Conference yet again

Yes, I know that you don’t want to hear any more about the conference. There is nothing more boring than people going on and on about a conference to people who were not at it. (SEC21, I am talking about you!)

But indulge me a moment. This is what I have submitted to the Scottish Episcopalian for publication next month:

The Provincial Conference lived up to its hype ? it was indeed much more than three headline speakers. Puncturing the programme like so many exclamation marks were the base groups. All the delegates at the conference were assigned to base groups ? small groups of people meeting with one another ? each group led by a couple of facilitators.

The conference was probably the most extensive outing in the Scottish Episcopal Church for the Contextual Bible Study method much in vogue in the diocese of Glasgow and Galloway. The idea is to look first at the context of the Bible passage and then at one?s own context. Thus, the group considers a text?s place of reception and reading as well as its place of origin. This is clearly a fruitful way of approaching the bible. However, studying the same short text (the story of the loaves and fishes) over five sessions would test any bible study method to the limit. One of the difficulties of contextual bible study is knowing what context we are referring to. The context of any bible study must be wider than simply a church conference, however good that conference itself is. Given all that is happening in the wider Anglican communion, and given that two of our conference speakers were Rowan Williams and Kathy Galloway, it was very strange not to include something of the sexuality debate as part of the context that we were asked to reflect upon.

It seemed that most groups worked well. There were thirty-two study groups running simultaneously at the conference and no two will have been alike. The sound of much singing could be heard from some whilst deep conversation and listening characterised others. It was not all cerebral though. Participants had been asked to bring photographs of their church back home. Delightfully, the number of pictures of people seemed to outnumber the pictures which showed buildings. These pictures were gathered together onto cardboard cut-outs in the shape of fish scales. These then went into the main worship area to form two large fish in the centre of the space which in turn seemed to form the sails of a large coracle-like boat. In a different session, members were asked to reflect on their gifts. Representations of these gifts were then carried into the worship and tied onto the boat, thus joining the large scale worship with the small group experience.

It feels good to be in a church taking the bible seriously and giving it a central place at a major conference. The Contextual Bible Study method may be a welcome way back into bible study for those who have been jaded by proof texts.

One of the key speakers used his session for telling stories about ordinary people?s lives. Of course, there are no ordinary Episcopalians, but we do have stories to tell. More of those stories got told as the groups became more comfortable with one another. At the end of the conference, three hundred and fifty walking, talking Alan Bennett monologues tottered off into the world to build a whole new church and find God?s unexpected gifts lurking in Scotland.

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