The conference began with a presentation about our link diocese of Kigali, Rwanda; a fascinating discussion led by Kathryn Waite and Nicola Brown, along with a feast of maps and photos. Afterwards, our thoughts turned towards the journey of women in our own diocese before Wendy Thomson read out the names of those who were first ordained at Ely cathedral; several in attendance were recognised by a standing ovation and a moving rendition of the hymn ‘Glory to God Mother of Creation’ written by Ally Barrett.
Over the sessions which followed, Ally led us in a personal exploration of her paintings of Esther along with women in the Gospels, providing time for reflection and response. We were invited to join in a ‘cloud of witnesses’ exercise, reminding us of those who have gone before us and helped us, and those still encouraging and guiding us.
After lunch three workshops were available to choose from. The Revd Jenny Gage shared her own research on SSM (Self Supporting Ministry) in her workshop entitled ‘Ministry in the Mess’. Lizzie Taylor led a session entitled ‘Finding your Voice’ designed to explore current issues in ministry, identifying and tackling areas for improvement in the wider church. Jan Payne and Revd Beth Cope shared their struggles and achievements of pioneering together on a new housing estate in their session ‘Dreaming Dreams and Becoming Team’.
The final act of worship led by the Bishop’s Chaplain left us encouraged, moved, and inspired to go on praying for one another. Bishop Stephen added his blessing by his presence, and everyone left with small gifts provided by the Women’s Focus Team. It is was indeed a celebration both for how far we have come and our intention to hold on to the hope of our calling ‘for such a time as this.