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Clergy Conference - 'Faithful Improvisation'

Published: 22nd September 2023

Potters hands creating a pot on a wheel with the faithful improvisation wordsFrom Monday to Thursday, our clergy will gather together at a Christian conference centre in Hertfordshire. The clergy conference is normally held every three years, but due to Covid, it has been a few years since it has taken place.

The theme of the conference will be ‘Faithful Improvisation’ and will include a number of speakers and workshops as well as worship and time to socialise together. In his foreword to the conference handbook, Bishop John writes:

“Improvisation does not mean ‘anything goes’, on the contrary there are rules, conventions and techniques that prevent improvisation from degenerating into chaos. For instance, if you are a jazz fan, then you will know that huge skill is demanded of the musicians who base their inventiveness on chord progressions; they also have to pay close attention to one another to make the improvisation work – faithful to their training as musicians and faithful to those around them. So I hope that in these few days we will all be attentive to each other as we engage with invention and creativity in the range of activities and opportunities on offer.”

Please do pray for the conference and all those who are attending. A special prayer has been produced for the occasion:

Creator, Maker of all, fashioning the cosmos through fusion and fission, loving all things, seen and unseen, into life; by your Spirit, draw us into your art of creation.

Saviour, Lover of all, entering the darkness of pain and death, calling all that is broken into new being; by your Spirit, draw us into your work of re-creation.

Holy Spirit, living in all, weaving our lives into the story of Christ, fashioning us all into the full stature of Christ; from grace to grace, lead us to new creation.

Maker, Lover, Life-Giver, so reshape our lives through your love that we may show the beauty of your handiwork, and join with all creation in telling your wonders, for yours is the story, the work and the art, now and forever. Amen.

Mel Beynon, Curate in the Halas Team in Halesowen will be blogging throughout the week:


Monday 25 September

Clergy at the opening worship of their conferenceThe gathering Eucharist was wonderfully uplifting. Hearing so many voices, singing and responding with enthusiasm, as we worshipped God together was amazing. It was good to catch up with my German friends Philene and Hagen, whom I met on the exchange visit to the Diocese of Magdeburg earlier this year. They seem very happy to be here, and I’m looking forward to spending some time with them over the next few days.Douglas Board speaking at the clergy conference

Douglas Board proved to be a very interesting speaker. A self confessed prophet (on work experience!), who predicts that by the 2040s, the Church, from a position of weakness, will teach theologically, about power. He reminded us that this is God’s church and that the will of God will be done. This fills me with hope, that as old power structures fade, a new, humbler Church will emerge.

Douglas spoke of many other things, but one or two stood out for me: The idea of God as a ‘thriller writer’ revealing in the last pages of the book a new understanding of all that has gone before. And the question: What is the ‘working title’ of your life? And what might its true title, given by the publisher (God) be, when all is written?

Tuesday 27 September

Malcolm Guide speaking with his arms outstretched at the clergy conferenceTuesday began with a lie in for me (we were told to relax!), so I missed the early Eucharist. 

Morning prayer (at the civilised time of 9.30am) was peppered with the poems and wisdom of Malcolm Guite, who showed us ways of connecting the New Testament to the Psalms and right back to Genesis. This ‘reading backwards’ approach fit well with our theme of Faithful Improvisation. As Malcolm put it, Jesus gave us new ‘riffs’ on these ancient texts.Shami Chakrabarti speaking at the clergy conference

After coffee Baroness Chakrabarti, politician, barrister and human rights activist, gave a wise and thought provoking talk, helping us make connections between our faith and politics. My ‘take away’ was that it requires great thought, work and practice to live out our Christian values in the world, with artful spontaneity. Equal treatment, or treating others as we would like to be treated is key. 

Clergy sitting in a circle with Alison Maddocks speaking in the middleAfter lunch we had the chance to discuss together any subjects we wished. I joined a group looking at trees, the sheer wonder of them, and how we can connect with God through nature. Later some played games whilst others went for a walk or a snooze.

Silent prayer then led into outdoor worship appreciating the glory of God’s creation.Kim Topham and Rosie Moss sitting at a table laughing

In the evening, those of us who went to the main hall were in for a laugh, as a team of our self supporting ministers competed against senior staff in a variety of games. My favourite was ‘Would I lie to you (bishop)? What happened there stays there, I can only say that I learned things about Kim Topham, Sue Adeney and even Wyn Beynon that I never knew before. And that it’s quite difficult to fool a bishop…

Wednesday 27 September

Jeremy Begbie speaking at clergy conferenceToday we had the pleasure of listening to Jeremy Begbie, a Theology Professor at Duke University, with a special interest in the interplay between theology and music. Simply astonishing, he entertained us with virtuoso piano playing, which illustrated his intelligent and imaginative approach to scripture.

In the afternoon, continuing with the theme of Faithful Improvisation, there were several workshops on offer including the following:People building lego models at a workshop at clergy conference

Lego Divina involved making lego models to express the meaning of parables, and was a great way of exploring, giving new insights even to some of our more ‘seasoned’ clergy. 

In Poetry with Malcolm Guite, we learned some of the rules of the poetic art, within which we could then improvise. 

Epiphany Music gave us ‘musical portraits’ of people, a very moving experience both to watch and participate in. Musicians of Epiphany Music at clergy conference

In the evening, there was a choice between ‘Slurp and Shape’ creative pottery, or The Big Clergy Conference Quiz. I chose the latter, which proved to be highly competitive and uproarious. The winning team was called The Recruiters. The Archdeacons’ team came last, and ‘The Deans’ didn’t do too well either!


Thursday 28 September

Members of the clergy at the front of a worship session at clergy conferenceOur last half day together was a precious time of worship, and sharing in the Eucharist, followed by lunch.

Malcolm Guite blessed us once more, by opening the scriptures to us. Just a few phrases which caught my imagination were: ‘The psalms are the language of our hearts, and the language of God’s heart in return to us.’ ‘There is a relation between breakdown and breakthrough.’ And, in keeping with the theme of faithful improvisation, the words of Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus “unbind him” and to the deaf and dumb man “be opened.”

This reminded us of the need to stay open to others and for our churches to be more open to the light that is calling us outside as well as calling others in; a theme reflected in the poems Malcolm shared with us.

Backs of clergy heads as they worship together at their conferenceI can’t end without referring to the wonderful music we’ve been blessed with during worship. Myself and others particularly enjoyed the Benedictus hymn, written by our own Doug Chaplin.

My first clergy conference has been a time of refreshment, rest, learning, receiving, worshipping God and connecting with people. Now it’s back to parish life, with fresh inspiration.

Page last updated: Thursday 28th September 2023 5:17 PM

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