This week, quite a lot of clergy, licensed lay ministers, ordinands and staff from the Diocese of Chelmsford met at the University of Essex for the first Diocesan conference in a long time.
Thanks, Ethel: the unknown person who left a legacy that enabled this to happen.
What did we do? We worshipped together using both the C of E’s liturgy and that shared by our Kenyan partners. We prayed. We talked. We talked to strangers and to old friends. I ran, as did three intrepid people, because it was too good a chance to miss to run along my favourite path. There was silent worship and there was noisy worship. I might have had a couple of beers. People watched films, heard poetry, tasted wine. We listened; and we asked questions of ourselves and our speakers. And some people tweeted.
So what now?
A few – those who perhaps struggle with the idea of lifelong learning, or the idea that being busy isn’t necessarily a badge of honour – will have gone home grumbling about the emails unanswered and phone calls to be made. That’s a shame.
I think that one after-effect will be an increase in the number of people using Malcolm Guite’s sonnets in sermons. Others will be continuing conversations begun in queues for lunch or coffee. Some will be reflecting on what impact the space and time given to the conference might have on their ministry and sense of self (that might just be me, but I hope it isn’t). Coming almost immediately after our priesting retreat with the theme of “on fire without burning out” there were many reinforcements of the message that it’s not a good idea for the priest to be the fuel for the fire…and that it’s imperative that we take care of ourselves and our spirituality.
In my previous life when I either organised or attended major conferences, I used to love the sense of temporary community. You get it at Greenbelt and other festivals – the common purpose bringing people together briefly before we disappear into our own lives again. Conferences and festivals act as an immunisation against losing ourselves in the routine…the time out resets, recharges, refreshes our souls. They remind us there are other ideas, people and ways of being than the one we’re in. They re-orient us to the God whom we are called to serve. They prod us to review, and move to forward. Or sideways. They strengthen weak friendship links and create new networks. Refresh did all these and I, for one, am grateful.