Monday, 17 May 2010

Hope for the Church at The Hayes

Monday 12 May saw four of us set off for four days at the Hayes Conference Centre in Derbyshire. For those of us who remembered such conference centres as bleak and cold with food like school meals, it was a very pleasant surprise. Our purpose was to join groups of Christians from other churches around Leicestershire and to discover what God may have to teach us about how we may draw others to Christ and how the church might grow.

We were led by a Vicar from Bradford, Robin Gamble, assisted by Dave Banbury, two proud Northerners and Janet Russell from the diocese of Oxford, supported by Stuart Burns and Barry Hill from our own diocese. They kept us hard at work from 8.0am until 10.0pm most days.

We met in the main conference hall in groups of Mission Partnerships, each around a table. We are from the Gartree Mission Partnership -- parishes southeast of Leicester. As we were a large group and the number from St. Paul's was large, we did much of the work as a subgroup. The course was a mixture of presentation by the leaders of the present position and possible ideas for improvement, which were rooted in their experience, and strategies for change. Then there would be discussion of those ideas within the group and opportunities to feedback to the full conference. It was important that valuable ideas did not get lost so each group had a large poster on which they wrote their ideas after each session.

One of many concerns was the feeling that churches were good at "presence" - being in and around the local community. However, it was felt that this often had little content of "proclamation" -- letting those around us know what it was that we believed. It was suggested that if we did, there would be opportunities for "persuasion" -- the possibility of talking at greater length about faith in Christ. (Persuasion is probably a bad word for something like an Alpha course but at least it begins with P to match the others!). One night, Robin Gamble memorably showed how he would use a Quiz Night to include a brief and entertaining "God Slot."

We were encouraged to start modestly -- did we believe God could grow our church by 5%? We return committed to seeking to achieve that aim.