This wasn’t my first Lay Conference, but it was the first time I’d been on the organising team. It was also the first Lay Conference on Zoom, a decision we had made back in the spring when we couldn’t be sure what the situation would be in November. Leading up to the day, I think we were all a bit nervous about the risk of technical glitches. In the event, it all appeared to go reasonably well from where I was sitting, but since then I gather that there were quite a number of problems – something which might give pause for thought to anyone thinking of organising another large conference online.
We did everything we could to replicate the standard conference experience, even to the point of scheduling breakout rooms specifically to enable delegates to chat to people from other churches. Short acts of worship were included near the beginning and end of the conference, and were led very well by Gerry Daley and the worship band from Christchurch, Purley. But the instruction to stay on mute throughout, in order to avoid echo, meant that, as is so typical of Zoom, they ended up feeling more solitary than communal.
The conference theme was Inside Out and this was reflected in the keynote speech, workshops and other items on the agenda. I didn’t take many notes, so my recollections here reflect the things that stuck with me – and may differ considerably from what other people remember.
The keynote speaker was Andrew Graystone, the writer, broadcaster and brother of our own Peter. Andrew started his address by describing his unexpected catapult to fame, following his spontaneous act of support to local Muslims following the Christchurch atrocity, and how he had made an effort to capitalise on this unexpected opportunity. He then went on to talk about how the disciples had been sent out by Jesus with nothing, so that they could engage with anyone they met on that person’s terms, rather than their own. This, Andrew explained, was a lesson we needed to relearn today. For mission to be successful we needed to lose all the baggage traditionally associated with church and focus on the individuals we were meeting. This also meant that lay members of the church were often much better placed to carry out mission than the clergy.
There were lots of messages afterwards saying how inspirational Andrew’s talk had been, and we easily filled the time slot allocated for questions, which it was my job to field. Bishop Jonathan, in his closing address, also picked up on some of the points Andrew had made, and stressed the need to move ‘the church’ beyond the building itself.
The workshops occupied the two slots before and after the lunch break. There were a wide range of options and the two I chose turned out to be very thought-provoking, in their different ways.
The first one, entitled What We Learned from 2020, was led by Rosemarie Mallett, the Archdeacon of Croydon. She began with a summary of some of the positives and negatives generated by, or during, the Covid pandemic. The rest of the session was spent in several small group discussions with a few minutes for feedback at the end.
Not surprisingly, people’s experiences had differed quite a lot. Some people felt that their faith had grown stronger, and one person said that she was now taking stewardship much more seriously. Mission and outreach activities were an interesting topic. Some activities had stopped and were now beginning to pick up again; some new ventures had sprung up in response to needs highlighted by Covid; and other projects had continued throughout, adapting to the changed circumstances. I noted that the only time our church was open during the lockdowns was for the weekly foodbank session, at which I was a regular volunteer, and it had been so reassuring to be there. Our final discussion considered the future of communion, and whether we would ever go back to receiving it in the way we had before Covid. An increasing number of people were now vocally expressing the reservations they had always had about how hygienic this was and were likely to be very reluctant to go back to the communal chalice.
My second workshop, led by Ann Wright, formerly of Southwark SAGE, was about Nurturing Your Grandchildren in Faith. As a relatively new grandmother, I didn’t have a lot to contribute, but it was very helpful to hear from the more experienced grandparents about some of the dos and don’ts.
It is always worth attending these conferences. Even if you feel that you haven’t learned anything new (which is unlikely), it’s always nice to chat to members of other churches and hear how they are doing.
Find out about upcoming events, conferences and workshops on our What’s On page at southwark.anglican.org/whats-on.