What an incredible two days! Amanda, Rebecca, Jan, Gerry and I have all been at the HTB Leadership Conference in London at the Royal Albert Hall and at Hammersmith Apollo for the last two days. It’s remarkable to go to something which is so challenging and yet so encouraging at the same time.
The theme this year was unity. Nicky Gumbel opened with a very good talk on this subject which is most definitely worth hearing and I will post on this website when it is available. He started by observing that when people come together in unity God’s blessing will be there. And yet unity is really difficult, its really easier to argue – we need in St Paul’s words to ‘take pains’ to seek unity and this involves humility. Generally the biggest obstacle to unity is pride. Unity is about relationships – it is not doctrinal, it is relational and the best model of this unity is within the Trinity itself, in the relationship between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Unity is the key to the evangelisation of the nations and the transformation of society. Nicky observed that within the many Christian denominations what unites us is infinitely greater than what divides us. We need to unite around the person of Jesus Christ.
Then, in a striking sign of unity, he interviewed Archbishop Justin Welby and Cardinal Vincent Nichols the Archbishop of Westminster and the leader of the Catholic Church in England. Cardinal Nichols said that one of the great things about his developing friendship with Archbishop Justin was that he ‘trusted him’ . Father Raniero Cantalamessa a Franciscan preacher to the Papal Household, described Archbishop Justin and Pope Francis as ‘soul twins’.
It was encouraging to feel that, if unity is about relationships and not about doctrine, that we in the Itchen Valley are modelling this quite well already. We have good relationships between church members of varying churchmanship – from the Anglo-Catholic and the Liberal, to the Charismatic and the Evangelical and a good relationship with our Catholic neighbours, shown in our co-operation in such activities as CAMEO, the Ecumenical Service and the Way of the Cross. Maybe others can learn from what we are doing in our little mircocosm of the church.
As Nicky said – the world desperately needs what the church can offer but the world is not in the least interested in hearing from a church which is at odds with itself. This does not mean that we have to abandon our own views on truth, but we do need to learn to disagree agreeably. Love does mean allowing others to have different opinions on what is true, to the opinions you hold yourself. Unity without uniformity.
Other speakers included Joyce Meyer and Robert Madu – both remarkable speakers and definitely worth watching and hearing. The worship music varied from the Christian rock music of Ben Cantelon and Tim Hughes to the whole audience singing Amazing Grace led by the fantastic RAH organ and the HTB Chamber Choir.
There were seminars on humility (something not to be mistaken for humiliation or self hatred) and about stress and many other topics.
It was most of all an opportunity to meet up with very many friends from a huge range of networks and to hear how they are getting on and to say something about what is happening in Itchen Valley.
A lot of fun and a lot to think about….
Revd Alex Pease