My name’s Ben, I’m married to the wonderful Mikka, and we moved to Colchester at the end of August last year to join the church plant here, having studied, lived and been part of City church in Canterbury for the last few years. I grew up near Southend so can claim to be a genuine Essex boy.
After flinging a few clothes and a toothbrush into bags, we departed Colchester for the city of Norwich in the early afternoon, laden with a variety of healthy treats (chocolate and haribo), and stopping briefly for a hearty, nutritious meal (McDonalds).
The drive flew by (especially for Mikka, who dozed off) and in no time we were arriving at the car park behind the Kings Centre, Norwich. This brought back fond memories for me of the Leadership Conference a couple of years ago – Norwich is a lovely place, and so is Kings! Mikka and I were both looking forward to catching up with some old friends from Canterbury, but any events like these are also a great opportunity to meet a number of new people from all kinds of places.
We turned up part-way through the first main session of the weekend – a talk from Tom Shaw on challenge: how to bring it and receive it, why it is so valuable (but hard), and so on.
Next we had the first of two seminars: I went to one on worship, hosted by Olly Knight, which focused on how to make worship accessible for visitors and regulars alike. Meanwhile, Mikka went to the ‘Young, busy and leading’ seminar, which focused on why we serve, how we can do so, and how to lead in workplace environments.
At this point we got rather excited because it was dinner time! Unlike any previous conference I’ve been to, all the food was cooked and eaten on site – in the back half of the main hall. This meant that everyone could eat together, and have plenty of time to socialise rather than trekking across town to hunt for local sandwiches. The food itself was excellent (curry and lasagna - yes we had both…), and the catering team got an enormous and thoroughly deserved round of applause at the end of Saturday’s dinner. We bounced around, catching up with old Canterbury pals – many of whom are elsewhere themselves now, and had exciting stories to tell of church planting, new jobs, new human arrivals, and so on!
I was also relishing the buzz of meeting people, after initially feeling a tad weary on arrival; and there were plenty of people to meet!
After a good talk from Tom Scrivens on how God is jealous for us, and how we should be zealous for Him, a number of people departed to hotel rooms nearby – however we had plumped for the ‘Lilo City’ option of staying in the Kings Centre itself. I love the creativity of the title, but it was a bunch of guys who had forgotten roll mats or pillows, and bodged a few beds out of chairs before getting about 3 hours sleep (I’m certain I wasn’t the one snoring…). I’m told the ladies were slightly more prepared, and did actually have a number of lilos, but were apparently just as raucous.
Breakfast was fantastic – the faint whiff of unwashed ‘Lilo City’ residents was usurped by the fragrance of hot pastries. Croissants, pain-au-chocolats, maple and walnut, almond; the variety matched the quality. Although many said they were still full from a delicious meal the previous evening, this didn’t stop most from tucking in before the day’s teaching began.
On the Saturday, Tom Shaw spoke about discipleship and welcoming in the blind and the lame (favourite quote - "Go on Pope-man!") and Daniel Goodman spoke about the banana of anxiety - a representation of how who we are and what we do can go a bit wrong when we don't boast in the Lord; and when we don't know who He is and what He has done.
We spent quite a bit of a time with a lovely chap called Pete Coggan, who often videos at RM events, but is also quite good friends with some of the Canterbury crew. After being coerced into recording our highlights of the weekend, it was again lovely to sit and hear about how God has been faithful in different people’s lives, and how they are stepping out boldly to follow Him.
Mike Betts spoke about loving Jesus and knowing him intimately in the same way Jonathan did to David - and all the protection ("Ninja David") that comes from investing in that relationship.
All in all, a great couple of days - all who can go next year definitely should!
Ben & Mikka Parker