Sat next to some interesting randomers at meal times and got chatting. One was involved in literature work in the Czech Republic. Another taught theology at a Lutheran University in Finland. Caught up with old friends too, but if you only chew the fat (as well as Leicester Uni's excellent fare) with your cronies, you miss out on the breadth of fellowship that's available at an international conference like Banner. Also had a chance (if that words is allowed in a Banner report - 'was providentially enabled'?) to have a word with Dinu Moga, fellow contributor to Shepherds After My Own Heart: Essays in Honour of Robert W. Oliver.
We had our traditional Weds evening meeting of the 'Taffia'. An assortment of Welsh or at least Welsh-connected ministers. Geoff Thomas managed to nab Ted Donnelly and David Vaughn for a quick word, which made for an fascinating time of fellowship.
But the thing that keeps me returning to Banner year after year is not only the fellowship aspect, but especially the warm-hearted experiential Calvinism that characterises the ministry there. That was typified by a stirring opening sermon by Ted Donnelly on Romans 10:15, where the conference veteran pressed upon us the need to preach Christ with boldness and authority, 'When in the pulpit; boldness. When out of it; humility.' David Campbell gave three moving addresses on Words of Life Spoken in Death, taking us through our Lord's Five Words from the Cross, analysing each one in careful detail, while pressing their message home to our hearts.
A Banner first was a father and son double act in the shape of Phil Heaps (son) speaking on Ministering in Challenging Times (1), from Romans 1, and Graham Heaps (dad) giving the second sermon on that theme from Luke 22:14-34. The messages were both a challenge and encouragement to minister God's word in difficult days, assured of the Lord's help and enabling.
American missionary, currently serving in France, David Vaughn gave two moving and inspiring addresses on Under the Lordship of the Risen King and The Kingdom's Spread in a Fallen World. In the first he offered a corrective to 'Christian Hedonism' that tends to focus on our desire to delight in God, by emphasising the balancing truth of living to ensure that God delights in us. The second was a stirring call to mission, 'We do not attempt the possible, for we serve a risen King'.
Banner has been used by God to recover the riches of historic Reformed and Puritan doctrine and piety. This was brought home to us in three historical talks. Ian Hamilton whetted our appetite for John Owen on Communion with God and Meditations on the Glory of Christ, 'Make up your minds that beholding the glory of God in Christ is the greatest of all privileges.' George Curry gave a well-applied biographical paper on J. C, Ryle: Minister of Grace. Iain Murray spoke on John Elias and Revival. A theme running throughout the conference was the need for an outpouring of the Spirit upon the ministry of the Word that our preaching may have more of a sanctifying effect upon the church and an awakening impact upon the world. Elias's ministry typified that. With a single sermon he brought an end to a Sabbath-breaking fair. He provoked a church on Anglesea to repentance when he excommunicated the whole congregation for participating in the of plundering a wreaked ship.
Mark Johnston brought the conference to a fitting conclusion with a message on Revelation 21, bringing out the chapter's magnificent vision of: A world of total restoration, A world that will be made perfect, A world of extraordinary beauty, A place of true security and Lasting order. It is due to the sin of the first Adam that we minister in a hostile world. The security of the new creation will not rest upon the fallible obedience of a mere man, but of the last Adam, Jesus Christ, who is both God and Man.
A theme than ran through the conference was not only the importance of preaching the gospel and experiencing its power personally, but also of facing the challenges of the age, especially that of reaching the unreached with the good news of Jesus. Banner isn't about empty traditionalism or nostalgia. The doctrinal and spiritual riches of the past are put to the service of those who are called to serve the Lord in the present to secure the future growth of the Christ's church.
I certainly returned to my ministry refreshed, stirred and encouraged. Hopefully better equipped to minister in my current situation. But, sadly, this will be my last ever Leicester conference. That's because from next year Banner will be held YarnfIeld Park Training & Conference Centre just south of Stoke. I hope to be there, God willing, for more of the same in a different place.