The Annual Pre-Accredited Conference goes Virtual
By Andrew Clarke, BUS CMD Lead
We have all faced so many ‘firsts’ over the past 11 months – some reluctantly foisted upon us; others embraced enthusiastically. This year’s January pilgrimage to Fishers Hotel in Pitlochry was re-engineered as one such ‘first’ for me, by being mapped onto a digital, virtual space. Our conference venue was constructed on-screen, a location in which delegates (Pre-Accredited Ministers) could walk around at will, forming and re-forming informal conversation groups, much as we have enjoyed doing for years during refreshment and meal breaks at Fishers.
Our digital location included a main auditorium space, together with a number of adjoining group discussion spaces, arranged casually around tables, chairs and even a fireplace! Anyone who chose to sit at one of these ‘tables’ was automatically in a Zoom-like breakout room with others who had chosen to sit at the same table, but they also had the freedom to get up and move to another ‘table’ when they wished. And, during our plenary time, it was possible for me ‘virtually’ to turn to the two people either side of me, and, for a couple of minutes, discuss a particular question posed by the speaker (who was, of course, standing at the podium, complete with microphone).
Each of us has our own unique story, to which dozens, even hundreds, of other people have contributed. This past year has written important new chapters in our respective stories. These individual stories affect how we engage in life, in mission and in ministry, and importantly these stories also motivate us to engage compassionately with others by listening attentively to their stories.
‘Story’ was, then, our focus during our virtual conference. We noted how so much of the Bible invites us to observe and meditate on the stories of better- and lesser-known characters in the narrative of the Bible. We’re often not told how to ‘join the dots’ about these characters, but simply to read, reflect, respond, and re-read. It was therefore fitting that in our virtual conference we also made time to hear and engage with each others’ stories. After a year of Zoom and livestream, the comparative freedom of walking around a conference venue (albeit virtual) helpfully lent itself to giving space to the individuality of these stories.