As I write this blog post, we are half-way through the Diocesan Conference at Bacon’s College. The first clergy and lay, in-person and online of its kind in the Diocese.

The atmosphere, both, yesterday and today has been electric. Old friends are reconnecting and new friendships being made.

Delegates are having lunch and most likely reflecting and talking about the passionate talk Day two’s morning keynote speaker, CEO of the Children’s Society, Mark Russell, has just given. Bishop Christopher tweeted, “Day two and a passionate address from Mark Russell CEO of the Children’s Society. Full of righteous anger that life in the UK is too hard for too many children – 4.3million at last count and rising. We pledge solidarity and are proud you are a Lay Canon at Southwark Diocese.”

I chatted to Lay Readers Cicelyn Hinds from St Mark, South Norwood and Leonora Davies from St Oswald, Norbury. This is their first conference. “It’s been really interesting so far. The session on forgiveness by Francis Spufford was thought-provoking. My mind is ticking over. You need to forgive, but it has to come from deep down,” said Cicelyn. She continued, “I think it is a great idea that lay and ordained are getting together like this because at the end of the day, we are all working together and we need to help and support each other. We are taking the Word of God to the community and we are transformed by something like this conference. It has been an eye-opener and changes your perspective.”

Leonora said, “I hope to meet a lot of friends who I studied with. And as Bishop Christopher said, it is great to be able to meet this way. I don’t think I would have been able to have come and make new friends if it was a residential.”

As people chatted and mingled over lunch, I met Laura, Julie and Liz, who told me about how much they are enjoying the conference so far. The Revd Laura Faturoti is Team Vicar at East Greenwich Team Ministry. She said, “For me, it’s about being reconnected after a really bruising two years and being re-energised by other people as well as the talks and sessions.” Lay Reader, Julie Mason is also from East Greenwich Team Ministry. She said about the conference: “Meeting friends and networking. It’s just good to be together in person. The speakers and seminars are good, but it is actually about the chats over coffee. Realising that the not so good things that are happening to you are also happening to them so you can share ideas.”

The Revd Liz Newman from Charlton Benefice told me her thoughts about the conference: “Nourishment would be my number one word. Also, the networking and sense of connection. After so long of being online and digital to try to sense and take the pulse of the Diocese in a real tangible way. I have been on two other Diocesan conferences and have really good memories of those being transformative. I thought that the first speaker was fantastic.”

As a communications professional, passionate about engagement, it’s been wonderful to see how much people are engaging with the conference and sharing their experiences. By the time this goes online, the conference will be on its last day. We will have listened to inspiring speakers, blessed and nourished by the worship and connected with friends old and new.