My name is Dave Shaw and I’m a trainee Methodist Pioneer Minister, based in The Meadows area of Nottingham, where I manage a Trussell Trust foodbank which provides 16,000 meals to folk ‘in crisis’ each year.

As part of exploring my own calling to ministry I joined the Methodist Pioneering Pathway last year and I’m currently a full-time student doing a BA in Contextual Ministry and Practical Theology at St John’s College in Nottingham. This was where I saw the 2018 Modern Church conference on Ritual, Worship and Culture advertised.

In a previous church life I was part of an alternative worship community, where we deliberated at length on the relevance of ritual and culture, and my continuing reflections attracted me to the theme of this year’s conference. I very much appreciated the opportunity to take up a student place at the conference and the generosity of those who provided funding for this.

The venue at High Leigh is well suited to the size and make up of the conference, although this year the lawns were looking very brown and some of the ornamental trees were being regularly watered and given some TLC. The conference made use of most of the large meeting rooms, although the chapel was set aside for personal reflection and prayer. It was great to be able to make extensive use of the terrace, whether for breakfast or end of day drinks, and sit and chat with other delegates.

Reflecting on the whole conference, I particularly found helpful the experience of being on the Forest Church workshop, with Tim Stead. This appealed to the kinesthetic aspect of my learning style, as well my interest in the relationship we have, as humans, with the natural environment. I found this time personally significant, sensing a new connection with God’s divine presence during this session.

The conference speakers were excellent, beginning with Douglas Davies’ keynote speech, where he highlighted the emergence of emotions (in religious experience) as a line of academic study, as well as the cultural outworking of reciprocity theory and the ‘Fourth Obligation’.

Steve Hollinghurst’s lecture provided fresh insight into the changing context of spirituality in the UK today, contrasting the features of modernity and post-modernity, in regard to spirituality. There was an ensuing discussion on my table as to whether the spirituality of Millennials represented a further sea change. 

Sandra Miller, in her after-dinner speech, challenged us to find out the needs of those visit our churches and then consider how we do caring ‘consistently well’.

Conference Chair Jo Spreadbury cautioned about ‘over-explaining’ ritual, as this risked undermining the power of the action, or ritual. However, she also challenged us to consider our own reactions to the rituals of others, such as making the sign of the cross, or raising hands in sung worship.

Ian Mobsby pointed to evidence, from research he had undertaken, that folk find living in a market-led economy damaging, concluding that we were now seeing the emergence of a post-secular culture of the ‘atomised self’, where we had lived beyond our means, yet consumption is still used to try and recover a sense of personal significance. Ian encouraged us to consider afresh the elements of art, wisdom, experience, spiritual encounters as symbols of transrationalism, as we help folk explore spiritual journeys.

On the last day of conference Meg Warner introduced some interesting insight into the changing nature of ritual through the period of temple worship, as recorded in the Bible. She illustrated how changes in application of the Torah continued through the ministry of Jesus and the early Church and pointed out that we too are invited, in the process of being faithful to the Biblical witness, to engage with the Torah and wrestle with it.

Angela Tilby gave the last lecture, illustrating how the work of a liturgist involves devising forms of liturgy which provide the space where the Christian Gospel meets our human need.

The talks can all be heard in full on the Modern Church website - I’ve listened to most of them again since returning from the conference. 

I’d like to express my thanks again to those who donated extra to fund free places for students. Book now for the 2019 conference on Theology in the public square - and give a little extra if you can.