Conference 2012: “60 Glorious Years”

Around fifty people attended this year’s Quest Conference – Sixty Glorious Years, 31st August to 2nd September – at Belsey Bridge Conference Centre, Ditchingham, near the appropriately named Bungay in Suffolk. This year’s speakers were Terry Weldon, well-known for his blog “Queering the Church”, and Dr Bart Smith, Quest’s Secretary.

Terry is a former market researcher, teacher and librarian with a strong interest in the history of gay men and lesbians in the Church. His talk – “Blessed are the Queer in Faith, for they shall inherit the Church” – covered developments in theology and understanding of Queer issues across the sixty years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, beginning in 1952. The struggle for recognition and acceptance has taken place in many of the major churches across the world, including the Anglican, Presbyterian, Lutheran and Methodist churches and the Metropolitan Community Church founded by the Reverend Troy Perry after he was ‘outed’. Unsurprisingly, the Catholic Church did not feature in the list of the enlightened with regard to allowing openly gay clergy, acceptance of civil unions/equal marriage, etc.

Bart Smith is a former librarian at the British Library where he developed a research interest in the history of LGBT-related material. His talk was liberally-sprinkled with illustrations of the genre, including a homoerotic novel from the Victorian era that would turn many a face the colour of a Cardinal’s soutane. Aided by newspaper stories, lesbian publications and ‘beefcake’ magazines from the 1950’s through to the glossy mags of today (GT, Diva, and Attitude), and in a light-hearted manner, Bart depicted how life for lesbians and gays has changed for the better over the period of sixty years.

The guest preacher at this year’s Conference was Fr Bob Eccles OP, making his fourth appearance at a Quest weekend.

A new feature in the weekend programme on the Saturday afternoon was a brainstorming session during which challenging questions were posed, designed to help with the process of reviewing Quest’s publicity material. After considering questions along the lines of: “Who are we? What are we about? What should Quest look like in another ten years?”, the responses have been taken away to be pondered, discussed, and moved forward.

Immediately before the closing Mass on Sunday morning, Peter Rodgers, a former Chair of Quest, spoke movingly of his association and friendship with Richard Cunliffe, who died on Monday 27th August. Peter mentioned Richard’s graciousness, his hospitality (together with that of Richard’s partner, Keith), and his proud boast of his family’s recusant heritage. Those who knew Richard will always admire him for his attention to detail, his sartorial elegance on all occasions and, above all, his complete dedication to Quest. May he rest in peace.

This text was originally published in the Quest Bulletin, no. 64 (Autumn 2012)

Reports from previous conferences: 200920082007200620052004200320022001