This Conference was a first for EF in a number of ways – it was the first time we had a joint conference with the group Courage, and it was the first time we had been to Belsey Bridge in Bungay in Suffolk, making it the first time we have met in Suffolk. The other East Anglian venue we have had was in Ely in March 1984.
Because it was a joint conference it was the first time for some time that we were not able to have a pre-AGM meeting. The AGM had a full 2-hour slot on Saturday and we were able to efficiently deal with the agenda in that time. It was proposed, and unanimously carried, that we make a donation of £200 which would be mainly covered as our standard 10% of subscriptions for last year.
As a joint conference with Courage there were a number of things that were slightly different from our usual procedure.
We still had our morning prayers, both of which were led by EF members. We were pleased that a number of Courage people participated in these.
The Friday evening was an introductory session, relevant to the theme, by the speaker. There was also a main theme session on Sunday morning. This meant that Saturday was not a ‘stand alone’ day as we usually try to make it. This was not a huge setback as, although all sessions were relevant to the theme, each did not totally depend on having been present for the others. The evening concluded with an epilogue.
Saturday evening relaxation took the form of one and half hours of ‘Corporate Entertainment’. This ranged from the seriously spiritual to the secular hilarious in equal measure. EF members were well represented in both categories.
Sunday morning worship was conducted by a C of E priest. He shared that this was the first time he had presided at communion or preached for at least two years because of problems with his church, and he was moved by the opportunity to do so. Another example of the inclusivity of the LGBT Christian community. EF members were equally represented in serving the chalice and reading scripture portions.
We were also appreciative of the fact that this service included the usual commissioning of our new committee. The first time in worship which was not an EF only occasion. James conducted this in an entirely appropriate manner which left everyone feeling part of the proceedings.
The speaker for the weekend was Justin Lee. Justin is the founder and executive director of the Gay Christian Network which supports Christians worldwide “who happen to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT)”. Their mission, “sharing Christ’s light and love for all,” is carried out to impact individuals, families, communities, churches, and the world.
In all the main conference sessions Justin emphasised the need for the experiences that we had known in and from the church, which treated us as ‘marginalised and rejected people’, to be learned by the church so that it could become what God needed the church to be in the world today. As LGBT Christians we have so much to teach the church and we need to be ambassadors to the church so that it can become all that God wanted it to be.
The effectiveness of the weekend, and especially of the contribution made by the speaker, was greatly evidenced by the testimonies given in the debriefing session after lunch on Sunday when at least eight people spoke very movingly of what the weekend had meant to them in their spiritual journey as they accepted the challenge of the speaker to become the people that God needed in the church today.
This debriefing session, an experience new to EF members, was concluded when Brenda Marks from Courage, who had chaired this session, asked that we especially pray for Pam Gold following the passing of her partner Brenda. She suggested that a number come forward and lay hands on Pam. (Please forgive the personal reference) I went forward as one willing to lay hands on Pam and found the microphone placed in front of me and I accepted the privilege of offering the prayer. The general feeling from people of both groups was that this joint effort had been a real success and that it should be done again some time in the future.