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The Borders Conference 2023

Category Reports
Date January 29, 2024

On the Friday evening of 10 November and during the day on Saturday, over 80 people gathered in Carlisle, Cumbria, for the annual Banner Borders Conference. For those unfamiliar, this event is aimed at those living in the ‘Borders’ region, that is, the northernmost region of England and the south of Scotland. Carlisle itself lies just 8 miles south of the Anglo-Scottish border, and the conference this year attracted attendance from beyond what might be considered natural Border land, from as far afield as Perth, Motherwell, and Stranraer, Newcastle upon Tyne, and as far down as Charlesworth in the High Peak of Derbyshire.

This year’s conference brought together a variety of different people—several ministers, but also individuals and families, including babies and teenagers, working men and women as well as the retired from various local congregations. It had a refreshingly non-metropolitan feel about it.

The format is a simple one, with two sessions on the Friday evening, followed by a further four on Saturday.

The theme of the conference this year was ‘The Beauty of God’, and this was expanded in Jonty Rhodes’ twin addresses. The minister of Christ Church Central, Leeds (IPC) spoke first on ‘The Beauty of God in the Face of Jesus Christ’, and continued the next day with ‘The Beauty of God in the Horror of Calvary’. Among other things, Mr Rhodes spoke of the tendency towards ‘edutainment’ in some schools of contemporary preaching, and the real need for Christians to be led to gaze, and meditate upon the beauty of the Lord (Psa. 27:4). Calling upon Samuel Rutherford and speaking of the biblical passages which proclaim God’s beauty as ‘jewels’, these were indeed messages which stimulated such meditation, and set the mind on things above.

One of the planned speakers, Robert McCollum Jr, was unable to attend at the last minute, and so Jonathan Watson, the Trust’s Editorial Director, delivered an address entitled ‘Learning from C. H. Spurgeon: Aiming for Conversions in Your Preaching.’ You can’t go wrong with a bit of Spurgeon to warm the soul on a dark Friday night in November!

David Campbell, minister of North Preston Evangelical Church, proved an excellent storyteller as he narrated the lives of the ‘Cambridge Seven’, those young men ‘with the world at their feet’ who gave themselves to overseas missionary service. In these seven men, including C. T. Studd and Stanley Smith, we are brought face to face with the challenge to live consecrated lives. The strength of their devotion was held up as a pathway to fruitful Christian service, and Mr Campbell impressed upon the young who were present the importance of good Christian friendships, and the way in which our lives can tell on others for good.

Saturday afternoon provided an opportunity to hear from various people about work going on in different locations. Chaired by John Rawlinson, the General Manager of the Trust, this was a particularly encouraging time as representatives reported on real-life ministry in places that are in many cases ‘off the beaten track’, whether that be Stranraer in the deep southwest of Scotland, or the small village of Charlesworth on the edge of the Peak District. It was a reminder that the Lord is at work in such places, and of the need to pray for more labourers. With Jonty Rhodes having already departed by the afternoon, Andrew Kuey, the Assistant Minister of International Presbyterian Church Ealing (London), who was visiting family in the region, was able to step in and speak about the wider work of the IPC, the denomination to which Christ Church Central in Leeds belonged. David Campbell also reported on his church’s partnership with the Open-Air Mission in the Preston area, and George Curry gave an update on the Newcastle-based Christian Institute’s current work in the public sphere.

To close the conference, John Rawlinson stepped in to cover the final session, and delivered an address intriguingly entitled ‘More of Christ: Ryle’s Verses’. When J. C. Ryle was vicar of Stradbroke in Suffolk, as part of a renovation of the church he had four verses painted on the large roof beams of the old building, so that whoever was in the pulpit could not help but see them. These were Ephesians 2:8 (‘For by grace are ye saved through faith’); 1 John 2:1 (‘we have an advocate with the Father’); Ephesians 1:7 (‘we have redemption through his blood’); and Luke 13:24 (‘Strive to enter in at the strait gate’). Taking these verses as the sermon outline, Mr Rawlinson went on to encourage those gathered to know more of Christ, to see him ready and willing to save, to know more of him as our Saviour and friend, and to know more of him as our example for living.

This year’s Borders Conference is planned to take place on November 8 & 9, 2024. Please do consider joining us if you live in the region.

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