Modern Church held its Annual Conference, chaired by the Revd. Canon Professor Martyn Percy, from Monday 14th to Thursday 17th July 2014 at High Leigh Conference Centre.

The conference focussed on the question of what it might mean to identify a ‘liberal’ approach to spirituality.

With many in our world seeming to have lost interest in institutions, and weary with dogmatic arguments, is there a credible ‘liberal spirituality’ that is engaged with contemporary culture?

The speakers at the conference presented a range of papers, each of which suggested that many today are looking for authentic, intelligent and accessible ways of reflecting on the realities and mysteries of life, and which can actually make a difference to their own lives. The conference offered participants - around 100 delegates –  the chance to explore some of the contemporary approaches to spirituality - through the lens of open minded and well-informed enquiry.

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More than 100 delegates attended Conference chair Martyn Percy on liberal spirituality Modern Church chair Jan van der Lely on labyrinth spirituality Mark Oakley on poetry and spirituality Modern Church vice-chair Tim Stead on mindfulness

Speakers included:

Professor Martyn Percy (Oxford University) on liberal spirituality, Professor Grace Davie (University of  Exeter) on understanding the 'centre' in British religion today, the Revd. Canon Mark Oakley (St. Paul’s Cathedral) on poetry and spirituality, the Revd Dr Emma Percy (Trinity College, Oxford) on ‘breastfeeding as a metaphor for grace filled service’, and the Revd. Dave Bookless (A Rocha) on worldly spirituality and ecology. Professor John Peacocke (Oxford) spoke on ‘Mindfulness’ as an ancient Spiritual practice for a modern secular context, Dr Abby Day (University of Kent) on religion and spirituality today - finding the spirit of ‘Generation A’, and finally, Dr Rachel Muers (University of Leeds) on ‘why silence isn’t doing nothing’ (and why it might be all right to do nothing – a reflection on the  spiritual challenges from Quaker tradition to contemporary culture).  Workshops were led by the Rev Carla Grosch-Miller (Psalms Redux – Radical translations of the Psalms), Revd Jan van der Lely (Labyrinth spirituality), the Revd. Tim Stead (Mindfulness) and on Modern Church’s Liberal Alpha Project.

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Conference audience Grace Davie on 'centre' of religion Enjoying the grounds
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Emma Percy on grace-filled service Rachel Muers on silence A presentation makes an impression
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Deep in dialogue Taking a break Haggling at the bookstall

The Conference basked in some of the warmest weather of the year, and we are profoundly grateful to the organisers, and to our hosts at High Leigh.  The number attending this year continues to affirm the growing interest in liberal approaches to scripture and Christian tradition, and the engagement of churches with the wider world.  The Conference, and Modern Church, continues to draw participants from across the ecclesial and theological spectrum, and remains one of the few genuinely ‘open’ forums in the United Kingdom for discussing Christian beliefs and practices in the world today. 

The quarterly journal of Modern Church, Modern Believing, will carry the conference papers in a special edition during 2015. Our thanks go to all those who spoke at the gathering, and to all who shaped and organised the programme for this year.

Audio recording of the conference speakers are now available to listen to or download here.