A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far far away (well Aberdeen actually in 1991) I attended my first Provincial Conference. I even have the mug to prove it. I’d only been going to church a few years and was throwing myself into it all wholeheartedly as new converts do. When I heard about the Conference and that the main speaker was Robert Runcie and that only two people from each congregation could go, I pleaded with my Rector to be allowed to attend. I paid one third, the parish another third and the diocese the final third. (£95 in total if I remember correctly). It was a great conference. Robert Runcie turned out to be a very entertaining speaker so that was a bonus. We all had little ‘family groups’ where we met each morning and I got to know some of the pretty well. But what I really loved was the social side of it – the rubbing shoulders with the great and the good (and the not so great or good) of the church. Of sharing stories over a glass of vino or two or more. And I got a mug.
The next Conference was about 5 years later in St Andrew’s and the main speaker was Desmond Tutu so I was first to sign up again. I mean, who wouldn’t want to hear DT? The other speaker was a Bishop whose name I can’t remember just now but was from New Westminster, Canada but used to be a curate at Old St Paul’s, if I remember correctly. We met in a marquee and it howled a gale for most of it but what a treat. Both speakers were excellent and I mean really high calibre. My ‘family group’ was good and who can forget those evenings in the bar?
I missed the Marcus Borg one which I believe was another goodie. But I did go to the last one. No big names this time – well Rowan Williams did come to do one session but we were told not to ask the big burning question of the day (can you be a homosexual and still be a churchmember/priest/bishop?). The main speakers were Kathy Galloway and a Church of Scotland minister. That’s two Presbyterians. Many of the family/house groups didn’t work. And the underlying current was just never allowed to be brought out into the open.
This year’s Conference was to be held in October. The speakers were to be Bishop Stephen Cottrill, Annabel Goldie, and another Church of Scotland minister. That’s an Englishman, a Tory and a Presbyterian. I’m sorry but this is the SEC and that big burning question of the day is still not really being addressed and is unlikely to at this rate. The subject was that old chestnut – Five Marks of Mission. It was to be in Aviemore in a nice hotel this time so I signed up. Not because of the speakers, I have to admit, but because it was in a nice hotel and I do enjoy the craic. Then I heard Ms Goldie has pulled out because it clashed with the Tory Party Conference. Do they not have diaries? It has now been cancelled because not enough folk have signed up. I wonder why?
Here’s why I think it failed.
- The speakers were not big names, not crowd pullers. I mean I have heard of Stephen Cottrill and Annabel Goldie or Eric Cramb but I wonder how many of my flock have heard of them all. Or would pay good money to hear them.
- You had to book months/years ahead. And you couldn’t book online. People just don’t want to commit to that kind of thing so far ahead. And there is no closing date for applications on the website.
- It was expensive. The cost was about £300 for two days. But this time each diocese had a different method of assistance – or not. In our case, you could pay half and your parish the other half. We did not have a Diocesan allowance for financial help.
- Do people want to talk about Mission?
So there we have it. It has now been cancelled. A pile of money has been wasted in meetings, facilitators trained and hours of preparation and planning. Deposit cheques have bounced right, left and centre because they were held on to for months and months before cashing.
Who would you have wanted to hear at a Conference?