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Faith in an Age of Uncertainty

by Gerry Lynch last modified 10 Jul, 2017 11:20 PM

Nearly 300 priests and deacons spent four days in Derbyshire, a chance to think through their work and witness

It has been three years since the last Salisbury Clergy Conference. The theme for this year’s conference, Faith in an Age of Uncertainty, was chosen by Bishop Nicholas almost two years ago. At some points since, he wondered if it would remain relevant by the summer of 2017. The events of the last twelve months or so had, however, made it absolutely apposite.

The keynote speakers were Neil MacGregor, the art historian and museum director; Martyn Percy, Dean of Oxford; and change management expert, Veronica Hope-Hailey.  Anna-Claar Thomasson-Rosingh, Director of Studies at the Sarum College Centre for Formation in Ministry, led the conference bible studies on the Book of Jonah. Philosopher and theologian Elaine Storkey gave an evening lecture on the changing cultural context.

MacGregor kicked off procedings with an exploration of what the Humboldt Forum museum in Berlin, and reactions to it, say about the culture of Western Europe in the early 21st Century. The Museum will be housed in a rebuilt version of the Stadtschloss Palace, once the symbolic centre of the Prussian-led German Empire and later destroyed by the Soviets to make way for the East German parliament building, itself also now destroyed.

In making the decision to rebuild the Palace in every respect, that implied placing a cross at the very apex of the building. This provded controversial in the multi-faith and deeply secular Berlin of today, esepcially as the building will largely house collections of art and culture from outside Europe. No other solution proved possible; Europe's heritage is indubitably indebted to Christianity. As to what it's future will be, Berliners chose to keep a large installation the world Zweifel, or doubt, prominently sited nearby; it had originally been ereceted for the Communist-era parliament building after the fall of the wall.

Elaine Storkey, continued the exploration of how Christianity fits into contemporary British and European society in a talk entitled Post Modern, Post Truth, Post Christian? Using film as well as more traditional sources of evidence, Storkey explored how profoundly culture has changed since the middle of the 20th Century, in a talk perhaps best summed up by two juxtaposed images of the Queen: on at her Coronation, another from the video she made for the 2012 Olympics, accompanying Daniel Craig playing James Bond.

Martyn Percy took delegates on a tour-de-force, spanning time from the emergent "therapeutic rational deist" beliefs that are so common among the rising generation of millennials back to the boundary-crossing Christian communities of the First Century. The church has always been in crisis, he reminded delegates; it is a modern malaise that it forgets.

Final keynote speaker Veronica Hope-Hailey, Dean of the School of Management at the University of Bath and a practising Anglican, gave the final keynote speech, looking at what lessons might be learned from secular organisations, in the context of the collapse of trust in institution that is affecting businesses as much as it is the church or government. Veronica quoted an old Dutch proverb, "Trust arrives on foot but leaves on horseback", which had a real impact on delegates.

In the bible studies, Anna-Claar Thomasson-Rosingh opened the Book of Jonah from many directions: its historical context, its use of Hebrew and its representation by others in art was significant, but all to help understand what God might be saying through the text today.

Workshops looked at everything from the Diocese's relationship with Latvia to making effective use of social media. There was a huge range of worship throughout the day from an optional Eucharist or bible study at 7.15 am through to late evening worship at 9.30 pm.

It wasn't all work and study, either. Christian comedian Tom Elliott, no respecter of episcopal or archidiaconal office when there is a good gag to be had, left them rolling in the eyes. The magnificent Roughshod from the The Riding Lights Theatre Company were also funny at times, at others serious and profound. Both acts are more than entertainment, seeking to communicate the Gospel in places where it can find it hard to make its case.

Delegates were asked to bring Aqua Sarum, water from a local source to the conference. At the closing eucharist, each took a different bottle away, to be poured into a life-giving place when they returned, a transmission from one part of the Diocese to another, symbolising the living water that unites us all.

Gain a flavour of the conference via the Twitter comments at #fiau17.

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