The Southwark Diocesan Clergy Conference ends this morning and then we get our specially chartered train back to London. It has been excellent – something I can happily attest to as I had nothing to do with the planning of it.
We had a wide range of speakers from a range of perspectives addressing themes around the basic Renew, Revive, Refresh idea. Every speaker brought something challenging and encouraging – and the fact that different people got upset by different elements means that we probably got it about right. The great thing is that (probably with one or two exceptions) the wide variety of clergy coped with walking together throught the minefields of their theological or ecclesiological differences. No one had a hissy fit – or, at least, not in public.
One speaker came from another diocese and had the rather unplanned effect of making our clergy glad to be in the Diocese of Southwark and not in his diocese. Dr Paula Gooder set our hearts and minds on fire with her Bible studies and Bishop James Jones surprised many with a passionate, thoughtful and deeply (and realistically) pastoral sermon yesterday – wonderful stuff.
Two things among many, many good elements stand out for me from this conference. First, Paula Gooder demonstrating from Philippians 2 that when Jesus ’emptied himself’, coming as one of us, he chose to do so. This might sound obvious, but we human beings (and Christians are not exempt) love to shift responsibility onto someone else – especially if there is a risk of something going wrong. Those who follow Christ must do so because they choose to do so and they must be people who take responsibility and not shirk it or shift it. We need to grow up.
Secondly, last night brought the conference to a social head with a quiz night, a showing (and discussion) of Slumdog Millionaire, and a Singalongamammamia. I had a team in the quiz until we heard about the Mamma Mia… It was a scream. Over 100 of us sang, danced and laughed our way through it and then kept the dancing going for a long time. It was the funniest night I have had for a long time and a welcome conclusion to several weeks of conferences.
James Jones had talked (as an aside, obviously) about the place of humour and laughter in a healthy community. Today we go back to South London and East Surrey having worshipped, studied, listened, discussed, prayed, danced and laughed together for a few days in Derbyshire. Which sounds pretty healthy to me.