UAI Conference 2006 – Sydney Australia
Reward of Isolation – Small Teams in Deep Waters
The rewards of isolation certainly paid off for readers “down under” who had the pleasure of hosting the recent UAI Conference in Sydney. Readers in Australia rarely get the opportunity to fraternise with the international reader community because of our geographic isolation; we are far away from everywhere. The expense of travel is more often than not the sole inhibiting factor. What a treat it was to have so many readers visit our shores and to form enduring friendships with readers from around the world. There really is no substitute for person-to-person interaction; great things can and do happen when personalities come together.
A written account such as this on the conference can barely scratch the surface of conveying the actual experience – you really had to be there to understand the breadth and depth of such an event. Subsequent issues of the UAI Journal will publish the plenary speeches that were given at the conference, so I will simply share some of my personal impressions with you here.
Before I launch into the conference itself I’d like to acknowledge my fellow team members on the ANZURA Conference Committee who so valiantly rose to the occasion and ably worked together to bring about this event. Second generation reader Merindi Swadling stepped up to be the Chair of the Conference Committee and effectively led the team along the two year journey toward our goal. She was an effective leader and made sure no stone was left unturned. It was refreshing to have one so young and efficient whip the “oldies” into line and keep us on track. Nigel Nunn and William Wentworth were the master minds behind the content of the program and took care of most of the in-depth scholarly components. It was great to have such capable fellows in our midst who could take care of all that kind of brain work so that the rest of us could concentrate on other logistical matters. Vern Verass, our President who is also a professional graphic designer produced the high quality brochures, booklets, program packs, banners and signs and contributed mightily to all other aspects of the planning process. Rita Schaad, our arts and crafts guru provided the decorative trimmings and paid attention to many of the practical details that contributed to the smooth running of things throughout the conference. Marion Steward, our Kiwi member who flew across the Tasman twice to meet with the team was full of bright ideas and introduced the concept of a welcoming ceremony and supervised the registration process on site.
Along with my husband Trevor and I who took care of registration and venue liaison, this group constituted the core planning group who met face-to-face on a quarterly basis for two years and exchanged untold emails, but as the time drew nearer many others volunteered to help with the actual work during the conference. I’d like to acknowledge and thank them all. Sophie Verass, our beautiful solo singer who sang the opening song at the welcoming ceremony, Delphine Swadling and Robyn Hromek who assisted Marion at registration and with the drink, meal and harbour cruise ticket sales, Val Billington who assisted with the decorations and trimmings, Andrew Swadling and Rex Merrett who were our main photographers and operated video cameras, Daniel Swadling who took charge of the “dogs body” team who helped with luggage and rearranging chairs etc., Paul de la Croix who was a faithful volunteer for anything that was required, and of course, the Melbourne study group team: Bob Reynolds, Regina Williamson, Ben Bowler, Bevan-Rhys James and Gerhard Neuwiller, who organised the Urantia pub quiz and performed the “Wedding at Cana”. It really was a pleasure to work with all these wonderful people.
Putting on a conference is a wonderful experience – I thoroughly recommend it to reader groups even if it’s only for a regional gathering. It really helps to bring people together and to develop a valuable working relationship when you set to work on common goals. I know we are all stronger for the experience and we have vowed to keep up the momentum by continuing to work together on projects for the furtherance of the revelation.
Knowing that people were going to great expense, and subjecting their physical bodies to grueling long flights just to get to Australia, the planning committee wanted to make sure our guests found the conference well worth the effort and expense. Therefore we took extra special care to attempt to make the program educational, captivating, and rewarding. The plenary presentations were of a high caliber and covered a wide range of topics in ways that were enthralling and easy to understand. Our intention as we chose the plenary speakers was to target individuals who we felt not only had an in-depth grasp of The Urantia Book teachings, but who were also particularly good at imparting their presentations. This is a gift that not everyone has and we felt that in fairness to the conference participants, it was our responsibility to provide speakers who were skilled enough to hold the audience’s attention and succeed in teaching the teachings.
We opened the conference on Friday evening with a little opening ceremony followed by an evening of socialising. The youngest of our readers delivered the conference banner into the room and rolled it out onto the floor, then 18 year old Sophie Verass stepped onto it and took our breath away with her solo performance of a song that is known by most Australians but that had the lyrics adapted for a Urantian occasion. (See words to the song at the end of this article). The two Presidents, Gaétan Charland (UAI) and Vern Verass (ANZURA) then said a prayer and gave short welcoming speeches. The conference committee volunteers served the first round of drinks as a welcoming gesture and mingled with the guests. The conference was officially underway…
Nigel Nunn agreed to be the MC for the conference and kicked things off on day one with his outstanding plenary speech on Personality in Transition- the Individual Blossoms. In my view Nigel has a unique talent of being able to impart the big picture concepts of The Urantia Book in layman’s terms and in a jovial, eloquent and brilliant way. He is also a computer wiz so is able to provide wonderful graphics and working models of the universe as he breezes through his presentations. I’d venture to say that Nigel’s grasp and ability to impart knowledge and understanding on The Urantia Book’s teachings is at least equal to, if not exceeding the skills of William Sadler Jnr. whose taped lectures and books have assisted many a reader over the decades to understand the more difficult topics in the book.
Will Sherwood was the second plenary speaker in the afternoon of day one and gave a polished and well prepared presentation on the Agondonta Story. Will has a wonderful ability to weave the philosophy and values of the teachings of the book with his knowledge on the power of positive thinking. Will deals with these concepts every day in his personal and professional life and has an obvious passion for them. He truly speaks from the heart and was able to highlight the incredible power of our individual attitudes and choices, which brought new insights into the meaning of the Agondonta status as described in The Urantia Book.
William Wentworth set the mood on day two with his stunning presentation on Isolation as an Evolutionary Technique. Here we have another brilliant mind and able presenter who has been hiding all these years “down under”. Like Nigel, William has a special gift in being able to impart the teachings on the big picture subjects and brings it all home to the individual’s place in the wider scheme of things. I felt like I was taken on an incredible journey as he talked about the concepts of divergence and convergence as an evolutionary technique, and then managed to bring the personal reality of the Universal Father right into our hearts and minds. I was honestly left stunned and flabbergasted…
Tamara Wood, one of our younger generation readers and faithful Office Manager at the Foundation’s headquarters in Chicago, glowed throughout her riveting presentation on Heroes of the Revelation in the afternoon of day two. Tamara is a natural born speaker and communicator – she is graceful and confident and speaks straight from the heart; she obviously knew her topic inside out and was passionate about it. She brought the characters – those heroes of the revelation – alive for us and spoke of them as if she knew them intimately. I find Tamara an inspiring individual – her sincerity and living faith pours out of her soul so that the fruits of the spirit are plain to see…
Michael Hanian, our brilliant Russian translator, spoke in the morning of day three on Worship in Isolation – Touching the Source. They say that still waters run deep. Michael is one of those quiet artistic souls who speaks straight from his own genuine personal experience. He is gifted with an intelligent and beautiful mind and his exotic accent adds a melodic quality to his voice that left us with the feeling that we had truly “touched the source”…
An interesting thing happened on the morning of day three after Michael’s talk. We had forgotten to tell Michael how long we expected him to speak for. We had allowed one to one-and-a-half hours in the program for each plenary talk and Michael only prepared half an hour. He told us before hand and we were wondering what to do with the extra time. Meanwhile there was a bit of a dilemma happening with scheduling a room for one of the informal workshops that was to happen later on that day. Sue and Derek Tennant were to give a presentation on the FreeSchools charity project that they have established with Mark Bloomfield in Thailand and India. They needed to use the main plenary room as they were to show a video and needed the projector and screen. However we had already allocated that space for one of the other informal presentations that also needed to show a video. The conference program committee held an impromptu meeting and decided we would allow the Tennants to make their presentation to the whole group in the space after Michael’s talk. Some may call it serendipity; this presentation was one of the highlights of the conference. I’m sure there was not one person in the room who was not mightily moved by the video on FreeSchools that showed the plight of young children in deprived countries and how a handful of devoted Urantia Book readers (initiated by the work of Mark Bloomfield in India) are attempting to do something about providing young girls a basic education that will give them a better chance in life. This project is a whole story in itself which I can’t go into here, but it is well worth checking out and supporting. For more information on it you can go to the website at www.Freeschoolsworld.com. Many readers heard the call at the conference and have jumped into action to assist with this project.
Mark Bloomfield’s explosive presentation on the Mother of All Missions on the morning of day four – our last day, couldn’t help but leave us reflecting on the nature of what we had been given; what we hold in our hands, in relation to the untold horrors of this world. It was a confronting wake-up call to we who profess to believe in the power of revelatory truth. Mark’s experience as a field worker (he’s literally placed thousands of Urantia Books in libraries and learning centres in both the developed and developing worlds and has initiated numerous humanitarian projects) has given him cause to be at the coal face of human suffering for many years. He holds an unshakeable conviction that the teachings of the Urantia revelation are the only real cure for the sickness and disease of this troubled world. He has, therefore, devoted his life to doing something about it. Mark’s courage and steadfastness was an inspiration as he successfully illustrated the powerful force of faith in selfless action.
UAI’s President Gaétan Charland gave the closing plenary speech, Small Teams in the Deep Waters of Today where he gave us a world roundup of reader and organisational activities around the globe. He called upon various individuals to speak briefly on their service projects and regional activities. We heard from Byung Seo who spoke about the readership in South Korea, from Share and Bill Beasely who spoke about service outreach projects and their work with the Matthew Project in raising funds for Urantia Foundation, and from Seppo Kanerva who is President of Urantia Foundation. Gaétan was obviously deeply moved by the conference experience and admitted that his prepared speech was no longer what he wished to say – instead he adlibbed and obviously expressed himself straight from the heart…
Following Gaétan was ANZURA’s President Vern Verass who gave the final words of thanks in closing. Vern’s heartfelt comments moved many of us to tears. I know the conference had a profound effect on Vern as it did on many others present. I particularly remember his closing words: “in order for a tadpole to become a frog he must live loyally as a tadpole – so let’s go out there and work our tails off.”
I could go on and on about the other aspects of the conference; about the many wonderful workshops and study groups; about the fun and entertainment; about the amazing conversations over cups of tea, meals times and in the hall ways and dormitory corridors; about the fraternisation as we sailed around Sydney Harbour; about the wonderful feelings of “mateship” and brotherhood – but I won’t… there’s not enough space in this journal.
My friends, we have heroes of today’s revelation in our midst – those faithful servants who go the second and third mile, those teachers who help us in our in-depth study of the Urantia teachings, those quiet achievers who labour faithfully in ways we may never know or hear about, those leaders who provide the organisational framework to make events such as this conference happen. Our collective efforts are being woven together to create a beautiful tapestry that is contributing to the evolution of the Supreme Being. The UAI is truly an educational organisation that fosters the in-depth study of The Urantia Book and the dissemination of its teachings – that’s the part it has to play and it’s a two pronged approach. I urge each and every conference organiser to tap into the vast resource of the readership’s talents and provide stimulating educational forums for the enhancement of our understanding of the Urantia teachings in ways that will help readers not only understand the teachings but also foster spiritual development that will assist us in the everyday application of the teachings in our lives.
We Are Urantians
We came up from the ooze and slime from the warm inland seas
The Life Carriers they nurtured us as we climbed down from the trees
We stood upon our own two feet and finally free will came
Our names are Andon and Fonta, the first Urantians
Our ancestors were Andonites who survived the ice and snow
We have a touch of blue man, red, yellow and indigo
We survived the Prince’s downfall then the Gates of Eden came
Though they fell within a hundred years their story still remains
We are one, but we are many
And from all the lands on earth we come
We share a dream and sing with one voice
I am, you are, we are Urantian
Then the teachings on faith of Salem began to spread across the land
To prepare us for Christ Michael with his outreached saving hand
To bring mankind together for His eternal plan
Now a gift of revelation, a guide book in our hands