Report on the Conference 2014 by James Heywood

Over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend, the High Leigh Conference Centre resounded again and again to the best news ever heard in the world: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death; and to those in the tombs he has given life!” The annual Deanery Conference brought together a wonderfully diverse crowd of Orthodox Christians from all over the country and from abroad, and the choir, made up of singers from many parishes under Anne-Marie de Visser’s direction, sang the Paschal troparion and the other Paschal hymns with extra gusto, knowing that it was the last weekend when they would sing them for another year.

The topic of the Conference was “Freedom in Christ”. It was a suitably controversial topic, generating sometimes heated debate as to what Freedom actually means and is. Are we slaves or servants of Christ, and is there a difference? Are we naturally free, or perhaps invisibly enslaved by our assumptions? It became clear, however, that the limits of our freedom are imposed by the fallen world and our fallen nature. It is Christ-like love (philanthropy) that will make us free, such as we see in the saints. And, following the example of the saints, we aim to attain it by “voluntary enslavement” to Christ.

Twenty-five children attended this year, and the vitality they brought to the Conference was a source of joy to everyone. The children’s programme focussed on food. They produced prosphora for the Sunday Liturgy, and banana cake, brownies, muffins and “cocktail hedgehogs” for the Sunday evening party. The children also performed for us at the party, singing “Food, Glorious Food” and playing the piano, violin and other instruments. We have Viktor Mastoridis and his helpers to thank for organising all this and producing such excellent results.

The Conference began with considerable disappointment that our new Archbishop Job would not, after all, be attending. However, that changed to pleasure and even some pride, when the clergy made it known that the reason for his cancellation was that he had been chosen as one of the small delegation accompanying the Ecumenical Patriarch to Jerusalem for a meeting with the Pope on the 50th anniversary of the meeting of Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI, when the mutual anathemas were lifted.

At the closing session, Jenny Musther confirmed, to the sorrow of all, that she was standing down as manager of the conference, and asked for volunteers who would be prepared to take over from her. While she has been in the position,  Jenny has managed, without showing the enormous strain on herself, to make everything run smoothly and everyone feel welcome. A hard act to follow!

Father David and his team again presented us with a stimulating and varied programme around a very important topic, bringing out in different and effective ways the crucial difference between what we, as Orthodox Christians, understand as true freedom, and the many banal and conflicting “freedoms” bandied about in the individualist culture in which we live.

As always, it was a delight to meet so many people from around the Deanery, in the comfortable and peaceful surroundings of High Leigh. Those encounters alone would make the weekend worthwhile. Those, and the excellent talks and workshops, made it an edifying and memorable Conference. We look forward eagerly to next year’s Conference.

James Heywood