It was four and a half years ago Bishop Christopher invited me to join him in a meeting regarding a Southwark Diocesan Conference. Each five years or so, diocesan clergy had gathered at a conference centre for a residential conference in places like Keswick or Derbyshire. The next conference Bishop Christopher wanted to organise was to include lay and ordained and to be non-residential (hopefully making it more accessible to more people). So, the task of finding a venue (that was affordable), trying to choose a date and identifying the groups of people who might attend began.
Then Covid came along and all our plans were delayed. We postponed the conference for three years as we re-planned and rescheduled events. That meeting with Bishop Christopher was one of my first responsibilities as Canon missioner. As I write in August 2022, the Diocesan conference is now just weeks away.
As we know in our parishes, genuine access and inclusion to church events is much more difficult in practice than it sounds in principle. We want to be accessible and welcoming, but the limitations of time, money, geography and technology don’t always make this aid in this endeavour. With these limitations in mind we know it is impossible to devise the perfect Diocesan Conference! But, I am excited about what lies ahead.
Through the use of technology, we have sought to make the Diocesan Conference available to as many people as possible. Through the use of one of our modern Church of England secondary schools in Rotherhithe, we have sought to use a local, Southwark Diocese venue. This enables people to attend for one day or more (which would have been impossible in a residential conference in Derbyshire). With a focus on those subjects that unite rather than divide the Diocese of Southwark, we hope that people of different traditions and context will be inspired and renewed in their ministries. Our foci is on The Five Marks of Mission, racial inclusion, and arts in mission amongst others.
The banner that has been commissioned for the main stage is an important, symbolic representation of this unity and diversity. The diocesan conference title is “Christ centred, outward focused”. The wonderful banner (which currently resides on my office floor in preparation for being hung) is a representation of this. Jesus Christ is at the centre. Different people, ages, races and abilities, are approaching him. They do so from the inner city and the countryside. These different people represent our parishes and communities. The inspiration for the banner (so wonderfully created by the Revd Cecile Schnyder) was influenced by the colourful South American crosses that you may have seen. Cecile decided that as a commitment to our Eco-Diocese Bronze Award, we ought to use recycled materials, so she has made the ‘canvas’ out of used tea-towels!
The coming months will be emotionally and financially hard for many. With the increase in fuel, food and heating costs, many people will struggle to make ends meet. Being able to meet face-to-face and discuss many of the biggest issues facing our communities and wider world will be a vital opportunity to refocus and recharge our ministries. I hope that if you have signed up to join us in person, you will enjoy your time in Rotherhithe. If you know that your incumbent, churchwarden or SPA are joining us online, why not join them and participate in the conference for at least some of the sessions? Do look out for pictures and quotes about the conference in your social media feeds. We will also be capturing some of the key moments in September’s edition of The Bridge. Please do pray for the conference that it may equip and inspire all God’s people in their journey of faith.
The Conference Prayer
open our hearts to your love, our eyes to your world,
our minds to your Word,
our lives to your grace,
that Christ may be at the centre and our focus always on you,
for now and for eternity.
Find out more on the conference webpage at southwark.anglican.org/sdc2022.