Columban Education Conference 2014

2nd November 2014 - by Mauricio Silva

Columbans in the UK gathered last week for their annual education conference, at which two speakers were invited to share their reflections on contextual issues affecting life and mission in Britain today.

Once a year Columbans (ordained, co-workers, sisters and lay missionaries) invite speakers to reflect on important issues which affect their missionary activity locally and globally. This year, the meeting was held at Christ Church in Sparkbrook, Birmingham.

On our first day, the Quaker author and independent scholar Alastair McIntosh invited us to discern how to proclaim a credible Gospel amidst a dominant ideology of violence . “Violence is a drug to which the narcissistic personality becomes addicted, lauding its perceived virtues and discounting its gradual gnawing at the soul” he stated. Alastair’s presentation aimed to explore the “moral implications of conflict that exceeds military capacity to deter or contain it; and the application of nonviolence, including its religious basis, to achieve security in a complex world where the net results of conflict are not easy to predict”. He reflected, “when we use violence we typically see ourselves as good, engaged in redemptive violence, but redemptive violence is arguably a myth; it comes from not knowing ourselves deeply enough”.

Alastair pointed to many witnesses for peace in history and from all religious traditions, among them, Mahatma Gandhi. When talking about active nonviolence he concluded: “ As Gandhi saw it, our relationship to reality itself is at stake. It is love that matters in the end, a depth of empathy as captured in the image of the Good Samaritan. Violence destroys empathy but nonviolence builds it’. The Columban group responded to Alastair’s presentation by identifying areas of contextual concern regarding nonviolence in Britain, including the role of media, the myth of redemptive violence, inner violence and interfaith appreciation.

On the second day, Methodist minister and academic Gary Hall turned our attention to the impact of digital media on how we relate to one another and to the world. He invited us to address a media-saturated generation in the light of the integrity about the Joy of living that the Christian message offers. The impact of digital media, particularly on younger generations, challenges us to realise that something has changed and that we need to work out what difference this makes.

Gary’s reflection led us to see the need to identify the role of Christians in social regeneration, reshaping visions of what a good life could be. He spoke of the Joy of the Gospel as a countercultural offering to that of the happiness proposed constantly by our market culture. Against this backdrop, Gary concluded the day with a focus on themes from the Gospel of John and a reflection on the need to build up a Christian communities where intimacy, trust and care for the needs of others are fully realized.

Both days concluded with celebration of the Eucharist when, together in hope and joy we thanked God for the gift of mission. We prayed for peace within ourselves and in the world, as we thanked God for our benefactors and the many people of goodwill with whom we journey in Britain.

Mauricio Silva, the Columban On-going Education Coordinator, is a Columban lay missionary from Chile based in Birmingham.