These day-long Conferences were held last October and November in Bristol, Walsall, Crawley, Liverpool and Glasgow.  I attended the first four, but the train strike plus the floods prevented me from attending the conference in Glasgow - sorry to the Scots!

They were jolly and productive gatherings.  I was reacquainted with men I had not seen for over ten years; I also met men who were previously just names.  We had so much to talk about; that must always be a beneficial by-product of gatherings such as these.

There were plenary sessions on preaching, bioethics, and divorce.  And the other sort of food, oh, it was good!  Three cheers for the women (and some men) from the host churches who worked so hard in the kitchens.  It may seem invidious, but Walsall came top of the catering league.  I had offered to test the food in all FIEC churches and grade them, perhaps with a varying number of crossed knives and forks in the FIEC Handbook, but the idea has since been rejected.

At these Conferences, I gave an address entitled, Life Issues As They Affect The Pastor.  I began each of my talks with a call to ministers to look at their congregations in a quite different way, a bioethical way.  For example, when you look out at your congregation on a Sunday, what do you see?  People with problems?  Of course.

Every church has its problems.  Some of these are spiritual problems, others are financial problems, and not a few are bioethical problems.  It was these that I wanted to look at.  Several attendees have subsequently asked me for my opening remarks, so here they are.

Do you see that 1 in 6 couples in your congregation is infertile?  How are you going to help them?

Do you see teenage pregnancies?  In the UK each year there is a total of 90,000 teenage girls who become pregnant, including 8,000 girls under 16 years old, and 2,200 under 14.

Do you see that 1 in 10 women have had abortions?  Many of them will still be suffering psychologically, if not physically, from that event.

Do you see people sitting there with predisposition to serious genetic diseases?  Many, in the coming years, will suffer from cancers, and diseases like Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, and so on.

Do you see those, and especially young men, who might attempt suicide.  In the UK, there is one ‘successful’ suicide every 90 minutes, and one attempted every 5 minutes.

Do you see most of your congregation as carrying serious gene defects?  We all do.  For example, 4% of us carry the gene for cystic fibrosis.  Such gene defects are not usually expressed because of factors depending on our spouse, diet and environment.

Do you see people, especially the young with sexually-transmitted diseases?  These are making a huge current comeback, especially among the young.  For example, Chlamydia is now the most common STD in the Western world, and though it is generally asymptomatic, it can lead to infertility and other serious health problems.

Do you see that 1 in 3 will suffer from mental illnesses during their lifetime?

Do you see illegitimate children?  The rate in the UK is now 34% of all births, and rising.

Do you see that 100% of your congregation will die?  That will bring with it all the problems - emotional, physical, spiritual - of dying and death.  And there is the coming, and growing, threat of euthanasia.

Well, these, and others, are real problems for all our people.  And for our pastors too.  Christians are not immune to bioethical problems.  It therefore behoves us all to understand them, and to ensure that we build a solid ethical platform, on biblical foundations, so that we can provide Christian answers to these issues.  That way we can be of greater use to our congregations as well as to those outside the church.  It is this application of ‘principled compassion’ that is needed today.


During these Conferences, I handed out questionnaires that related to the work of the Citizenship Committee.  The Committee wanted to know what you, the readers, thought of the Bulletin, and whether we are using our time profitably when we meet three times a year at Westminster Chapel.

Every attendee was given a questionnaire, just before the break for lunch, which, in retrospect, was probably a bad time to get men to think, fill them in, and return them.  Anyway, of those who returned the questionnaires, 64 men (thank you for your efforts) regularly received the Citizenship Bulletin, so only these have been used for the following analysis.

A total of 97% of these men read the Bulletin - perhaps the remaining 3% of non-readers might like to explain themselves to me, by letter!  Of those who read the Bulletin, a pleasing 65% read three-quarters or more of each edition.  The vast majority (95%) keep old Bulletins for reference, and 86% sometimes consult these back issues.  The man from Bristol, who stated that he does not keep back issues, yet maintains that he reads them, might also like to explain himself to me.

A whacking 84% of the men had access to the World Wide Web, though only a tiny 3% used it to read the Bulletin and a similar 5% used it to refer to back issues.  Though some did not prefer a particular format for the Bulletin, most men (56%) would choose to continue receiving it in a hardcopy, paper format and currently only 9% would opt for a WWW only edition.

When asked what they thought of the Bulletin, 23% thought it was OK, but 77% thought it was good to excellent.  Nobody thought it was poor or useless!  What a kind bunch of men attend these Conferences.

Articles that have been particularly useful were predominately bioethical updates, and those dealing with issues like, abortion and euthanasia.  Also, articles on sexuality, and marriage were highly rated.

Issues that should be dealt with in the future included child abuse, politics, environment, teenage magazines, ageism in the churches, freemasonry, surrogacy, and several more.  Well, we will try.

The section on ‘Other ideas, comments and criticisms’ yielded some interesting information.  Some simply said, ‘Thank you’ and ‘Keep going’.  Some brought up the problem that all the Bulletin’s usefulness does not get transferred beyond the church leaders or secretaries.  A few suggested some style and format changes, and one man thought the Bulletin was ‘very poor presentation, good content.  Well, you can please some of the people …

All in all, it was an constructive exercise.  My prime motive behind the questionnaire was to reassure the Committee that working on the Bulletin was a worthwhile venture - the responses confirm that.  I was also especially interested to know if we should be producing a WWW format only - the answer is clearly, not yet.  But it will come, eventually.