Unity movements gather at national summit
The inaugural Gather National Summit took place on 26th-27th June 2019 at the Ridgeway Centre in Milton Keynes, bringing together leaders of unity movements from across the UK.
Roughly 150 people gathered from as far afield as Exeter and Edinburgh - mostly local church leaders seeking to deepen their commitment to ecumenical life, as well as a number of Christian organisations from Evangelical Alliance (EA) to World Vision. Worship was led by a dynamic young band from Salford, with rousing singing and a nice gospel flavour.
I was struck by several things over the 24 hours together. This was a conference that, whilst relatively short, was extremely well thought out.
Sensitive use of technology really helped the conference be interactive. Online polls generated by conference members through their smartphones and laptops helped us see what some of the challenges and joys of ecumenical co-operation looked like. Mentimeter interactive presentation software was excellent for generating real time visuals and graphs. The use of google docs for capturing discussions around the table (rather than flip charts and marker pens… who can honestly read some of the terrible scribbles you get back) meant everything could be collated and used for future reference.
But tech aside, Gather was really a place of sharing inspiring stories, listening to where God is at work across the country, and having a chance to have your town or area prayed for by a dedicated prayer team.
The organising team clearly spent much time thinking about the best way to hear a number of stories. I appreciated the way every item in the programme was short and sweet, with plenty of time to speak to people from around the tables. We were actively encouraged to move around and get to know others, especially if we came with a group from a particular town or region.
On both days there were excellent interactive breakout sessions. Rev Yemi Adedeji, director of EA's One People Commission, expertly handled a session entitled ‘Overcoming ethnic disunity’. He helped remind us that it’s not only theology and ecclesiology that divides us, but often our own cultural and racial blinkers. I felt he and others (notably chairman of EA’s board Dr Tani Omideyi) created a safe place for people to ask questions and genuinely hear each other. As we increasingly enter a hostile environment where people find it difficult to live with difference, these kind of spaces are going to be vital.
Our own Dr Paul Goodliff, along with Robert Mountford, led a helpful session on the Thursday morning. ‘Connecting wider: Growing a broader consensus’ offered the opportunity to deepen understanding of the historic unity and ecumenical movements, and made suggestions of how to connect with Churches Together groups, as well as encouraging those working in the new unity movements like Gather to reach across to Roman Catholic, Pentecostal and Orthodox traditions. This was generally well received, and it felt like those already working together, but only representing parts of the church, acknowledged the need to be ready to take steps.
With an inaugural pub quiz at the aptly named ‘Be at One’ cocktail bar in central Milton Keynes, won by the North East region, there is much to celebrate and much to pursue in mission-shaped unity.
Ben Aldous, CTE's Principal Officer for Mission and Evangelism.