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Is Christian Non-Conformity a Thing of the Past?                A Report on the Spring School:

On 11-13 March 2022, the Congregational Federation, led by the Congregational Institute for Practical Theology (CIPT), included in its 50th anniversary celebrations and reflections its first Spring School. Held in the iconic grade 2 listed National Justice Museum in Nottingham, the aim was to challenge, and indeed inspire, Christians to play a more active part in the public life of the UK today. The heading of this report was its provocative title.

While featuring the experience and convictions of the Congregationalist churches, the Spring School was not narrow in its intention or focus, highlighting the Christian non-conformist traditions generally, with participants exploring their collective and distinctive values, perspectives and principles. We were delighted that three of the participants came from the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland. Other welcome participants included the General Secretary and the Moderator of the Free Churches Group, Rev Paul Rochester and Rev Dr Hugh Osgood.

‘First and foremost, the atmosphere is kindly and welcoming. There is open encouragement to query and share in a wide variety of ideas.’


Rev Suzanne Nockels, the President of the Congregational Federation and a Tutor on the CIPT Training Course, gave the opening, welcoming address. Professor Anthony Reddie, the Director of the Oxford Centre for Religion, led a session on the importance of a Christian non-conformist voice in UK public life. Dr Julian Gotobed, Director of Practical Theology and Mission at Westcott House, Cambridge, presented sessions on the distinctives of that non-conformist voice within the broader family of Christian denominations and traditions and the need to recognise unfinished business in the areas of diversity and equity.


Dr Graham Adams, one of the ecumenical staff team within Luther King House, and also a Tutor on our course, emphasised that challenging self-serving ‘empires’ of whatever nature, size or scope, is a Christian non-conformist’s active responsibility. The workshop sessions, led as options running through the weekend, were led by two other Tutors on our course. Rev Dr Alan Argent, Research Fellow at Dr Williams's Library, London, led an examination of significant historical Congregationalists with an ongoing influence, and Rev Dr Ann Jeffers, a former Director of Research at Heythrop College, University of London, led explorations into how we can read the Bible as non-conformists.

‘It was extremely thought provoking and inspiring.’

The event was greatly appreciated by all the participants and presenters and confirmed that there is a desire to renew an active commitment to speaking out in the name of Jesus against any vested interests that neglect or actively harm vulnerable and disadvantaged people. Being compassionate is not enough; we also need to be prophetic in the spirit of the biblical prophets. As James says in the New Testament: ‘faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.’ (James 2:17 NIV)

It is hoped that this will be the first in an ongoing series of biennial Spring Schools.