Last Thursday and Friday (20-21 May) I was fortunate to attend the Holy Spirit in the World Today Conference at Holy Trinity Brompton. The speaker lineup was most impressive, including Archbishop Rowan Williams, Jürgen Moltmann, Professor Miroslav Volf, Professor David Ford, and Rev'd Tom Smail. Those with strong connections with HTB (i.e., Nicky Gumbel, Ken Costa, and Sandy Millar - now Bishop in Mission to London) and St Mellitus College (Rev'd Dr Graham Tomlin, Rev'd Dr Michael Lloyd, and Dr Jane Williams) also had a significant presence. I was impressed with way in which this gathering was a balance between the academic presentation of matters pertaining to pneumatology (i.e., the branch of Christian theology concerning the Holy Spirit) and an actual experience of collaborating with the Holy Spirit. It seems - at least to me - that a Christian conference (actually, any theological training) without application and experience (especially when considering matters of the Spirit!) is considerably incomplete. To poorly quote Ken Costa, the intention of the conference was neither purely 'academic' nor some form of 'festival', but instead a merging of the two (i.e., thinking about God and engaging with God). I think that they really succeeded. Instead of an inadequate summary of the lectures (which I am sure will be available in full on the HTB website soon which are available now from St Mellitus College Website), I thought it would be more appropriate to share a couple of key thoughts and reflections.
Archbishop Rowan Williams. Williams' homily focused on the hope and longing of the Holy Spirit in us, to become the full humanity for which we were created. Not hope in "a minimal Anglican sense", but one in which the entire body is consumed with longing. Quoting Maria Skobtsova, the archbishop reminded us "either Christianity is fire or there is no such thing". The Holy Spirit in us "is God pushing us towards that for which we were made". He also referred to St Symeon's prayer to the Holy Spirit, of which I think the following words are especially worth repeating:
Come, you who have become yourself desire in me,who have made me desire you,the absolutely inaccessible one!
Williams argued eloquently that true freedom is freedom for a full humanity - full humanity is Christ-shaped - Christ-shaped is self-emptying (i.e., kenotic), and self-emptying is alive. Later in the day, there was also a great panel session with Williams, Moltmann, and Ken Costa that was very insightful! (Especially the tension between the notion of the 'charismatic church' and the role of authority!) The homily is available here.
Professor Jürgen Moltmann. The lecture ('The Church in the Power of the Spirit'), interview, and Q&A session were really profound. Moltmann's writing has had a significant effect on my own formation and it was wonderful to hear him (along with his graciousness and sense of humour) first-hand. Of most interest (to me), was the changing understanding of the Spirit in three paradigms, being (a) hierarchical, (b) brotherly, and a (c) charismatic community (with connotations of the persons of the Trinity, namely, the Father above us, Christ with us, and the Spirit within us). He spoke of the changing shape of the church, its participatory nature as the Body of Christ (e.g., in the experience of his own church, St Jacob's Tübingen - a shift from a church for the people to a church of the people; from religious care-taking to a participatory community), and the manner in which we are to be orientated around gifts and not tasks (a notion as an Organisational Psychologist for which I am pondering some more). Also:
- My favourite quote (approximately): "The opposite of poverty is not property, the opposite of both poverty and property is community."
- Someone tweeting from the conference noted, "Moltmann (aged 84) gave his lecture in English translating live from his notes in German".
Professor Miroslav Volf. The lecture (‘One Spirit, Many Tongues: Globalisation, Faith Traditions, and Human Flourishing') focused upon the relationship between religious exclusivism and political pluralism. It is really worth listening to in full.
Professor David Ford. Reflecting on the key issues in pneumatology, Ford spoke about how the most exciting ideas/solutions/outcomes (etc.) have happened amidst intensive conversation - the same location in which Holy Spirit moves. Posing some key questions (i.e., What is real humanity in the Spirit? How do we relate the world and the Spirit? How do we shape the Church globally in the Spirit?), he spoke about how theology should seek to (a) retrieve from the past and scripture, (b) be engaged with God, Church, and world, (c) be disciplined in thought, and (d) communicate understanding. Also:
- If you get to listen to the recordings, it is especially interesting to hear Ford's discussion on the 'circumambient Spirit' in his Friday lecture 'Life in the Spirit: Learning Wisdom, Giving Signs'.
- A great quote by David (approximately): "When a wall falls down it is those who have been at the margins who are now central."
- David spoke about the book 'Speaking in Tongues' several times in his talk (which looks particularly good).
Rev'd Dr Graham Tomlin. Rev'd Tomlin was really wonderful - he has a terrific style which worked to draw many of the lectures together (specifically, he spoke of 'Life in the Spirit: Identity, Vocation, and the Cross'). One of my favourite assertions was that it is time to put "Pentecost back on the map". He also wonderfully asserted that that life in the Spirit is a life of joy, embracing suffering, and knowing that it is not the last word (which had some clear parallels with Williams).
Rev'd Tom Smail. Speaking on being 'Together in the Spirit', Rev'd Smail posited that the togetherness brought by the Spirit is one that characteristically involves "two becoming one without ceasing to be two". He said this occurs in several contexts, namely (a) within the Trinitarian life of God, (b) in the Incarnation of the Son, (c) in our reception of the Gospel, and (d) in our horizontal relationships with one another. We are not called to dull conformity!
As alluded to at the beginning of the post, this conference was not just about thinking about God but also engaging with God. I felt incredibly privileged to share in the ministry of the Holy Spirit with those whom I spoke, heard, prayed, worshipped, and sat. There was a great integrity and authenticity as the body came together - giving and receiving. I must add that this was also extremely evident in - and by - those who presented lectures. Over the course of the two days, as a variety of opinions and positions were voiced, there seemed to be a great interweaving of thought and experience (within and between) that cried out as echoes of revelation. I am also consistently warmed by the humility of all those present and are very thankful for the gracious gift of HTB (I appreciate the small things too, e.g., Nicky introducing himself as 'a member of staff'). Please do forgive me for the poor summary; I do hope the talks will be available soon via HTB's website or bookshop you can listen to the talks online.
To finish, I might just draw your attention to Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time which was used by Ken Costa Friday morning as an introductory reflection. Broken instruments, amidst pain, brought together to make beautiful music. Later in the day it was incredibly moving when Ken Costa read a note he had received (from a Messiaen scholar who had previously reflected deeply on the relationship between Messiaen and aspects of Moltmann's theology), that this choice of music in this particular context had been a timely affirmation of the scholar's presupposition. Praise God.