Almost 300 delegates and over 50 suppliers met together in June at the Hayes Conference Centre, Swanwick for Christian Resources Together 2012. The conference hashtag #CRT2012 reveals a Twitter stream full of pertinent observations, not least by super-speedy-trade-tweeter, Melanie Carroll.
CRT’s latest venue (in 2011 it was held at the smaller Highleigh centre) meant that almost 100 extra people registered for this year’s extremely well-run one-night, two-day retreat, a tribute to the meticulous organising skills of Steve and Mandy Briars.
For me, the most memorable aspect of the two days was the chance to hear not one, not two, but three really engaging speakers:
Mark Stibbe, The Father’s House Trust
Charlie Cleverely, Rector, St Aldate’s, Oxford
Alister McGrath, King’s College, London
The worship for each session – full of the presence of God – was sensitively and powerfully led by Lou Fellingham (Lead singer, Phatfish). Her new refrain to the Welsh hymn, Here is love vast as the ocean, particularly affected me:
Grace takes my sin,
Calls me friend,
Pays my debt completely
Love rescued me
And seated me with my King forever.
Opening the retreat, Mark Stibbe described Borders Bookstores as ‘an icon of a bygone age’! He spoke of the Book-trade facing huge challenges and being in ‘the perfect storm requiring prayerful and careful navigation’.
These points particularly struck me as Mark Stibbe worked through his five key ideas:
Passion – He spoke movingly of his adoptive father stimulating his own great love and passion for reading and writing, by deluging him with books during his youth!
Perspective – ‘There are never enough books to contain the wisdom of God’, ‘the Christian bookshop is an outpost of heavenly wisdom in the midst of a land of barren ideas’ and ‘we are in the business of the Kingdom and not the kingdom of business’.
Partnership – ‘All parts of the trade need the other’.
Proactivity – ‘We need not to be reactive but to breakout … Christian bookshops have immense value … the Starbucks founder talked of a third place, not at work or at home but of somewhere just to hang out … Bookshops can offer that sense of the presence of God … Indy’s can thrive again … we need a creative business model’.
Pliability – Stibbe especially recommended Jim Collins, ‘From Good to Great’.
‘No man can be called friendless who has God and the companionship of good books’. Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
On the second day, Charlie Cleverley was the guest devotional speaker and commenced with ‘God has not yet finished with the printed book’!
His latest book is about God-appearances: ‘Epiphanies of the Ordinary’ (Hodder Faith).
Charlie’s theme was ‘regaining vision’. In visions become realities. The vision of how good God is drives mission: ‘Grant unto me a vision that changes everything’.
In Revelation, John saw the heavens open. He saw the Divine. In Exodus 34, Moses boldly asked God ‘to show him His glory’ and Ezekiel wrote down the vision that he saw: colour, flashes and lightening, an awesome sight. On Patmos, John called the Church back to its first love. When we behold God’s glory, it will refresh and restore us.
Cleverley moved on to talk about stillness and discipline: Stop – Look – Listen. The discipline of living in the presence of God – not activism but contemplative prayer. He quoted Nouwen and Fenelon (Be silent and listen to God) and embarked on a tour of some of the great mystic writers of the Christian tradition.
He spoke about ‘being Charis-mystical’, of seeing the Lord and of the Prayer of Quiet. Then … of being stilled, of union and communion and of spiritual ecstasy. To be on fire with devotion. Of the patrimony, the inheritance of God. He encouraged retailers to so strive to hold resources in our outlets that will enable people to ‘see’ God.
Alister McGrath was the final speaker. It was a privilege to finally get an opportunity of listening to such an important theologian and apologist.
McGrath is author of the best-selling The Dawkins Delusion (SPCK) and he commented first on the Diamond Jubilee of Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis, 1952); the 60-year spiritual impact of which since publication has been ‘simply colossal’.
McGrath moved on to discuss the development of the New Atheism kicked off by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchins in 2006. Ironically the public debate had rekindled interest in God and, as a result, it’s now much easier to talk about faith and spirituality. There seems less enthusiasm for the new atheism, which indeed seems to be fading, but there remains in society a lingering interest in who God is and in the ‘Big Questions’.
Finally, Alister complimented all that was being done through Christian resources. His theme for the remainder of the session was ‘Building a vision of God, the Gospel and of who we are’. He drew our attention to Isaiah 6 and the need to refresh and renew our vision of God.
McGrath concluded by stressing the absolute constancy and faithfulness of God. God is utterly trustworthy even in the midst of much change.
Click here for a comprehensive report of the #CRT2012 industry awards: the People and Products.
Next year, Christian Resources Together will again be held at The Hayes Conference Centre, Swanwick on Monday 29th and Tuesday 30th April 2013.