The venue facilities were as good as ever, the atmosphere of fellowship, friendship and fun were all that we have come to expect from our conferences. I will therefore concentrate on the main sessions of the weekend, which was led by a retired Anglican priest, Rev. Brian Smith who has been a member of EF for any years and now serves on the committee.
The theme of the weekend was ‘The Bible and me – and abusive relationship?’ This theme was covered in three sessions. In the first session Brian described how he became a Christian having been brought up in a distinctly anti-Christian home, having been severely chastised for following a band into a church for a Remembrance Day service. He was greatly influenced by people and the experiences he had seeing their attitudes and way of life that impressed him and gave him the desire to follow them. By the age of 23 he was ready to be baptised and soon afterwards offered himself for training as an Anglican priest. In a short while he was training at Kelham Theological College. He came to understand that being Christian and gay presented a challenge but for Brian his mantra was the one word ‘integrity’. Thus he would never deny his sexuality unless in disclosing it the ‘proclamation of the Kingdom of God would be impeded.
With no previous knowledge or study of the Bible Brian had an advantage over his fellow students who came to college with their pre-conceived interpretation of the Bible. Brian came with an open mind and was able to see that God was always revealing something new or helping us to understand old things in a new way. Thus the purpose of the weekend was set and we looked forward with the understanding that the Bible was a ‘collection’ of books copies and translated many times over the centuries.
The second session concentrated on seeing the Old and New Testament in a new light from what we might have traditionally thought. New light was shown on the Exodus story and the place and purpose of the Last Supper. In one of his concluding statements, after much explanation, Brian summarises this session by saying ‘Every time we celebrate the Eucharist we are not celebrating a Christian Exodus and Passover, liberation from slavery; instead, we are celebrating the Atonement, the unity of heaven and earth through our High Priest’s sacrifice.
The final session challenged us as to how to use the Bible. If it has been translated and even ‘doctored’ over the centuries is it really relevant? Can we not just ignore it? Brian did not think so. It is so much part of culture, both as society in general and as our Christian heritage in particular.
At one point Brian says ‘If we believe that slavery and patriarchy is wrong, then we will either ignore scriptural passages that suggest otherwise or find some other way to interpret them. Our reading of the Bible is informed by our culture, our nurture and our experience. To deny this is to live in a fool’s paradise.’
He concludes ’The Bible is a wonderful resource. It is not the answer to all our questions….. it does give us insight into how others have struggled to understand their experiences in relation to the meaning of existence in general, and may help us in our quest for identity, meaning and purpose.’
I am grateful to Brian for making the full text of these sessions available to us and I hope you, as I, will look at the Bible narratives in a new and enlightened way.