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Conference 2018

2018 Annual Conference of Modern Church

Ritual, Worship & Culture

Monday 16th to Wednesday 18th July 2018

at High Leigh Conference Centre, Hoddesdon, Herts

- See photos of the event

- Audio of conference papers now available

Chair: Revd Canon Dr Jo Spreadbury - Hear Conference Chair Jo Spreadbury introduce the 2018 conference.

Chaplain: Revd Ian Mobsby

Download the conference programme

Read more ...

Conference 2014

A Liberating Spirit?
Exploring Spirituality for the 21st Century


Monday 14th to Thursday 17th July 2014 at High Leigh Conference Centre, Hoddesdon, Herts

Read more ...

Conference 2011: further information

by Adrian Thatcher

Will I find the conference relevant?

Yes. 2011 is the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible,  or 'Authorised Version'. Modern Church believes that knowing how to read the Bible is just as important as knowing what is in it. So we have designed our 2011 annual conference to focus upon how Christians in the present are to be imaginative, faithful readers of the scriptures.

We will face up to the embarrassment many parts of the Bible continue to cause us. We will avoid nostalgia for a past era of Christendom.  We will not make exaggerated claims for the Bible or allow literalist readings of it to impair our understanding and harm our souls. Instead we will seek new ways of engaging with the Bible and letting it engage with us.

Who will I hear and what will they be saying?

You will hear outstanding presenters. Our line-up provides an enviable balance between women and men, and between internationally known theologians with an established reputation for scholarship and communication with their audiences, and distinguished younger theologians who will bring fresh counsel, energy and insights to the conference.

The Revd. Prof. John Barton is Oriel and Laing Professor  of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture at the University of Oxford. The latest of his many books is The Bible, The Basics (Routledge).  He will speak on The New Atheism: Reflections of a Biblical Scholar.  Answers to the 'new atheism' have come mainly from philosophers and scientists rather than from a humanities perspective, but there is also a possible response from modern biblical study. This has two aspects: first, an examination of the biblical idea of God, showing that Richard Dawkins et al. have the wrong god in their sights; and second, an examination of how we read biblical (and other) texts, suggesting that knowing God is analogous to the knowledge we gain there.

Dr. Susannah Cornwall is Honorary Research Fellow in Theology at  the University of Exeter. Her new book, Sex and Uncertainty in the Body of Christ (Equinox) is published in December 2010. Susannah is currently researching and taking part in a contextual Bible reading project. She will share her experiences of how communal, close, and contextual readings can lead to personal and social transformation, especially for people at the margins of society.

The Revd. Dr. Maggi Dawn is Chaplain and Fellow in Theology at Robinson College, Cambridge. She is the author of The Writing on the Wall: High Art, Popular Culture  and the Bible (Hodder & Stoughton, 2010). She will demonstrate how our literature, art, music, and poetry are built on Christian concepts and biblical references. She will prompt us to think not only about the dependence of culture upon the Bible, but on how the arts themselves open up avenues of biblical interpretation.

Prof. Gerard Loughlin is Professor of Theology and Religion at the University of Durham. Gerard will lead a session on the Bible and film. He will show us how the Bible and 'cinematic texts' can interact together,  so that our reading and our watching may mutually inform each other. Among Gerard's many books is Alien Sex: The Body and Desire in Cinema and Theology (Blackwell, 2004).

Dr. Alison Milbank teaches Theology in the University of Nottingham where she specializes in all aspects of religion and culture, from vampires to Dante. Alison will show us how our reading of the Bible and of literary texts  can interact together, so that our readings of each may mutually inform each other. Her well known book, Chesterton and Tolkien as Theologians (T&T Clark)  was re-printed in 2009. Her latest book, with Andrew Davison, For the Parish:  A Critique of Fresh Expressions (SCM, 2010), has a chapter on renewing the Christian imaginary.

Dr. Francesca Stavrakopoulou is Senior Lecturer in Hebrew Bible at the  University of Exeter. Her most recent book is Land of Our Fathers: The Roles of Ancestor Veneration in Biblical Land Claims (T&T Clark, 2010). Early in 2011 Francesca will present the BBC TV documentary series  The Bible's Buried Secrets. She will present a session, illustrated with excerpts  from her series, entitled God's ex-Wife. This will provide a fresh view of the key stories and figures in the Hebrew Bible, arguing that the history and religion of ancient Israel was very different from its biblical portrayal.

Prof. Christopher Rowland is Dean Ireland's Professor of the Exegesis of Holy Scripture at the University of Oxford. The latest of his many books is  Blake and the Bible (Yale University Press, 2011). By considering a range  of Blake's paintings and engravings on all parts of the Bible, Chris will help us  to understand the enduring value of Blake's biblical hermeneutics  and allow Blake's images to stir our imaginations.

Prof. Adrian Thatcher is Visiting Professor in Theology at the  University of Exeter. He is author of The Savage Text: The Use and Abuse of the Bible (Wiley-Blackwell, 2008). Adrian is Chair of the conference and will give a keynote address.

How will I learn at the conference?

Built into some of the sessions will be time for viewing pictures, watching film,  studying TV programme clips, doing contextual Bible reading together, analyzing  short pieces of literary texts, and doing some theological reflection in small groups,  in a cafeteria-style conference setting. Other sessions will be more conventional lectures with opportunities for questions.

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Conference 2013 - resources

Books, DVDs etc
  • Creation: A Biblical Vision for the Environment,  M Barker, T&T Clark (Continuum imprint) (10 Dec 2009) 978-0567015471, £17.99
  • Temple Theology: An Introduction,  M. Barker, SPCK Publishing (23 April 2004) 978-0281056347, £9.99
  • How Many Lightbulbs Does it Take to Change a Christian? A Pocket Guide to Shrinking Your Ecological Footprint,  Claire Foster and David Shreeve, Church House Publishing (20 April 2007) 978-071514127, £4.99
  • Don't Stop at the Lights: Leading Your Church Through a Changing Climate,  Claire Foster and David Shreeve, Church House Publishing (18 July 2008) 978-0715141380, £14.99
  • Sharing Eden: Green Teachings from Jews, Christians and Muslims,  Natan Levy, David Shreeve, Harfiyah Abdel Haleem, Lindsay Swan (Editor),  Kube Publishing Ltd (27 Jun 2012) 978-1847740410, £4.99
  • Jesus and the Earth,  James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool, SPCK Publishing (21 Nov 2003) 978-0281056231, £6.99
  • Paint the Church Green,  Ellen Teague, published by Kevin Mayhew, 978-1848670273, £7.99
  • Sustaining Life,  Eric Chivian, OUP USA, Ill edition (15 May 2008) 978-0195175097, £22.50
  • Moral Ground (Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril),  Moore and Nelson, with chapters by the Dalai Lama, John Paul II, Patriarch Bartholomew and many others;  Trinity University Press (27 Oct 2011) 978-1595340856, £11.99
  • Tree of Rivers (the story of the Amazon),  John Hemming, Thames & Hudson (9 Nov 2009) 978-0500288207, £14.95
  • Animate Earth (science, intuition and Gaia), Stephan Harding, Green Books, Second edition (30 Mar 2009) 978-1900322546, £12.95
  • What has Nature ever done for us?,  Tony Juniper, Profile Books (10 Jan 2013) 978-1846685606, £9.99
  • Eco-Theology, Celia Deane Drummond, Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd (2008) 978-0232526165, £19.95
  • The Sacred Universe: Earth, Spirituality and Religion in the Twenty-First Century,  Thomas Berry, Columbia University Press (2008) 978-0231149525, £15.95
  • Care for Creation (a franciscan spirituality of the earth), Ilia Delio and others, Messenger Press, Cincinnati, Ohio (2008) 978-0867168389, £12.44
  • Climate and Christ: A prophetic alternative, Edward P Echlin, The Columba Press, Dublin (2008) 978-1856076906, £9.50
  • The Wisdom of John Muir, Anne Rowthorn, Wilderness Press, Birmingham Alabama (2012) 978-0899976945, £9.99
  • Planet Wise: Dare to care for God's world, Dave Bookless, Inter-Varsity Press, Nottingham, England (2008) 978-1844742516, £7.99
  • Places of Enchantment: Meeting God in Landscapes, Graham B Usher, SPCK (2012) 978-0281067923, £10.99
  • The Rough Guide to Climate Change: the symptoms, the science, the solutions, Robert Henson, Rough Guides Ltd, London (2011) 978-1848365797, £12.99
  • The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas that have shaped our World View,  Richard Tarnas, Pimlico (2010) 978-1845951627, £16.99
  • Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View,  Richard Tarnas, Plume, U.S (2008 reprint) 978-0452288591, £16.99


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Conference 2013 intro: The Earth is the Lord's (Psalm 24:1)

by Conference Chair Margaret Barker

The Church needs a characteristically Christian approach to the current environment crisis. There is a danger that by repeating fashionable secular positions, the Church may be adopting ideas and assumptions that are not compatible with our core beliefs.

This conference will be Bible-based, looking again at the fundamental biblical vision of the creation and for the creation. This is based on the oldest understanding of covenant, which saw the whole creation, both visible and invisible, bound together in one God- given system.  'Covenant' means 'binding together'. What modern environmentalists call an ecological system or the web of life, the Old Testament calls the eternal covenant.

The biblical view challenges many of the assumptions on which modern economic systems are based: that growth can continue without limit, whereas the Bible sets a Sabbath rest as the goal; development until everything is very good and then a recognition that the work is complete.

The biblical view sees the current situation as a spiritual crisis: human beings do not lack the knowledge to make things better, but they do lack the will. The irresponsible and selfish use of knowledge has caused  the degradation of 'the world and those who dwell therein' (Psalm 24.1). When Adam chose the wrong tree, he found himself in a world of dust and thorns, toil and death. Isaiah had a vision of the whole creation disintegrating because people  had broken the eternal covenant (Isaiah 24.4-6).

The biblical view prescribed atonement - which means healing - to restore the creation. Temple rituals for the penitent were based on self-sacrifice and the obligation to put right what had been damaged. Only recently have we heard secular voices saying  we need to reduce consumption and self interest.

The three sections of this conference address the three stages of the process:

  • setting up the eternal covenant - with an exploration of the neglected aspects  of biblical teaching about the creation;
  • breaking the eternal covenant - with examples of how our present political  and economic set-ups are making the situation worse;
  • restoring the covenant - with examples of how industrial practice is waking up to reality.

Back to conference 2013