The last few days gave been spent with a gathering of Baptist ministers in a seaside university town in Scotland. This is the second time I've been, and I found it a much more positive experience this time than last. These events are always something of a mixed blessing (I should know, I helped organise them for several years in my last place) and there is no way that anyone is ever going to please all, or even, most of those who go along. I am grateful for the opporutnity to go along, and to thsoe who worked hard to plan and deliver it.
The good things included...
The fact that there were SIX women ministers present. (Please don't call me a lady minister... unless you intend to call the other 95% gentlemen ministers...)
The speaker's careful and thorough preparation, and the few times he allowed himself to ground/root what he was saying in his own experience. I found the account of his wife's utterly sensible prayer for a woman dying of secondary cancer very refreshing. Others were equally moved by his account of his son's questions around faith.
The conversations over meals or in queues or in the pub or elsewhere some when some sessions were 'bunked off'. I think I've come late to the joys of bunking off... in the old place there were explicitly no expectations that you be in any session, so there was no bunking to be done, you just opted in rather than out... clever, huh?
The not so good things were...
The fact that the vast majority of language was 'male', that every mention of 'minister' used the pronoun 'he', and that in prayers we were (with one notable execption, thank you G) referred to as 'brothers' (Actually there were two, cos I said 'sisters and brothers', the order being just a teeny bit deliberate)
The use of a hymn that contained the expression 'holy war'.... what? Jihad? A quick search in Hymnquest revealed 16 more such hymns. Oh dear. Oh no. No. That's plain wrong.
The flippancy of response to a serious - and needed - request by one minister that time be given over for us to pray with and for one another, coupled with the expectation that those not on email or Facebook needed to get themselves online asap. Disappointing.
The things that never change...
The futility of sending in dietary restrictions. When I arrived I was told to go and speak to the chef, who was very helpful... but on each day there was no main course I could eat, and only one suitable dessert in the entire conference. I have to say I ate remarkably healthily - but who goes to a conference to eat salad and fruit?!
The things that absolutely must change
Oh my word. Communal shower rooms (albeit with lockable cubicles). In this day and age. With a mixed group. No. Not good enough. Not even a decision to allocate one shower room for women (evidently there was a designated one two floors up...). Shudder!
Overall despite the grumblings above, I actually had quite a good time. I think there is now a 'critical mass' on women which does make a difference to the feel of the event. It was good to catch up with folk from other places, and to meet 'new' people. I came away relaxed if not refreshed, intact if not inspired. Yes, on balance, I think that, like earth, in the 2nd Ed. THHGTTG, it was 'mostly harmless'
(PS If anyone is reading this was there, and was offended or antagonised by my 'preacher' tee-shirt, I apologise; it was intended to 'provoke thought' but certainly not to hurt or offend.)