It felt a bit like coming home, arriving at Wallis House for another 24 hour conference with CMN. Familiar faces and newcomers assembled in the lounge area, sharing a hot cuppa on a cold day and waiting for the call to lunch and the announcement that bedrooms were finally ready for us. Seventeen denominations and organisations were represented from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, making a total of 24 people – a goodly number to share fellowship, ideas and discussion. And a tasty turkey dinner (with vegetarian option, of course) made a welcome start to proceedings.
Opening worship was led by Andrea Harrison from the Salvation Army, as we thought about that which draws us together, our common ground. From an assortment of felt patches on the floor, laid out like autumn leaves in browns and oranges and golds and greens, we were encouraged to select a few and to sew them together – an instruction which different groups interpreted in various different ways. And so, a disparate group in some ways, yet joined in our faith and our calling, we set about the business of the day.
The afternoon was an opportunity to hear from Sam Richards and Mary Hawes about emerging trends and research about children in our current society and in faith contexts. Some sobering statistics were shared, especially about the long-term impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences affecting a high proportion of our under-fives, and from the Good Childhood Report from the Children’s Society. Mary shared with us about Sticky Faith and the importance of promoting faith at home. The slides from Sam and Mary’s talks have been shared around the group.
After a break for tea and biscuits, we reassembled for a World Café style discussion on some of the Hot Topics that had been submitted in advance of the conference. In fours and fives we gathered around tables to share our thoughts, feelings and ideas on: inclusion and accessibility for those with additional needs, developing a more intergenerational culture, approaching social justice with children and young people, how to approach intergenerational and children’s work in a very small congregation setting, and how to equip parents to nurture faith at home. There was a buzz of conversation – sometimes on topic, sometimes drifting a little – and some amazing art work from Mel.
After a supper of soup or chowder, we gathered once again, this time to consider Estates ministry among children, led by Sara Barron. We were challenged to consider the characteristics associated with children on estates of social housing and the impact that their environment might have on their outlook on life, their view of themselves, their attitudes and engagement. The outcomes were not all negative, by a long way, and we were very aware that these characteristics were huge generalisations which were not true of every estate or every estate dweller. But we also acknowledged the great need to bring the welcome, the support, the love of God into these environments in an appropriate way through the Ls – love, listen, learn, look and another one that I can’t quite remember (sorry Sara).
The evening session of the day took the form of a quiz delivered by Lorraine and Mel. Four teams hotly contested the prize: Popcorn, The Winners (not particularly aptly named), Keen as Mustard, and (be careful how you say it) Brainy Beeches. The Beeches were not as Brainy as they first thought, gaining the dubious honour of coming fourth, while Keen as Mustard definitely cut the mustard and were awarded the trophy (expertly drawn by Mel) as CMN quiz champions of 2019.
Wednesday morning saw us gathered for devotions, this time led by Rosy who used (unsurprisingly) a resource from ROOTS to guide our thoughts about what it meant to come before God with no agenda, no agenda but God’s agenda – a welcome moment of stilling before the business of the day.
The CMN business meeting was next, and an opportunity to discuss, amongst other things, our role within CTBI and our constitution, the finances of the group and the results from the working party’s discussions regarding our relationship with the colleges. Penny gave us some insight into progress with the Core Skills resources while Lorraine shared a taste of ECCE with the group in the form of a powerpoint which is going onto the CMN website. A farewell and thanks were expressed to committee member Richard Knott who is leaving his current role to take up the post of Children’s and Youth Work Development Officer of the West Midlands Synod of the United Reformed Church.
After a break for coffee, Dean arrived to tell us more about visual learning environments and TheologyX, which is the online platform which will be used to developing that aspect of the Core Skills training. I think it is fair to say that everyone was really quite impressed with the capabilities and ease of use of the platform which is a lot more attractive than Moodle (the one most people were familiar with). There was quite a sense of excitement in the room – goodness, 21st century technology being used in the church! The potential is immense.
There was a further opportunity for us to inspire each other as a group by sharing resources and projects through a time of “show and tell”. There was a range of things shared, from Aled’s Welsh bookmarks (perhaps limited in their appeal) to ROOTS’ sample of their free Christmas Stepping Stones resource, and Gail had an opportunity to plug her new book on family ministry which is being published in the new year and sounds to be a very worthwhile read. We will be looking out for tickets for the book launch in February!
And so the conference began to draw to a close and Sam led us in devotions based on the 30th Anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – bringing us full circle to the statistics we had heard on Tuesday morning. We considered just how few of those rights are met within our own country as well as across the world, and brought the needs of all children and young people before God in prayer. A slight change of plan due to Health and Safety/Risk Assessments, etc. had us drawing flames rather than lighting candles, but it did nothing to subtract from the prayerful atmosphere and the challenge to us to go out and make a difference. As prayers signalled the end of the conference, people slowly took their leave – some before lunch and some after (and some even earlier), depending on the demands of their homeward journey and other commitments.