The Saffron Planet “Foundations” Conference at Quinta : What actually happened.
It was an experiment, a consequence of stuff I had written about but never really experienced. What could happen if we got a bunch of like-minded people together for a weekend for a loose programme of sharing, caring, fun, fellowship … and, of course, teaching? Everything was just a vague pattern in my brain when our team arrived at Quinta on Friday afternoon. None of the team really knew what to expect, as I barely knew myself. But I just trusted that they were the right people, that the event was the right place at the right time and that the delegates were hand-picked by the Lord to be pioneers on something that was, according to the general consensus afterwards, quite new and quite special.
It was the middle of winter. Many were frightened away by the fact that the previous two Januarys had been thick with snow. Our delegates were made of sterner stuff and we were rewarded by perfect travelling weather as people arrived on the Welsh borders from Kent and the South coast, from Sunderland in the North East (some changing trains four times), many from the North West and others from towns and villages sprinkled across the land. In all there were 65 of us there, all living and meeting in a huge old house, Quinta Hall.
Friday night was tightly planned. A short sketch to set the tone, a brief introduction, prayer, Bible reading and a five minute sermonette from Louie our boy-wonder. The topic for the evening was “Dodgy Doctrines”, a topic determined by feedback I had from the delegates on the pre-conference questionnaire. We attacked the subject not in the usual manner through the pontifications of a recognised teacher, but by provoking the delegates with a short clip of Joel Osteen being grilled by Larry King on his TV talk show, then switching on the microphones … as battle commenced. After a slow start as folk flexed their debating muscles, many found their voice as Moira on the roving mike was spun from corner to corner like a whirling dervish. A debate ensued, with a lot of passion and scripture sparring. It was entertaining, but not particularly edifying. I hoped for better, it was the only time in the whole conference that I felt uncomfortable.
Later on as I looked back I felt that an important point had been made, that Hebraic conferences should not be about debate and argument, but instead should be an interaction between like minds with a commonality of purpose. Debates are very much Greek phenomena, an intellectual locking of horns by protagonists who are very unlikely to have opinions swayed from their entrenched positions, often arguing with great emotion and passion, in contrast to an open Hebraic discussion, where the Holy Spirit is allowed to draw people deeper into the truth, aided by minds open to the assurance that they are participating in a shared journey, not a battle. For this reason I could see that any future conference would have to be on topics that are conducive to such an approach.
Some did not get to their beds that night until gone midnight, as many discussions took that long to peter out. There were many bleary eyes in the morning (the hard beds didn’t help :-))
Saturday was a marathon of a day (especially for me, as you will see). I launched into the first of the two teaching sessions at 9am, an illustrated journey through the rise of Greek influences on the Church, specifically concentrating on the damage wreaked by Plato on the Early Church, which was carried through right until modern times. This was eye-opening stuff for those who hadn’t read my book (How the Church Lost the Way – available at all good book stockists ;-))
We wanted delegates to have maximum freedom to express themselves, so as well as having the group discussions, we also had divided up the delegates into six smaller discussion groups, each led by one of our team. After a tea break they met for the first time. On the whole each group did well, although the dynamic was different in each case, due to the make-up of the group in terms of personalities, bible knowledge and wackiness. In retrospect we should have ensured a better sprinkling of Bible eggheads (our term for the fifteen or so self-confessed Bible experts, as determined by our pre-conference questionnaire) and a better mix of personality types. Nevertheless, discussions were lively and relevant and most felt enriched by the experience.
After lunch I had my second teaching session, another illustrated journey, this time a sweep of Church history, concentrating on the damage done by Aristotle and a whistle-stop tour of the doctrinal battlegrounds of Creation, Israel, Salvation, Hell and the End Times (on a personal note, half way through this session I managed to pull a muscle in my side, necessitating an emergency bout of prayer, massage and pep talk – but I pulled through, trooper that I am!)
After this session the small groups reconvened. They were a lot more familiar with each other by now and the conversations were generally a bit more free-er). Then came the fun – ninety minutes of personal preference, which could have been rest, a DVD show (“Expelled” was shown), or one of three workshops; these were Hebraic dance (led by Monica, Gabi, Moira and Jackie), Acting (led by my son, Jony) and Crafts (a demonstration by my Mum of how to make papier-mache rabbis – the mind boggles!)
After dinner was the second main discussion group meeting of all the delegates. You’ll remember that the previous one had proven a tad contentious. This time the topic was “Israel and the Church”. First we had a brilliant performance from Jony of his one-man drama, ‘Elijah on Mount Carmel’, followed by the first launch of my new book, Outcast Nation (available at all good stockists … blah blah). Then a short documentary on Anti-semitism, which was very poignant and hard-hitting, followed by a discussion.
But what a difference. This was discussion, not debate. The reason was that everyone was on the same side (or those that weren’t simply kept their mouths shut!) What we didn’t know was that many delegates were either members of the main messianic or pro-Israel ministries, or had small ministries of their own concerned with Israel and the Jewish people. This could have become a bland mutual appreciation chat, but it wasn’t. It was an interesting and informative shared session on how to reach those who teach replacement theology, how to move forwards in appreciating our hebrew roots and how to be sensitive to Jewish people. There was a common purpose, there was harmony, there was agreement. God must have been smiling. The meeting ended at 10pm.
By now I was well knackered, having taught in two sessions, led the main discussion and co-led two small discussion groups (to say nothing of prancing around in Jony’s acting workshop). It was time for Bible Quiz! Oy! And I thought everyone would be ready for bed. I had misjudged the total passion that most delegates had for the Bible. I told you this group was special!
Sleep came easier that night – mental exhaustion has its rewards! It was Sunday morning when the Lord really took charge.
For reasons that I won’t go into, Louie, our worship leader was sidelined. So an hour of worship and testimony became primarily a time of testimony. Led by Norman with incredible sensitivity and good humour it was slow to start. But then it started to flow with people opening up with personal testimonies, many that could only be given within a group characterised by love and true fellowship. Many tears flowed. A particular favourite – with more than one trip to the microphone – was our friend Ruth who, though hampered by a major stroke some 16 months earlier, managed to win over most hearts through her Biblical insights delivered by a brain nurtured by her Jewish upbringing into a refreshing Hebraic perspective.
It was decision time for me, as the hour was up and we should have moved into our third main discussion session. But it didn’t seem right, the atmosphere was one of sharing and worship, not of discussion (and probably more debate, as the topic to be covered was ‘peculiar practices’), so Monica and I decided to jettison the programme and just continue what we were doing.
But still no worship group, so Monica and Julie led some acapella singing (How Great Thou Art) and a moving time of prayer. More sharing, more tears, some Hebraic dancing and, before we knew it, lunchtime. Our final meal. The finishing post was in sight but most were not ready for the race to end.
Our last session after lunch. A wrapping up, some summaries, more discussions but tempered by the sadness that it was all about to end. Very few left early. Some clinged on as long as they could – could there be forcible ejections by Quinta?
Then it was over. Exhaustion and exhilaration in equal measure. Norman fired up the minibus for the slow trek home (it refused to go over 60 mph). We pored over the evaluation sheets. There were some fantastic comments. Most were blessed – we certainly were. Many new relationships forged and little networks birthed. A lot for folks to take home to their fellowships. A lot of thinking for us, too.
Could this be the start of something new? Only time will tell.