This morning we were up rather early for a Saturday in order to catch a train at Wokingham station, heading off to Oxford for the inaugural Affirming Liberalism conference. Even taking into account the annoying sitting around on Reading station that any trip to Oxford involves, thanks to the chaotic situation traffic wise in the city, much as with London, it is still much easier and quicker to go by train.
The conference was being held in Trinity College, which is one of the smaller of the colleges and sits between the much more popular Balliol College on one side, and â€œMr Blackwell’s shopâ€? – part of which is beneath one of the Trinity College quadrangles. The reason for the selection was that it had a nice little lecture theatre suitable for the expected sixty or so people. However since one hundred and forty people had booked, and we even had some people waiting outside to see if there were any people that didn’t turn up so they could get in, it proved to be a little small!
The initial idea, since there were now too many people for the lecture theatre was to have a video link-up between two adjacent lecture theatres. Unfortunately the technology failed on the day, so what happened in the end was that each speaker did their session twice, swapping between lecture theatres for the afternoon session.
We were in the main lecture theatre, so had Revd Dr Mark Chapman speaking about â€œReclaiming Liberal Christianityâ€? in the morning, and Revd Canon Professor Keith Ward speaking about â€œWhy the Future Belongs to Liberal Religionâ€? in the afternoon.
I have to say, that from my point of view, and especially on a Saturday morning, Mark Chapman’s session was pretty hard going. A lot of his session was talking about some of the history, in particular a lot of Victorian Church history, leading towards a look at where we are now. Thankfully he has written out his lecture, so it will be possible to work through what he has said in some detail once that has been published to the Affirming Liberalism site.
The afternoon session with Keith Ward was certainly more accessible from my point of view. Keith focused on seven points in his lecture – his proposition being that every single Christian should agree with some, or indeed all of them. Again, the content of the lecture will be published to the Affirming Liberalism site, so I won’t try and recap it all here.
In between the two sessions we had a service in the College Chapel, and a fantastic lunch – which served venison alongside a chicken and a fish dish. Interestingly, most people seemed to be going for the venison – I assume for a similar reason to me in that you don’t often see it on a menu!
We also took a walk next door during the lunch break, taking in â€œMr Blackwell’s shopâ€?, where we took a look at the three miles of books downstairs, and also Beth had a real English Teacher moment when she discovered that the shop actually has a Shakespeare department!
The day seemed to be very well received amongst the attendees, with many looking forward to the next meeting. We had good support from across the Diocese and beyond (attendees from as far afield as Wales and Essex), and with the Bishop of Oxford himself putting in an appearance, and asking Professor Ward a difficult question or two. I’ve uploaded pictures taken during the day to Flickr, and will link to the transcripts of the sessions once these have been posted.