“So hope for a great sea-change” 2014 Conference Report

There was a discernible ‘buzz’ around this year’s conference in Scarborough – “So hope for a great seachange” (25th-26th July) – and many delegates that I spoke to during and after the conference readily echoed this verdict. The success of the 2014 conference is largely attributable to the two excellent talks given on Saturday morning – delivered by Pádraig Ó Tuama and Fr Peter McVerry SJ (who also doubled as Conference Chaplain in the absence, due to ill-health, of Fr Tony Butler SMA) – and Sunday’s well-organised ‘Icon of Emmaus’ workshop. The additional elements that could have played a part in contributing to the ‘buzz’ of expectation of change is what has come to be described as the ‘Francis Factor’ as well as the fantastic welcome and organisational skills of the hosting Yorkshire group.

THE ICON OF EMMAUS On arrival each delegate was handed an ‘Icon of Emmaus’ discussion pack to assist them in their preparation for Sunday morning’s deliberations. One of the documents in the pack referred to an historic meeting that took place in October 2013 between the Archbishop of Westminster, now Cardinal Vincent Nichols, and Quest’s Chair, Ruby Almeida, and the then Deputy Chair, Michael Bennett.

During the course of the meeting the archbishop suggested that, as a fresh attempt at dialogue, a turning over, as it were, of a page in relations between the organisation and the hierarchy of England and Wales, we should take note of Pope Francis’s address given to the Brazilian bishops on 28th July 2013. In particular, the Pope referred to the Icon of Emmaus (the encounter of the two disciples with the risen Christ as they walked to the village of Emmaus, Luke 24:13-35) as a key to interpreting the present and the future. Four questions were asked of delegates, who divided into six groups:

  • In what ways has the Church either helped or hindered you in your personal relationship with God?
  • In what ways has Quest either helped or hindered you in your personal relationship with God?
  • What (if anything) is Quest able to offer the bishops in their task of support and ministry to the Church
  • What (if anything) would Quest hope to receive from the bishops in its task of support and ministry to LGBT Catholics?

Over the coming months, the responses are expected to be considered by local groups and sifted by committee members. The findings and a proposed response will be circulated to all members of Quest before any approach is made to Archbishop’s House to arrange a follow-up to the October 2013 meeting.

AGM

A great deal of discussion took place around two matters arising from the Treasurer’s Report and Accounts. The first concerned the cost of printing and mailing the Bulletin. Opinion was divided between those who believed that members who wished to receive the Bulletin in print format should be asked to make a contribution towards the cost, with the added caveat that this should not be compulsory, and those who disagreed with the suggestion. No vote was taken on the matter.

The other item that aroused much discussion circulated around the proposal to increase membership fees [see the Treasurer’s Report on this issue on page 13], the last increase having taken place in 2005. According to the Treasurer’s report, last year’s general expenditure was approximately £7000, of which only £4425 could be said to be covered by the membership fee (assuming that everyone paid at the full rate). Some members had not amended their standing orders following the 2005 increase and all who pay by this method were asked to make sure that their orders are amended. Delegates voted to raise the standard full rate membership subscription from £25 to £30 in 2015 (the reduced rate subscription will increase to £15 and the minimum rate to £7.50). A proposal to introduce a membership fee for couples was rejected.

For the first time in recent years the Committee is almost at full strength. The following were elected to office: Ruby Almeida (Chair), Bart Smith (Secretary), Ricky Horscraft (Treasurer) and Committee Members Paul Begley, Nick Burchnall, William Chapple, Ania Kowalski, and Terry Weldon. In the absence of a nomination for a new Deputy Chair, following the resignation of Michael Bennett due to ill-health, Nick Burchnall was elected to the position at the first meeting of the new committee held on Sunday afternoon. Trish Fowlie and Mandy Pyke were co-opted to the committee, leaving only one vacant position. Ruby Almeida paid tribute to the hard work put in by Michael Bennett, with particular reference to the review of Linkline (which has now closed while consideration is given to what should succeed it) and the Icon of Emmaus project. Ruby also thanked Gerry Newnham who has stepped down from the position of Membership Secretary. The assignment of tasks to committee members will be take place at the next committee meeting, scheduled to take place in London on Saturday 27th September.

QUEST ARCHIVES The Secretary announced that these have now been formally transferred to the London School of Economics, though the task of cataloguing and weeding the collection remains to be carried out. The archives have now joined the extensive archive of LGBTrelated materials at the LSE where, in time, they will be available to researchers,

CLOSING MASS This year’s collection, normally donated to Linkline, was diverted to a charity supporting the children of Gaza, who at the time of the Conference were being killed and maimed at an alarming rate in the war between the Israeli armed forces and Hamas-backed militias.

The Conference talks will be published in the Winter 2014-15 edition of Quest Bulletin and we hope to make them available as MP3 downloads on the Quest website.

● John Ashman

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