Thursday, 20 June 2013

The Irish Conference

Having been to the Irish Conference before, I had been looking forward all year to visiting friends across the Irish Sea. This year's Conference was held in Carrickfergus, a few miles north east of Belfast. From the moment we (Mark, Hayley Moss, Rachel Coates and Isabel) arrived, it was quite literally a breath of fresh air. The arrangements committee had recruited younger blood, and had been given its head, which resulted in a very different balance of inspiration and business, with a real emphasis on the former. That, together with the installation of a new lay leader (Ken Twyble) to replace Gillian Kingston after three years, and the groundbreaking election of Heather Morris as President, the first female leader of a major denomination in Ireland, made it an exceptional Conference. Lots of worship, plenty of Bible study, generous time for discussion, excellent inputs from people such as Pete Greig (24/7 prayer) and Phil Meadows - and we also did some of the usual Conference business along the way! It will be up to others to decide if the balance between inspiration and business was the right one; but it made for a much more youthful feel and an uplifting 5 days. The evenings too were full with celebrations, but the British delegation were able to enjoy a splendid evening meal with Diane and Richard at Edgehill on Saturday. For me, a lot of the enjoyment was meeting old chums - people I have worked with in MMS Ireland in the past, former and present Irish mission partners, General Secs of MCIreland - Donald Ker and Ed Mawhinney - who have been so helpful over the years; friends such as Winston Graham. And what a privilege to be taken to Bangor by Ken Todd to meet and pray with Pa - Leslie Wallace, who meant so much to Isabel and myself when we were in Sierra Leone in the 1970s.
Back to Conference and lovely, gracious people, who looked after us very well indeed. Mark preached at the ordination service, and I preached at St Nicholas, Church of Ireland on Sunday morning - all the more significant following their Synod votes to go ahead with 'interchangeability of ministry' between CoI and MCI. This is a very significant breakthrough, voted almost unanimously by the CoI Synod. Apart from the excitement and media interest in Heather's election, there was also an air of anticipation about the G8 leaders flying into Belfast on Monday. There was a real buzz about the place.

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