I arrived at Chesterfield Station tired and weary after a 5 hour train journey from Glasgow on the Friday evening and was greeted by some representatives from the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship (LCF). I arrived at the same time as another delegate at the conference, but they had only joined the train at Sheffield and so was a little less weary than I was.
One of the LCF representatives drove us from the station in Chesterfield to Cliff College and Conference Centre, Calver which was about a 20 minute drive away. We were told that the drive would take us through some really nice places, but having arrived at just after 8pm it was dark and we missed out on the opportunity to see the quite beautiful Derbyshire countryside through which we were driving.
Having arrived quite late on in the evening there was only enough time to take my luggage to my room before the first meeting of the weekend. There was a cold buffet for dinner which was open for most of the evening, but that had to wait. Nothing all that interesting happened at the first meeting. It was really rather basic introductory stuff, but we did read through the entire book of Malachi, from which the talks we would hear and discussions we would take part in would be based. Afterwards some people wandered into the local village to the local pub while others remained at the centre and got to know each other. I did get the impression that those who fell into the latter category were those who had arrived later and were in need of some food though!
Saturday was a very full day with Devotions at 8am coming from Malachi 1:1-5 led by Jeff Ventrella (who had travelled much further than I: Arizona, USA!). Jeff is an attorney working with the Alliance Defence Fund in the USA. I had started my day a bit earlier with some time alone outside in the quite beautiful grounds of the venue. Our first main talk of the day came after breakfast which was on Malachi 1:6-2:9 and was given by Steve Sanderson (BMS World Mission). Steve’s talk provided the context and background to the book of Malachi which helped to ground our studies of it over the weekend. He spoke about how there was something inherently spiritual about being involved in securing justice. He explained that justice and the law comes from God and that as such God’s role cannot be overlooked. He challenged us as to what our ambitions were in our legal careers and where we placed each of these ambitions. I really took away from Steve’s talk that it is quite alright to aim to make partner or to take silk, but what is important is that our overall ambition is to honour God and bring glory to his Kingdom in the work that we do in our law schools and in legal practice.
Following Steve’s talk we broke off into discussion groups to discuss our thoughts on what Steve had to say. We were assigned into discussion groups that would remain throughout the entire conference. This, I feel, helped a great deal as it essentially resulted in a conversation that lasted and developed throughout the entire weekend.
After a coffee break the Executive Director of the LCF, Mark Barrell, talked to us about the work that the LCF was doing and the very real challenges it faced as an organisation. Like all charities in the current climate funding is a real problem and he explained the decision to start requiring members to pay subscription fees. For students it is no real hardship and costs just £5 for an entire year.
After Mark’s talk we headed off to our chosen seminar. I decided upon the “Grounded in Truth” seminar which was how to prepare and run a Bible Study (or rather how not to prepare and run a Bible Study). It was really quite informative and gave me an opportunity to discuss with others how to go around getting an LCF group at the University off the ground. From the conversations I had with others throughout the weekend I gather that the other three seminar options were just as good.
After lunch there was some free time in which we headed into the local village and ended up at the tea and craft shop. Some went the longer route, but I opted for the shorter one. It was a good opportunity to talk to some more people and just generally have some fellowship.
In the evening we had our second main talk which was delivered by His Honour Judge David Richardson (who became known simply as “the judge” by many of those of us who attended). Judge Richardson is a Circuit Judge on the South Eastern Circuit. He spoke to us that evening on Malachi 2:10-3:5. He delivered a very practical and challenging message for those already in legal practice or considering entering legal practice. He spoke about God as a witness and the challenge lawyers have to be witnesses themselves. He told us that we should be the people who come forward and speak out where we see an injustice. I don’t think I could condense my pages worth of notes into a summary that would do his talk justice.
We again broke into our discussion groups and discussed the talk that we had just heard. These discussions continued over dinner (which was really very nice). After dinner we had a talk on some of the mission opportunities offered by the LCF, heard from people who had been on the short mission trips at Easter and during the summer and also heard from someone currently taking part in the longer term option available. The wonders of Skype allowed us to speak to an intern sent out to Africa by the LCF! After this there was a fun quiz which gave us an opportunity to get to know each other a little better. Once again, a number of folks ended up in the local pub where the conversations continued. Some were “shop” and others were more general.
Sunday morning began with Devotions led again by Jeff Ventrella this time coming from Malachi 3:6-12. A short and encouraging message followed by some corporate prayer as well as prayer in smaller groups of 2 or 3. It was a great opportunity just to pray with and for each other as the final day of the short weekend began. After breakfast we packed before hearing from Jeff Ventrella on the work of the Alliance Defence Fund and the opportunities available with the Blackstone Legal Fellowship. After Jeff we heard from Ruth Davidson from the International Justice Mission (IJM). Again, we heard about the fantastic work being done there in ensuring those who are enslaved by traffickers are rescued and cared for while those involved in the trafficking are brought to justice. Some good opportunities are available in terms of internships around the world which could be very challenging. This section was rounded off with a presentation from Andrew McKay on the work of Philemon and what Philemon UK does to support the main Philemon ministry. All three presentations opened up a number of interesting opportunities that could really help us individually and also help (in a very small, but important way) to tackle injustice around the world.
After a short coffee break HHJ Richardson brought us our final main talk which challenged us to consider throughout our legal career who are the vulnerable and who are being exploited. It came from Malachi 3:13-4:6 He reminded us that the law is not only to protect those who Christian’s approve and delivered a challenging message that reminded us that while people may be engaging in lifestyles not supported by biblical teaching it is important that the law protect those people who might be vulnerable and that we should support it doing that. He explained that we can protect vulnerable people without undermining our beliefs and demonstrated this using the example of the breakdown of a relationship between people who cohabit. His message also talked about the criticism that we might face when trying to do the work of God and how we can become discouraged as a result. He explained that as a way of dealing with this that we should meet with fellow Christian lawyers/law students and how important this is when we are discouraged. He reminded us that God listens to and hears prayer and that we should never underestimate the importance of prayer. He explained that when in legal practice we should pray for our work and for our cases (i.e. that justice would be done and that all involved would feel as though their case had been fairly heard and that justice had been done). He also reminded us of the importance of counting our blessings. He challenged us to name all of the blessings we have received when feeling as though there are no rewards or results in the work we are doing. Judge Richardson concluded by looking at judgment.
After Judge Richardson’s talk we broke into our discussion groups for one final time to discuss what we had just heard and also what we had taken from the conference overall before having a final meal together and our respective journeys home.
Personally I took a lot out of the conference. It helped me to understand how to be a Christian Lawyer and not just a lawyer who happens to be a Christian. It has given me a lot to think about in terms of how I approach my legal studies and has given me lots to put at the back of my mind to be recalled when the time comes for me to enter legal practice (or whatever I do in the future if it is not within God’s will that I practice law). It was certainly worth the money and the lengthy trip down. There are real challenges in trying to study and practice law in a way that honours God, but through the various talks and discussions throughout the weekend it was abundantly clear that practicing law in a Christ-centred way is not impossible. I am reminded of a debate that I had on Twitter with someone about the ability to do this. The other individual clearly didn’t get how it was possible and to some extent neither did I. However, I maintained that it was possible and that it was something I was determined to do. It was undoubtedly confirmed during the weekend that it was possible, but certainly not an easy task.
I’ll end this rather lengthy blog post by saying that I strongly recommend that any student or young lawyer who is a Christian first joins the LCF if they have not already and makes the effort to attend the SYL weekend conference next year. I’ll certainly be looking to attend again next year.
Apologies for the length of this entry and a more normal service will resume soon.