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Barrington Village Hall - Saturday 17th September 2011

During the pat six months, the parishes have discussed the topic ‘Faith, hope and love – shaping, strengthening and sharing our Christian life to 2020 and beyond’. The Conference came into being because of the concern about the declining availability of stipendiary clergy over the coming years and the necessity of enabling the churches to survive and grow within this environment. Each parish was asked to send delegates and the conference was open to all church members of the Deanery.

The three guest speakers were (Hope) Canon Jean Coates, Rural Officer for Dorset (Faith) Dr. Tim Gibson, Director of Exploring Christianity, South West Ministry Training Course (Love) Bishop Peter Maurice, Bishop of Taunton.

Canon Jean spoke of her personal pilgrimage each year to Greenbelt, a Christian festival held on Cheltenham racecourse; a secular venue accommodating people of all ages and every creed. Greenbelt offers encouragement and hope. Where do we find hope? Canon Jean, who is married to a Methodist minister, told us of the ‘multiplex’ church on Portland and how she has introduced this idea to her benefice of five churches in Dorset but calls it Church with Choices. Held once a month at 10.00am in either a C of E or Methodist church, people are encouraged to join in the opening worship and then make a choice of what they do next – it might be to join a dance group, go for a walk, learn the rudiments of the Eucharist, read the Sunday papers, have a coffee or even stay for the main service.

Dr. Tim Gibson asked if we felt irrelevant when we saw so many people rushing about doing other things on a Sunday, whilst we went to church. Do we feel confident as Christians, how successful are we at embodying our faith. Genesis 1 vv 26 reads: Then God said ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.’ To be made in the image of God means to live our lives to the benefit of others. We must move forward, the church is called to speak the language of contemporary culture, we must participate in the community but we must do things for the greater good, not simply for our benefit. Don’t join organisations with the hope of self aggrandisement, or special perks along the line, join because you want to be of service. Whatever we do, we should never abandon our worship life – to give thanks and praise to our living Lord. St. Augustine said that the Eucharist is the outward, visible sign of an inward, invisible grace. Dr. Gibson went on to say that he thinks that the climactic part of the Eucharist is at the end when we are empowered to …. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

Bishop Peter told us of Sarah Joseph who had turned to Islam ten years ago, and then came 9/11. Christians were hard and accusing, she found her situation difficult. Bishop Peter said that there is a tendency for us to be tribal as opposed to trans-formative. Love is never tribal. We must return to the Gospels where are told that perfect love casts out fear (of people we do not know). Mother Theresa said that we can do, not great things, only small things with great love. Bishop Peter continued and said that when things go wrong, perhaps illness, loss of job or some other unspeakable disaster, then it is the grace of God that closes the gap between people – one suffers, all suffer – one rejoices, all rejoice.

The hardest spiritual exercise for most of us is to love our neighbour as self. As we look at every person, we see the face of God. The fear of stranger comes more naturally to us than the love of stranger – the supreme challenge is to love the stranger a self. When hostility is turned to hospitality, fearful strangers can become out guests (and our friends). Jesus is the face of god – looking out to the world. Do our churches look outwards to the wider community or do we tend to look inward and concentrate only on ourselves? Think of those who are not in our image in our community and how do we respond to them? The day was one of strong fellowship and it was valuable to meet with those from the other parishes in the Deanery. All three speeches were delivered with much warmth, thoughtfulness and a great deal of humour.

The Rural Dean closed the Conference with a short time of worship. (Written by Catherine Cavender Deanery Rep, Dowlish Wake)

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