Conference 2016, “Feathers on the Breath of God”, is now over – and I’m starting to digest a wonderful weekend’s experience.
Most obviously, attendance numbers were down on previous years and lower than we had wanted, but that was not a serious problem in the end. It was clear that those who did attend, found the presentations valuable and informative. I heard several people speak about how challenging the topic was – but how important it was to begin the journey to greater understanding. The subject of gender identity was covered from a range of perspectives, in several presentations and two workshops. Between these, and also the observations of the trans people themselves attending conference, what most struck me was the sheer diversity of trans experience. For example, for some people, the transitioning process can be deeply traumatic, even tragic in the responses from family, colleagues and church. For others (notably for one newcomer to conference), the response from the church was wholly supportive. For me, hearing this persons story of a journey late in life from atheism to Catholicism, and the welcome she received from her church community, was a highlight of conference.
But gender identity is only one element of a whole range of issues caught up in the gender/sexuality umbrella. One of the most helpful images shown during the presentations identified four dimensions of gender and sexuality – and not one of them, not even that of biological sex is limited to a simple binary choice of mutually exclusive opposites.
As always, the worship sessions (morning and evening prayer, and Mass) were well planned and spiritually refreshing. Nor did the lower numbers seem to hurt in any way the useful social side of conference, the mutual support and friendship. I met old friends and first timers – and all said that they were enjoying the experience.
Conference also has a business dimension, particularly in the AGM. This year, Ruby’s chair’s report described something of a new direction for Quest, as we begin to move away from seeing ourselves mostly as an inward-looking mutual support group, to a greater involvement with the outside world. We reported on our recent strategic planning weekend workshop, and on the new initiatives currently under way or planned. My impression from listening to contributions from the floor, and from discussions afterwards, was that our members are excited and energised by this new direction. One good indicator of this new energy, is that after the AGM, we had three people come forward as volunteers to be co-opted to the national committee.
My conclusion is that this conference has left us in a strong position for the year ahead – and our next conference, in Canterbury with guest speaker the renowned Sr Jeannine Gramick, will be even better.