Here come the Girls - Successful Women's Conference in Essex Church
A 'spiritual spa' day designed to bless busy Christian women proved such a success it could even be a template for similar events around the country.
The Extravagant Love women's conference took place at Shoeburyness and Thorpe Bay Baptist Church in Essex on Saturday, and saw more than 160 women from churches as far away as Colchester receive a day's teaching, participate in worship, have the opportunity for ministry and simply relax together.
It was organised by Shirley Park, the church's ministry leader for women's work, and Fiona Bannister ministry co-ordinator for small groups and fully supported by the church's minister the Revd David Mayne. They are now planning a similar event this time next year, and are hopeful that others may be inspired to do something similar.
Fiona said, 'One lady said, "I came as a victim but I'm not going home as one". That was typical of some of the comments we received. It was a phenomenal day.
'Some opened up about huge things, others were giving guidance, and you just don't know how many seeds were sown.
'We were looking forward to it but God made it even better than we could have hoped for. We gave to God what we've got - and He made it so much more.'
The day was organised as the latest event in the church's women's ministry, called 'Here Come the Girls'.
Previous events have encouraged those attending to bring their non-churched friends, but this was deliberately geared towards those who attend church - aiming to 'nourish, inspire and love' them. The event drew inspiration from the story of Mary of Bethany in Mark 14: 1-11.
The day was a mix of keynote speakers and seminars, worship and ministry time, with communion, led by the Revd Sheila Martin, regional minister for the Eastern Baptist Association, deliberately placed early in the day.
The speakers included the Revd Dr Dotha Blackwood, a tutor at Spurgeon's College, Nicki Simms, Worship Leader, singer songwriter and leader of Christian Growth Centre Chelmsford, Laura Cook of the Methodist Relief and Development Fund (MRDF), and Amanda Allchorn, until recently head of communications at the Baptist Union of Great Britain. A team of men took care of the refreshments, food and cleaning up.
Amanda, who hosted the event as well as helping to organise the day and lead a seminar, said that many ladies had met with God and been blessed by the day.
'One lady said it had been like 'a spiritual spa'. She said she had been looked after both physically and spiritually.
'There was a huge openness to each other. The ladies could be free: they didn't just receive, they were able to give and affirm each other.
'In the light of the Union, something like this is significant. Lots of women are serving faithfully, just getting on with it, and don't recognise their potential. A day like this helps them to.'
Fiona said attending a women's conference several years ago had been the inspiration - and now she hopes others could be inspired to do something similar.
'It was a hot, sunny day, and there were 700 ladies there. Why, when they could be enjoying the weather?
'You get a group of ladies together, and they will have fun - but God will be there too. It was just something I absolutely wanted to bring to our church and the ladies in the area.
''It will hopefully inspire women to do the same in their church.'