60 individuals came together from diverse Christian organisations and churches, to share ideas and experiences, and discuss ways to spread the love of God amongst those living on the edge, whether due to poverty, climate change, mental health, race, gender, disability, loneliness, or, indeed, any other reason. And, for the first time, young leaders (under 35s) were invited to attend along with their colleagues.
The conference was led thoughtfully and convivially by Rev Dr Ben Aldous (Churches Together in England) and Rachael Heffer (Evangelical Alliance), with stirring worship provided by Andy Flannagan, and artist, Chris Duffet, painting prophetically in response.
Throughout the gathering, keynote speeches by Eunice Attwood (Church at the Margins Officer, Evangelism and Growth Team, Methodist Church), Andy Flannagan (Christians in Politics), and Rev Dr Israel Olofinjana (One People Commission, Evangelical Alliance) echoed a common theme: the need to support and amplify the voices of those on the edge.
As Israel said, in his educational and challenging talk about climate racism, we must not speak for them (those affected by climate injustice) – they already have a voice! Instead, he called us to listen and do what we can to ensure their voices are heard.
Eunice made us all laugh with her stories of growing up in County Durham, and encouraged us all to ‘remove the counters’ between us and those on the edge – it isn’t them and us – we’re all part of one body. We need to take away the hierarchy and any kind of saviour complex, and give people the dignity of being able to look after themselves and serve others.
This theme was picked up in many of the break-out sessions, including in a story from Jenny from Together for the Common Good about the organic growth of a church from a simple ‘Thursday tea’, where everyone organised the meals together, and helped with planning, buying, cooking and clearing. A vibrant and inclusive church grew from this shared enterprise.
And Andy encouraged us all to get involved in politics, by reminding us that, whilst reaching out to individuals is good and important, influencing the system itself, which so often exacerbates poverty and a larger gap between rich and poor, is a way in which Christians can truly make a difference.
All the discussions at the conference emphasised the importance of personal relationships and seeing everyone as equally loved children of God.
And I was delighted to see that the first attempt at speed friending was enthusiastically received! There was a real buzz when all attendees sat in two lines facing each other to take two minutes to get to know another person, before moving on. This provided a perfect opportunity for participants to meet many more people than they might have otherwise done over the 24 hours of the event, and caused a lot of laughter and many conversations that continued into break time.
I would be so bold as to say that our latest CTE missionary disciples conference was a resounding success. We left feeling part of a greater church community, whilst challenged and better equipped to reach out to all those who find themselves living on the edge.