Diocesan Clergy Conference, September 2016 at Liverpool Hope University
Four hundred clergy from across the diocese travelled to Liverpool Hope University last week to take part in the first Diocesan Clergy Conference, Hope16. The three day conference included Bible Study, keynote talks, a debate on Science and Faith with Professors Brian Cox and David Wilkinson, entertainment and time for getting to know others. Find out more below, first with reflections from Revd Dr Matt Bullimore, Canon Sam Corley and Ven Bev Mason.
Clergy reflect on the conference . . .
1) Revd Dr Matt Bullimore, Vicar of Felkirk and Royston
Three recurring themes stood out for me: (1) the public nature of the church, (2) the importance of communicating well, (3) how grace works through the ordinary.
A gathering of 400 clergy makes visible one aspect of the church. We formed a public by meeting together. Seeing us all in one place was immensely encouraging. It reminded us that there is certainly life in the old dog yet.
Moreover, each of us came as representative parts of the much larger sum of the whole people of God in the diocese. We were a visible, audible and tangible sign of the public profile of the body of Christ in this area.
Professor Brian Cox was keen to be seen to be engaging with this body in the public square. The dialogue with us was an event in public life. It was a statement about the importance of dialogue between people of differing commitments seeking truth, meaning and human flourishing in a free and plural society. It was an affirmation of the church’s part in forming and promoting the common good.
We can see then why the quality of engagement and the excellence of our communication of the Good News is so crucial. We heard calls from every speaker to be imaginative, to be passionate, to provoke wonder, to be attractive. +Paul Bayes reminded us that ‘cosmos’ and ‘cosmetic’ have a similar root. Even the world has a glamour because it’s God’s. So too we should mirror the beauty of God who provokes our desire. Others might then be drawn through us.
There was a tension that became apparent as we talked together – a tension concerning what it is we think of as the primary vocation of the Church of England.
Is it a church that is for the world through its engagement in public life? Are we a people who serve our communities as the tangible body of Christ to them?
Or, are we called first to be a strong, vibrant and diverse worshipping community of faithful disciples? Is the world, in that sense, made for the church? Is our hope that the world will find its true end in that community who gather together in love and praise of God? After all, we are saved into and as a community. That’s what the church is: a people gathered into a set of redeemed relationships.
We need to be prophetic and against the world inasmuch as it is not for Christ, but also humbly engaging with and for the world inasmuch as it is not against Christ. Dean June Osbourne reminded us that it is easier to proclaim the Good News of our life with Jesus to others if we are rooted in the public life of our community.
No doubt, the Church of England needs to nurture a strong worshipping heart to be able to have the particular form of public engagement it enjoys. But without its outward focus and public service it may lose its own peculiar character. It is a hard balance for clergy to strike.
The conference was full of hope and encouragement because of our trust in the God who raised Jesus from the dead into life. These signs are seen in the way that God works through, lifts and perfects the ordinary. Even the sun rising is a sign of resurrection grace, as Clement of Rome reminds us (Sam Corley). Our wonder at the vast tracts of the universe(s) to which Brian Cox and David Wilkinson referred, is as nothing to the wonder of a God who comes to us in the ordinariness of the stable.
We are called to be a people who walk through the everyday and the ordinary with the memory of God all around us (+Paul Bayes), opening up the possibility of God for others (+Nick Baines).
We also need to be able to laugh at ourselves, so thanks to Catherine Fox for that.
2) Canon Sam Corley, Rector of Leeds Minster
I don’t really get science. But then I got off to a bad start. Growing up just outside Cambridge I was paperboy to Sir Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal - there was a long driveway, stiff gate and a big dog with sharp teeth. The Rectory down the road was a kinder, safer sort of place. And the tips were better.
So I got on with all the words stuff at school and spent most of my science lessons struggling desperately against the laws of physics to make sure I didn’t fall off those weird wooden stools we all had to sit on in the labs. I never did get to the bottom of that great cosmic mystery of why, whichever stool you chose, one of the legs was always shorter than the others.
One of the gifts of the conference was the way in which we could turn aside from normal routines to spend time in the company of others who challenged our perspectives and stretched the scope of understanding as we reflected on hope, on cultural trends and paradigm shifts, on wonder and the cosmos, on what is means to be dependent and also open to grace. Some of it was strange and alien to me, yet none of it was fantasy. In fact one of the things I have taken away is the compelling challenge to contend with reality – with the way the world actually is, rather than how I would like it to be - and to do so with a humble confidence fuelled by hope in Christ.
And we are not alone. Indeed, the second gift of the conference was the company of other clergy from across the diocese. I am grateful to God for the affirming and positive atmosphere that pervaded our time together. There was a real sense of us being drawn together; all of us seeking to be faithful to our ordination vows as deacons, priests and bishops, as we love, live and learn in the name of Christ in our various communities throughout West Yorkshire and the Dales.
Meticulous organisation, excellent food and uplifting worship more than enhanced the experience. It’s not often that you come to the end of a conference wishing you could stay longer while also being excited about getting home to talk about what you’ve been reflecting on while you’ve been away. But Hope 16 did that and more. And it certainly left me more confident about exploring and engaging with some of those long driveways in the world beyond the church.
3) The Ven Beverley Mason, Archdeacon of Richmond & Craven
In the opening service the context for the conference was set by Bishop Nick with the familiar words ‘past put behind us for the future take us’.
The Very Revd June Osborne asked “What is it that we want to birth into and who do we want to become?” What are the defining values we will commit to and live by and be held accountable for, which will determine our culture, shape our relationships and empower the mission and ministries within the diocese? Not to be decided upon in haste, these are questions that we need to come back to. “If people taste our compassion” said the Dean, “they will taste the compassion of God”.
Singing the Lord’s song in a strange land is where we find ourselves and can feed our despair. The Rt Revd Paul Bayes spoke into this with cosmic splendour and a lot of Greek! “The World in its shimmering glamour” is the splendid world we inhabit, abounding in hope but what is hope? Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life’. For the world, hope, together with desire carries a price tag. The world in its shimmering glamour is the world in which we see redemption through our desire …. and it is our desire put straight which carries us to heaven. Stunning imagery to provoke a holy response. We should be distressed to see people worshipping idols, says Bishop Paul, but how do we find the public space where we, like St Paul, can challenge desire, myth, superstition and spin with the Gospel of the God of the Cosmos, the Author of Life?
For most of us, the public space must surely have been the stage inhabited by two Titans of science and cosmology – Brian Cox and David Wilkinson – two men of faith, one Christian, one Atheist, sharing a common humanity, mutual respect, brains the size of a planet who demonstrated how to celebrate the wonderful gift of difference, dialogue and inquiry and how friendships are forged in unlikely places.
In a nation so pre-possessed by borders, migrants and controls, it was the scientist telling the theologian that the probability of intelligent life on another of the billions upon billions of planets is most unlikely, which makes each individual human being most rare.
Throughout the conference, the thread of kindness and good humour weaved together the concurrent theme of our becoming. The closing Eucharist was the climax of the event and the open space through which Grace abounded where, in the words of Bishop Nick, we were ‘grasped by hope and not driven by fear’. We were blessed, and for many, we beheld God’s glory!
In the final talk of the conference, The Archbishop of Liverpool, the Most Revd Malcolm McMahon (left with Bishop Nick) gave a Bible study which focused on Luke Chapter 1 and the Song of Mary.
He was engagingly frank about his own Roman Catholic upbringing. He said that in childhood the ‘Hail Mary’ was more important than the Lord’s Prayer, but in his teens ‘religion took a back seat’. In returning to the faith he rediscovered in the Virgin Mary a model of humility and dependence on God’s grace. ‘Mary’ he said, ‘is the first believer, the individually and completely redeemed and transformed person’, but sets us an example to follow. ‘Through God’s grace, the same thing is happening to us ... can we put aside our pride and self-sufficiency?’ he challenged his audience.
'Loving, Living, Learning'
In his final address, Bishop Nick talked about being ‘grasped’ by a vision of the gospel which is cosmic, global and which says ‘matter matters’. ‘A vision of hope is not minimal’ he said. ‘It looks like John 14, a people that ‘love one another’ as children of God, co-disciples and ministers and that we demonstrate to a the world that the church can be different and that we build one another up…..This is what it looks like when we ae grasped by hope.’
He went on to outline a new and outward looking diocesan vision statement (being used in our branding by a design agency) – ‘Loving, Living, Learning’. “ ’Loving’ because as the Gospel tells us this is the heart of what we are about. If the world out there for whom we exist is to see the truth of the Gospel they will see it when they see us loving one another and loving the world in which we are put. ‘Living’ because we are an incarnational faith that somehow has allowed itself to be seen as not interested in matter. We are about living an ‘abundant life’ – about setting people free. ‘Learning’ is simply that all of the other stuff has to be done with humility, that we know we are not ‘there’, that some stuff is provisional, that sometimes we miss the point and we get it wrong. But we have the Cross, we have forgiveness and repentance, we have the freedom to start again.”
(L) Prof Brian Cox, Revd Prof David Wilkinson & Bishop Nick Baines with clergy delegates.
(R) Brian Cox welcomed to the conference by Bishop Nick.
Watch interviews from Day Two with Brian Cox and David Wilkinson - click on pictures below
Clergy woke to another day of hot sunshine in Liverpool and a wealth of different worship styles on offer including the silence of Julian Prayer, morning worship Iona community style, and 10,000 Reasons which uses Psalm 34 as its centrepiece, alongside two more traditional Eucharists.
The Rt Revd Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool, opened the day with Bible Study and the focus of his talk, Hope and the Shimmering World, were words from Romans 15 – May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing so that you may abound in hope. Hope, he said, is about the future. "Your new diocese has been erected in hope. Here you are, a new diocese learning how to live together, saying we are a good thing, which has been created not because it’s great to create new-fangled ways of being church but to reach out to Yorkshire in hope . . . so that you can be better equipped to speak hope to those around you, and enrich and complete the hope of the world which is so often misplaced ... a beautiful universe redeemed."
Brian Cox & David Wilkinson debate 'Science the Cosmos & Human Meaning'
We have to live with being captivated by wonder; it’s at the root of Christian theology, said Bishop Nick as he introduced the Revd Prof David Wilkinson and Prof Brian Cox to discuss Science, the cosmos and the human meaning on Day two of the Clergy Conference.
David Wilkinson, Principal of St John’s College, Durham explained to the gathered clergy what was interesting to him as a scientist and a theologian.
“To say the universe is big, is trivial, but it is not the scale of the universe, but the fact that the universe seems to be just right – producing just the right amount of carbon – and what that means for humans.
“For some religious believers, that is an immediate jump into God made it, but that’s too easy,” he said.
He went on to try and explain the size of the universe, and what that says about human meaning in the midst of it. He said: “Most of science is awe inspiring, the last few years have been terrific for the discovery of new planets outside our solar system; a lot of them are big gas giants but we are beginning to see earth like planets in the habitable zone.
“If we are not alone then what does that mean for the doctrine of creation and the status of human being?"
“There is a limit that science can explore – questions of meaning, purpose and value are revealed in some way which goes beyond pure scientific description; there is a claim within Christian theology those questions are revealed in some way in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus,” he said.
Prof Brian Cox also talked about the vastness of the universe and the possibility of multiple universes and told the gathered clergy that there were no answers to some of the questions that might be posed today.
And he said he was really excited to be here talking to clergy today.
He asked: "Why do we live in a universe that has just the right amount of stuff in it for us to survive – we live in a very special universe – why is that?
"What does it mean – living in numerous universes?
"What do we then mean in a Christian tradition for creation," he asked.
WATCH OUT FOR SHORT FILMS WITH BOTH PROF BRIAN COX AND REVD PROF DAVID WILKINSON
The grandeur of St George's Hall in Liverpool’s city centre was the setting for the Conference dinner. The after dinner speaker was author and lecturer Catherine Fox, also married to the Dean of Liverpool, who received a number of mentions in a talk peppered with hilarious anecdotes and tales of bishops and cathedrals.
Bishop Nick welcomed 400 clergy who have come to Hope College Liverpool for the first diocesan clergy conference. He told them that hope should underpin all their ministry and their theology.
He said: “If hope is to be anything in our theology, it has to be that thing that opens up the possibility of God, that opens up the extraordinary right here in the ordinary.
It is the first time all the clergy of the new diocese of Leeds has come together in one place –over 400 delegates arrived at Liverpool’s appropriately named Hope University for the first clergy conference. (Ironically Hope University started life as two training colleges – one Roman Catholic on one side of the road and the other Anglican on the other and was brought together with some reluctance and some sacrifice!)
Read more about Bishop Nick's opening talk here...
The Dean of Salisbury, Very Revd June Osborne, challenged the conference to be outward looking, boldly imaginative and humbly confident in a God ‘who makes us interesting and gives us hope’.
She said, "Here is my challenge to you as the Diocese of Leeds – consider carefully what is going to be your approach to the missional agenda for it’s possible to inhabit a ministry which is fearful and narrow . If the diocese is to be confident, imaginative and interesting, characterised by bold humility then you have to be confident imaginative and interesting the way you construct your missional agenda.
‘Mission is an activity that transforms reality... and there is a constant need for our own mission to be transformed,’ she added.
Her talk tackled the need for a ‘theology of mission which is strong enough to bear the weight of the complexity and uncertainty of our world.’ She looked at diverse models of mission in the New Testament and the prophetic faith which should relate to culture.
‘Mission, the transformation of reality happens most effectively in the public square and if we withdraw into simply running the church we don’t leave the public square empty, we surrender it to secular instincts.’
Still to come - a dialogue between two eminent scientists: Professor Brian Cox and Professor David Wilkinson. Read more.
In the evening it was a contrasting programme of entertainment to choose from...jazz and gospel from Scargill House musicians
Or laughs from comedian Andy Kind...