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by Helen Holmes
from Signs of the Times, No. 19 - Oct 2005
Having seen the MCU Conference leaflet in the library at Heythrop College, where I am studying an MA in Psychology of Religion at the University of London, I was excited to have the opportunity of discovering more about MCU and the current debates around religion and science. I received a very warm welcome from Elizabeth Darlington and Jonathan Clatworthy at High Leigh and I knew from then on that this was going to be an enriching experience. I was soon involved with helping organise the conference, and I was pleased to meet Keith Ward in person after all those years of studying his books, during my philosophy and theology degree. Here was the man responsible for months of brain-teasing activity!
I enjoyed all the presentations at the conference finding myself with all cylinders firing around the questions and issues that the varied talks provoked. I concluded that although at times the debate seems to be conflictual, that in each of us there is a scientific and religious part, sometimes overlapping and that each part can be held in harmony, and that one part does not have to dominate, annihilating the other. I agree with William James that each and every religious experience is deeply personal and valid, where they promote health and love for the individual and community. I was reminded at the conference of our shared humanity and spirituality, and how important it is to be open to others' experience as I wish them to be open to mine. I met people with widely differing opinions to my own and I seek to learn from those conversations.
It was most interesting to meet Paul Badham and to talk about my positive contact with the Alister Hardy Society in London. Fleur Fisher was very kind to me and I was glad to be reminded about the essential aspect of confidentiality in professional relationships, since I will be training in pre- and peri-natal psychotherapy over the coming years. And so to hear Richard Harries' presentation on the importance of early embryonic life was like a dream come true. I found Bishop Harries' presentation fascinating and I had to hold myself back from crying out 'more' by the end! I will be writing about embryonic religious development for my Masters dissertation and I was excited to be listening to the historical religious influences on current thought around these important issues. I was also heartened to be hearing Aziz Sheikh's words about Islamic religious perspectives, reminding me of the need to remain ever willing to accept difference. Global interfaith understanding is essential at this challenging time and I will take what I learnt at the MCU Conference with me as I try to contribute towards peace-building, through my work with Sikh communities in Southall, later this year.
I felt privileged and valued amongst such an interesting collection of people at the MCU Conference. I felt that I was given a great deal of kindness throughout the conference and that I had found a place of belonging, where faith was certainly in action. It was uplifting to attend the AGM and to learn that MCU is a liberal thinking Christian organisation aiming for change from within the Church. Nick Henderson's ongoing humour and insight touched me deeply and I was moved by his encouragement of and trust in me to chair one of the discussion groups, having had no contact with MCU people before! I thoroughly enjoyed fulfilling this challenging role and I am glad that my career as Chair began at MCU.
As people starting leaving, at the end of the conference, I felt exhilarated that such an enriching experience was coming to an end and as I strolled through the fields at the back of High Leigh, I considered myself very lucky to have found MCU. I remember the open air worship with warmth and connection. MCU certainly modelled for me a successful conference, and I am in awe of the extensive thought that had gone into these life affirming four days. I hope that I will meet you all again very soon and that I can contribute to the future of MCU in some ways and sustain some long lasting friendships. Until next time, God Bless us all.
Helen Holmes is a student at Heythrop College, London.