PASTORS’ ASSOCIATION CONFERENCES 2000
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
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
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
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.
CITIZENSHIP COMMITTEE QUESTIONNAIRES
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
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
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
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.