Experience and Expertise in Teaching 'Christianly': Reaching Out to Serve Others
Bad Blankenburg, Germany
13 - 16 May, 2010 (Ascension Weekend)
Martin Luther territory
We were in Martin Luther territory this year for the annual EurECA Conference. Around 60 participants from around Europe (and from as far away as Singapore and India) made their way to Bad Blankenburg, an hour's drive from the city of Erfurt. It was in Erfurt that the reformer first became a monk and where he translated the New Testament into German, much to the consternation of the Church at the time.
An attractive spa town, Bad Blankenberg, in what was once the GDR, is the location of the recently refurbished Allianzhaus Bad Blankenburg, which has been the conference centre of the German Evangelical Alliance since 1886. Located in central Germany, it has served thousands of Christians as a place of retreat and assembly. Froebel's first kindergarten and museum is right next door. At the conference, we learned that, prior to the liberation of Eastern Europe from the grip of communism, the centre remained a beacon of witness and a meeting place for Christians at a time of restriction and persecution.
Seventeen countries represented
Seventeen countries were represented this year: Austria (3), Bulgaria (4), England (5), Finland (3), Germany (13), Latvia (2), Netherlands (4), Norway (5), Poland (2) Portugal (1), Romania (3), Scotland (2), Slovakia (5), Switzerland (4) and Ukraine (2) and, from beyond the borders of Europe, a visitor from India and one from Singapore. We were also pleased to be introduced to a teacher from Kosovo who attended for a short time. It was encouraging to see many new, younger faces this year and we trust and pray that they will be able to join us at future conferences.
Although numbers were down on last year, this was clearly in God's plan. A number of the rooms at the centre were still under construction during the conference and it would have been a challenge to have had to accommodate more in the circumstances.
Once again, those taking part came from a wide range of spheres of involvement in education: from primary and secondary schools (both state and independent); language schools; colleges and universities. Among them were representatives from national Christian teacher associations and from other organizations who support Christians in schools and in home education.
'Pick-and-mix' menu of seminars
In a departure from the normal practice of inviting a keynote speaker to lead us in consideration of one main topic, we planned a "pick and mix" menu of 20 seminars prepared and led by members and others who have attended conferences over the years. Themes ranged from the intriguing Sharpening our Intelligence as Teachers of Multi-cultural Classes to Teaching Kiswahili with the Bible; from How Does the Theology of our Christian Denomination Influence our Thinking About Christian Education to Working With Gifted Children: and lots of interesting titles in between!
Participants chose seminars when they booked and, despite the uncertainty of some at the planning stage about the viability of this new approach, the format was very well received by all who attended. They appreciated the opportunity to register in advance, either to explore a new area of interest or to develop further their knowledge of their own field. Lively discussion, frank exchanges of views and warm fellowship came together to help group members get to know each other in a way not always possible in larger meetings.
EurECAVision Song-and-Dance Contest
On Friday, following a busy day of seminars, we arranged The EurECAvision Song and Dance Contest. This was a fun-packed and entertaining opportunity for each country to present traditional songs and dances, many dressed in their national costumes. Everyone joined in as we got to know more about the range of nations represented. The evening closed with the Scots leading everyone in the international song of friendship and fellowship, Auld Lang Syne, with translation into English from the old Scots language, for the uninitiated.
Following tradition, Saturday afternoon provided another opportunity to relax together. The choice of walks and visits included: for the energetic, wending one's way to the top of a nearby mountain to visit a castle; visiting the Froebel museum in the town; and a walking tour of the city of Erfurt. Most chose the city walk where our knowledgeable guide, Reinhard Holmer, manager of the Allianzhaus, took us along the "Luther Trail". He also gave an interesting account of other places and events across the city, with occasional reference to the challenge of life there under the GDR
Prayer and God's word
The Saturday evening of Prayer for the Nations gave country representatives the opportunity to share items for prayer and praise. There was a great sense of God's presence as everyone united in their supplications and intercessions.
Each morning Dana Hanesova from Slovakia ably led the conference in prayer and worship in word and song. This was greatly appreciated by all as it set the spiritual tone for the day of fellowship and sharing which lay ahead.
The overall theme of the conference Reaching Out to Serve Others was summed up in the preaching of the word of God at the closing worship and communion service on Sunday morning. The title of the sermon was taken from the key verses: "Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others" (1 Peter 4:10) and "We wish to see Jesus" (John 12: 20-36).
From these verses, John Muir led us to consider:
The popularity of Jesus: Many people wanted to see and hear him. His ministry of preaching and healing was sought by the crowds who flocked to hear his sermons and by individuals: but not all were prepared to listen to his message.
The response of Jesus to those who wanted to see him: He told those who came to see him what it would mean to follow him. It would not be an easy road. But there was the promise of the assurance of eternal life for those who gave their lives to him.
The cost of following Jesus: Jesus did not pull any punches when he spoke to them of the challenge of his death on the cross – his sacrificial death was essential to the message of salvation. If he did not die, they could not have eternal life.
Seeing Jesus today: The world sees Jesus today in the life and witness of those who have accepted him as their saviour. This is the challenge for every Christian to take up as they live their lives in the world today. And we see Jesus today in the remembrance of his death as we partake of the bread and the wine.
Following the singing of How Deep the Father's Love, the conference moved seamlessly to a memorable communion service led by Len Reed.
The conference closed on a triumphant note of praise. Then, with fond farewells to friends old and new, we made our way homewards by road, rail and air, refreshed and renewed to tackle the challenges of the weeks ahead in our work as Christians.
John Muir and John Shortt