderful visit, and the weather could not have been better.

 

 

 

GOOD FOOD

Mirfield has something of a reputation for good food, and were not disappointed. The meals were substantial and varied.

The Conference Dinner on the Thursday evenings was a splendid affair. When it was over thanks were expressed to the organising committee, to those who had acted as conference chaplains, and to all who behind the scenes had contributed to the conference's evident success.

 

 

A SHARED EXPERIENCE

Alongside our own conference members of the Anglo-Nordic-Baltic Theological Conference were holding their own meeting with a parallel, overlapping programme entitled ‘Life Together: Being Human in Tomorrow’s World.' They shared in our worship, recreation and meals, but had their own presentations and group meetings. It worked very well and it was soon quite hard to work out who was ANBTC and who was ALS!

The Most Rev Michael Jackson (left), Archbishop of Dublin and Chairman of the Anglo-Nordic-Baltic Theological Conference, co-chaired with the Rev Alex Faludy a combined session which brought the two conferences together.

In a masterly summing up Archbishop Jackson said that two important themes had emerged for him. First, a change of focus for all Christians, lay people as well as ministers, away from the congregation and into the boardrooms - something, he said, we had not quite expected. Second, a rediscovery of the theology of friendship, and that was an area where every Christian person can make a contribution. He warned against the danger of leaving a conference such as ours, which had been challenging and exciting in all kinds of revolutionary ways and simply returning to the old ways. Many of us see ourselves as having 'ordinary' roles in the world and the Church and are tempted to ask why God would want to use us in new and sometimes uncomfortable ways.

In this context, the Rev Alex Faludy reminded us of the importance of the language, terms and vocabulary that we use when we talk to other people. The work of Christian ministry, he said, in the coming decades will be a continual one of translation of our ideas and thoughts about such things as redemption and restitution into concepts and language that the world can understand.

 

A LAST WORD

"It was really wonderful because my group was quite colourful, a lot of languages, a lot of nations and a lot of different Christian traditions, and we could pray, we could sing and we could talk together."

"What I'm going to take back to my church is that it's all about relationships. Until I meet a Roman Catholic priest or an Orthodox minister I make generalisations about them. But here I've discovered that we are all Christians together and we can love one another."

"It has been a new experience for me. Here we are from all different countries and we are all united."

"I feel that I have been inspired by the Bible study especially, and shall use what I have learned here to face the challenge of 2050 when I return to Africa."

"It's been such a good experience to meet people who may be from different churches, but we all share one faith. It's so good to hear what other people think and to ask questions together and to pray together. It's been very enriching for me and it's certainly something I would do again - I hope I'll be invited again."

"I was very excited to have Holy Communion together, and to have participated in the Bible studies, for example. We don't really do it like that at home. I also enjoyed praying together, and I think that God united us in his love, and that's the most important thing."

Those are just a few of the comments made by members from Eastern Europe, England, Germany, Romania and Tanzania.

It seems clear that the conference has achieved its aim of encouraging at least this group from among the next generation of Christian ministers to share experiences and create networks across denominational and national boundaries. We hope that in the years to come they will continue to support and resource one another.

 

If you would like to read about some of our previous conferences, click here.

 

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