MODEM conference reflection

Man speaking to seated audience of about 30 white people

The annual MODEM conference was held on 21-22 November at Sarum College in Salisbury.  The theme was ‘Losing Control, Enabling Withness’.


What does it mean to walk alongside people, with them rather than only for them? This was the question approached from various directions and disciplines at the MODEM conference. Speakers Sam Wells, Paul Hibbert, Chloe Lynch, Vaughan S. Roberts, Jeremy Fagan, Keith Thomasson, Rob Sharp and Mark Wakelin, along with other conference participants, offered perspectives and insights that opened up ways of thinking and acting. Interwoven among this input was engaging conversation among the conference participants, creating a thought-provoking yet convivial atmosphere that is often a feature of MODEM conferences.

Sam Wells – vicar of St Martin in the Fields, London – as one of our keynote speakers, provided much to dwell on connected with his published works:

‘Could it be that with is the most important word – the word that identifies the goal of human striving, the nature of true fulfilment, the connection that goes deeper even than mortality? Could it be that with names the value our culture has most neglected, the state of being that our quest for achievement has thought it could bypass, the quality we have overlooked in our striving for quantity?’ Sam Wells

He added practical ways to connect in this way of ‘withness’, centred on being present and attentive in focused conversation and engagement with others as individuals, rather than presuming to know them or their needs. Sam suggested that Jesus spent around three years being ‘for’ us while he spent the previous ‘hidden’ thirty years being with. Thus ‘being with’ is a characteristic, he argued, of heaven, both as something to long for in the great hereafter, and something to aim for in the here and now.

Paul Hibbert added an organisational dimension to thinking about ‘with’, focusing on open, curious and relational processes and practices. Chloe Lynch offered insight about leadership as friendship drawing from her recent book, while Keith Thomasson and Rob Sharp highlighted the importance of place-making and accompaniment and Vaughan S. Roberts addressed the concept of withness within the eschatological frame of the realm of God. Mark Wakelin drew together the conference for us with his theological reflection, adapting the well-known poem Footprints in the Sand to draw out the joy of ‘withness’:

‘As I walked along the sand, I noticed that sometimes there was only one set of footprints. The Lord replied, “That was when we hopped”‘.

Stay tuned for details of next year’s conference.