Return to Refresh (Thrive 2023)
Women from across the country came together for three days of Bible teaching, encouragement, and reflection at our annual conference for women in ministry.
It is such a privilege to be part of a church that prioritises training and provides for staff to attend conferences! When I joined the staff team at Beeston Free Church as our first women's worker last year, it was pretty much a given that I would attend Thrive - so off I went, not really knowing what to expect.
It quickly became obvious how much value there is in meeting other women in similar ministry roles; some with years of experience and others feeling their way in a new role, as I was.
I appreciated the small scale of the conference and its caring, family-like atmosphere, and I was helped and encouraged by being able to meet up a couple of times through the following year with another church worker in the local area.
So, this year, I was very keen to go again.
Returning to Thrive
One refreshing feature of the conference is that the schedule isn't densely packed. As we each come from busy lives and lots of commitments, Thrive is a rare opportunity to have a bit of space to think, reflect, chat, bounce ideas around, and get to know each other.
For example, there is a dedicated hour on our last morning set aside for personal reflection: the kind of time that could be very hard to carve out yourself once you're back into your normal routine.
Because there is this generous provision of time, and because the teaching sessions are interspersed with small groups in which we discuss and apply what we have heard, it is easy for relationships and conversations to go deep quickly. It was lovely to catch up with ladies I had met last year, and for new faces to become new friends in a very short space of time.
Learning from one another
It's always encouraging to hear about work that's going on in other churches and in a variety of contexts across the country: ministries that are tailored to the needs of a particular community or reaching people from different backgrounds.
I find it tremendously helpful to be re-reminded that my own church isn't 'normal' - that the way we happen to do things isn't the only way to do them. Just talking to others at Thrive highlighted some of my expectations and assumptions about church culture and helped me to look at my own ministry with fresh eyes.
On a practical level, one idea to explore that I've come away with is how best to support young mums in protecting time for personal Bible study and prayer.
The benefit of conference ripples out to those we serve from the teaching, too. This year, Rachel Sloan (FIEC Director for Women's Ministry) taught from Revelation, encouraging us to have a right perspective of Jesus, of what the world is like, and of what the future holds.
In discussion groups, as well as reflecting on these truths for ourselves, we considered how they would feed back into the lives of those we minister to. It was helpful to face up-front the reality that life is going to be hard - if not yet, then at some point. So, as we go back to care for people in tough situations, we don't need to be surprised or disheartened or crushed.
Struggle is normal - but it's also temporary. And the pressure is not on us to solve or to save, but to encourage others to join us in looking to Jesus, as he walks faithfully with his church.