The arched eyebrow of an 8 year old girl who has just recently mastered the art can be a bone chilling sight. The eyebrow went along with the “Planting churches Mummy ?” that greeted me as I had tidied up some advertising cards for the Vital Church Planting Conference that I had left on the kitchen table the other night.
Emma, our eldest daughter, would actually probably really enjoy the conference, and as I write this I think I just might bring her along for one of the days. She would like this annual conference for a number of reasons.
1) Emma likes to do things over and over (listen to the same song on her iPod shuffle, given to her by an indulgent uncle at Christmas). This conference is now into its fourth year and growing every year. Last year we had to have a waiting list for people to attend and the demand has been so significant that the conference has split in two, with one also now being held out in Alberta, VCP West.
2) She likes to listen to Mummy read stories with funny voices and accents. We have had some fantastic speakers over the last few years, some with southern drawls and others with clipped British accents. This year we have Pernell Goodyear (she will like the name and his tattoos), a young church planter from Hamilton, and Rachel Jordan, a church historian from England who is part of the leadership of the Fresh Expressions movement.
3) Her vivid imagination was fed this summer by reading Harry Potter. This conference is a chance to dream dreams and to begin to re-imagine what church needs to look like in our post-Christendom culture. What is the church of the future going to look like to be faithful to God’s mission? What tools and resources currently exist to help me, or my parish, begin that conversation about re-imagining church in fresh and new ways?
4) Why just play with one friend when you can invite over tons of little girls ? While the speakers have been challenging and encouraging, it is often the conversations with friends, old and freshly made, in the hallways, the workshops, the pub and over lunch that make the conference stand out. Being with over a hundred other people who are interested (just like you) in re-imagining church and starting fresh and new Christian communities can be so renewing and affirming. The networking that has taken place at each conference has been significant and has resulted in effective working relationships for gospel ministry taking root.
5) Emma likes to get her hands dirty. There are lots of practical workshops to choose from, depending on your level of knowledge and current church context. There is even a separate training track for bishops and other diocesan leaders.
6) She loves a good meal. Seriously . . . Each year on the evaluation forms we get glowing remarks about the food and facilities. It has been hosted each year so far at St. Paul’s, Bloor Street, in downtown Toronto, and the food has been great.
This is a conference for everyone (okay, maybe not many 8 year olds should attend)—lay leaders, clergy, bishops . . . everyone. If you haven’t yet signed up, then you can do so online at www.vitalchurchplanting.com. Hope to see you there.