A first time attendee at the Swanwick conference reflects on her experience of the weekend and “the feeling of purpose and calling that became stronger and stronger as I chatted to people over tea, over meals and during break-out sessions”
“When I was asked to write something for the newsletter, about my experiences of this year’s NJPN conference, I thought it would be relatively easy – just write up what I’d seen and heard, make some conclusions, and job done. As a first time attendee, I’d come home full of inspiration and ideas, ready to write something down. But when I sat down in front of a blank screen, ready to type, I found that I couldn’t write anything at all. Writers block to the extreme.
So what was the problem? I’ve thought about it again and again over the last month, every time I try to write something and fail again. So I decided that instead of giving up completely I would write what I felt I could not write.
I couldn’t write down the feeling I got when I arrived at the conference and was welcomed with warmth and acceptance, like an old friend. That feeling of ‘coming home’ that can only be felt when you’ve been away from a place where you belong, for far too long. It was a feeling that only increased over the weekend, as I listened to speeches that seemed to speak directly to me, to my questions, my concerns and my ongoing self-doubt. A feeling of purpose and calling that became stronger and stronger as I chatted to people over tea, over meals and during break-out sessions. A feeling that these were people that I was supposed to meet, with thoughts and ideas that I needed to hear, and a strength of conviction that I needed to feel.
I couldn’t write down the feeling of personal grace and blessing that I experienced as I sat among so many people of common purpose and faith. How this reverberated with my own faith and conviction to live and work for the common good. How could I describe the feeling that I had when someone laid their hands on me and blessed me with such sincere love and joy that I didn’t know how to respond, except to say thank you. How could I describe that at all?
And how could I explain the feelings I had as I watched my young son blossom over the weekend, making new friends and immersing himself in the children’s programme. Visibly growing as a person, and bringing tears to my eyes as he spoke at the final liturgy, barely visible behind the tall lectern, telling us all that bullying must stop. How could I describe that moment in any sensible way?
The truth is, I couldn’t. I went to the conference with the hope of finding out more about Justice and Peace work, making new connections with others in the network, and gaining new ideas for my work in my own parish. I came away with all of these things, but I also found so much more. I found thoughts and feelings and an unexpected calling that I just couldn’t put into words and the start of a journey that I hope to continue for years to come. The only word that I could come up with was ‘profound’. I hope that next year I’ll be able to come up with a few more. Until then, I will humbly make use of someone else’s words, as they echo the sense of calling and faithful first steps that I brought away from the conference:
“Traveller there is no path. The path is made by walking.” Antonio Machado.
Thank you all for your part in these first steps.
Katrina Rigby, All Saints Parish, Newport, South Wales.