Reflections on attending the 2021 ASA Virtual Conference
For many chaplains one of the highlights of a normal school year is gathering for the annual Anglican Schools Australia conference. While we as chaplains often can feel a bit on the margins in our schools, the ASA conference gathers a community who really value and appreciate what we do. Community is a really important aspect of the conference. It is our annual collegial catchup where friendships are formed, ideas are shared, and networks are established. You come away from the time spent together refreshed and energised for your role in your school.
It therefore made perfect sense to postpone the conference last year. We couldn’t gather in person so why gather at all? COVID 19 however has been impressively persistent. We couldn’t just stop learning in our schools when we went into lockdown. We had to find ways to make learning work online. As chaplains we didn’t stop ministering in our schools when we went into lockdown; we have found creative ways to do this. So, with the prospect of having to postpone meeting face to face for yet another year, ASA conference organisers found a way to make it work by gathering us online for a virtual conference.
And work it did; what a wonderful conference we experienced. The conference theme of ‘Intersection’ invited us to reflect on the intersection between faith and learning. The Primate made the point in his words of welcome, that often faith and learning can be parallel tracks in our schools and he invited us to reflect on how we can we get the two to fruitfully intersect.
Points of intersection were explored by the various conference speakers. Brendan Nottle from the Salvation Army encouraged us to engage at the intersection, as challenging a place as that can sometimes be to minister in. As we tuned in to the various conference presentations the sidebar chat was gently humming along with appreciative comments and reflections on what was being said.
The conference Cathedral worship service shouldn’t have worked. How do you authentically celebrate what lies at the heart of Anglican schools, our students, with a virtual service? But again conference organisers defied expectations. Students shared the prayers they had written for the occasion full of words of hope and promise. The service concluded with ‘The Blessing,’ a song that has become the worldwide churches’ pandemic anthem. It was sung with great gusto by students from Anglican schools across Victoria. The students were singing individually in their homes and schools dealing with lockdowns and yet through the video they combined together as a unified choir. The song served as a stirring reminder that in all the adversity we have faced and are currently facing God is with us. God is with our schools and God is especially with our students who have had such disrupted lives over the past eighteen months.
Conference organisers did so well amidst really challenging circumstances to deliver a high quality conference that exceeded everyone’s expectations. I don’t think any of us expected that we would feel so connected to each other meeting up online. Our feelings were nicely summed up and conveyed by conference chaplain, Bishop Lindsay Urwin, who described the online conference experience as ‘loving at a distance.’ God richly blessed our time together.