HTB Leadership Conference 2014

Filed in News by on May 11, 2014 1 Comment


I can’t let this week go without writing about the HTB leadership conference… Now, nearly a week later, it’s like trying to grip onto the wonderful gifts of God we received, and not to forget anything.

As ever, it is hard to know where to start. The greatest blessing of the conference I think had to be Rick and Kay Warren. They were mind-blowingly honest, open, humble, passionate, straight-talking, vulnerable, challenging… I just want to pick out a couple of things that really struck me.

Kay Warren spoke about Mark 8:34 – picking up your Cross and following Jesus. I cannot do justice to what she said, and I am on the edge of my seat until the full video is online to watch it again. It seriously challenged me. She called us to be “dangerously surrendered”, “seriously disturbed” and “gloriously ruined”… Dangerously surrendered – by allowing God to have authority over everything in our lives. What do I still hold back for myself? Plans about my future, my money, friendships, fashion, my own space? Seriously disturbed – to allow what deeply disturbs the heart of God – injustice, poverty, violence, torture – to disturb us. ‘Picking up your Cross’ does not mean carrying the sufferings of our everyday lives. No – it means stepping outside our lives and picking up the Cross of the world’s suffering and lack of God. Gloriously ruined – whatever we do, suffering will come our way. In the ruins, we can allow God in to transform them, to make them glorious.

On the final night, Rick Warren called us to love passionately the Church. His challenge to us was to be less involved in ‘para-churches’ (I suppose we could say organisations) and more deeply involved in the local church, in the parish. This is such an important challenge to Catholics! Most of the time, we are content to spend an hour and a half at our parish a week. We run a mile as soon as a difficult situation arises, or if the liturgy changes, or if there are personalities we don’t gel with. No, let’s give ourselves to our parishes, difficult and broken though they may be…

There were apparently 800 Catholics present this year, and I know that for many of us it is an enormous blessing. The Leadership Conference has deeply blessed and encouraged me in my life. It seems to have a quality of anointing and of true ecumenism. There were a few things I came back determined to do – to begin our small house group here with friends in Portsmouth; to begin praying together with others at work. This is just scratching the surface. There is SO MUCH we can learn from HTB – their hospitality, their service, the openness and freedom of their worship…

Holy Spirit, renew the face of the earth!


About the Author ()

Hannah Vaughan-Spruce is an experienced catechist and youth worker, who now works for the Diocese of Portsmouth. Some of her Jericho Tree articles were first posted at her personal catechetical blog Transformed in Christ. They are used here with permission. See

Comments (1)

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  1. Paul Rodden says:

    What is a ‘Clown Mass’, if not an expression of openness and freedom of some Catholics in their worship? Why stop them? They’re using exactly the same fundamental mindset HTB uses.

    Might the Youth2000 ‘Adoration’ videos on Youtube be just ‘Clown Benedictions’, too? Just asking.

    ‘Freedom and openness in worship’ for an Evangelical, is mostly self-expression. You’ll notice how ‘I’ centred so many of their ‘songs’ are, too.

    Working closely with many Evangelicals, day to day on the shop floor in a real parish, one realises their ‘hospitality’ and ‘service’ can be rather focussed on getting their own way and is offered as long as you fit into their worldview. Challenge it, and then it’s subtly withdrawn.

    In our town’s ‘Christians Against Poverty’ and ‘Trussell Trust Foodbank’, there is a definite proselytising emphasis, for example. If it’s clear after a while that the target isn’t likely to become Christian, the Evangelicals ‘cool off’ and these individuals end up getting a very different treatment to those who ‘show promise’ and are fawned all over. It’s very much first and second class approach, disingenuous, and cringe-making. One notices this is not uncommon if one’s immersed in Evangelicalism rather than looking in from the outside.

    The question is, at root, one of maturity. Mature Evangelicals are questioning the superficiality and sentimentality which is taking over Evangelicalism, and the unhealthy primacy of the psycho-somatic in worship, discernment, and judgement of what’s ‘true’ or ‘God’s Will’ (‘for me’).

    You say, ‘We run a mile as soon as a difficult situation arises, or if the liturgy changes, or if there are personalities we don’t gel with. No, let’s give ourselves to our parishes, difficult and broken though they may be’

    – Yes. But Evangelicalism has buckets of zeal and a capacity to constantly re-invent itself to be culture-friendly’ (often at the expense of truth), but few concrete answers. It’s a protean being, unlike the Church. Maybe that’s why it’s ‘successful’ to those who have a ‘world’s eyes’ view of discipleship.

    If we read many of the great spiritual writers, they make much of popular piety and the fact that being an apologetics ninja is not necessarily a sign of healthy discipleship, but neither are those who are quiet and can’t tell you a fig about doctrine, necessarily without a deep devotional life. (Watch Brad Gregory’s interview on Fr Barron’s ‘The New Evangelization’ DVD set.

    The Evangelical congregation for which I work, for example, know I’m Catholic, and know I won’t participate in their worship. But they also know why – and the mature ones actually appreciate that and what’s more, wish Evangelicalism was more ‘Catholic’ in that sense. They also appreciate the value of RCIA and not just letting any Tom, Dick, or Harry, join on a whim, as most Evangelical congregations do.

    The fact that they know I have clear boundaries and talk about them openly, but also have good doctrinal reasons for it, being a servant of the Church, is making them question their own standpoint, rather than it being a matter of taste and subjective judgement, which is so common now in modern Evangelicalism.

    In fact, in two weeks time I’ve been invited to participate in their workshop on ‘Youth Ministry’ to focus on the need for doctrine and catechesis, and the role of the Domestic Church in that after one of their youth leaders talked to me about the problems of young people drifting away because they don’t know their faith and/or get taught different things.

    In short, many Evangelicals are looking for what we have. Something that cannot be anything other than objective and God-focussed, rather than the ‘me-centred’ Evangelicalism in most of their parishes and congregations.

    Holy Trinity Brompton, like St Helen’s Bishopsgate and All Soul’s Langham Place, are ‘celebrity churches’ and attract people from a long way away. They are not representative of ‘ordinary parish life’, neither are the ideas of famous ‘Mega-Church’ leaders. It’s merely a distraction at best, and a source of temptation to make unfair judgements on our own parishes, at worst.

    Too many Catechists, priests, and zealous lay people, like Evangelicals, are caught up in what I’d call something like ‘Nirvana Catholicism Syndrome’:

    X is what we have
    Y is the perfect situation
    Therefore, X is not good enough.

    It’s an informal fallacy in Philosophy (the Nirvana Fallacy), because in no way do the premises imply the conclusion, and I’d argue that’s even truer in the Spiritual sphere, ‘where grace abounds all the more’ where there’s sin. For me, books like Sherry Weddell’s – despite any good in them 9and there is a lot) – are encouraging this ‘Evangelical’ mindset. Evangelicalism is riddled with this syndrome which is the main cause of schisms within Evangelicalism, and it’s unhealthy worldview is creeping into our parishes.

    The best way to catechise is to socialise. If we live with the people in our congregations as ‘objects of catechesis’ rather than as family, then deep conversion doomed to failure. The best we can do without befriending in this real sense, is appeal to the emotions and feelings, and Evangelicals have that off pat, but it leads to a shallow sort of fair-weather Christian, who walks off as soon as the going gets tough.

    So, let’s be thankful for what we’ve got, rather than envy HTB, then we won’t objectify our own congregations as being inadequate, but love them into life.

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