With the passing of another annual conference, this time hosted by the Melbourne Study Group, I found myself reflecting on the importance of the annual conference to me, and I suspect to most of us who had the pleasure of attending.To spend a few days in the company of other Urantia Book readers is so refreshing that it seems to invigorate me for months afterwards. Whatever help we can provide to furthering interest in the revelation, in bringing a spiritual message to our area of influence, to making whatever small improvements in things we can—all of these things are done mostly in isolation from our fellow readers.
As we attempt to live our understanding of the revelation in our daily lives, we do so in a social environment where we must explain and justify our acts and utterances to friends and neighbours who do not understand, and have no interest in the source of our inspiration. We are thus faced daily with the need to guard our tongues, to think and assess before we speak our minds, to calculate whether it is wise to mention this or that controversial point.
And although we do this with joy in the spirit of service, it does result in a certain strain deriving from the frustration of being unable really to share our vision with the world at large.
What fun it is, then, to converse and interact with other readers who know what we are trying to do, for whom many tedious explanations are not necessary, and who accept our speculations as sensible and normal. How constructive it is to discuss differences of interpretation, to seek clarification of obscure concepts, to offer and receive help in understanding the revelation with others as focused as ourselves. And to do it while renewing old acquaintances and making new ones in an atmosphere of such goodwill, makes the conference such an important part of life. It sends us back to the daily grind invigorated with a renewed determination to struggle with ourselves, to serve our fellows, and try ever harder to live the Father’s will.
The Melbourne Study Group hosted the conference this year, and held it at the Edmund Rice Centre at Lower Plenty. Melbourne usually comes up with a good venue, and this one was no exception.
On the banks of the Yarra, “Amberley”, the Edmund Rice Centre, was secluded without being isolated, in a peaceful bushland setting but close enough to services, the airport and taxis. Under the theme “The Book and I”,
Bob Reynolds and his team gave us a memorable series of presentations, allowing plenty of input from non-Melbournites, and as always with Melbourne, an innovative entertainment program.
Some of the highlights
Regina Williamson’s “You’ve read the script; now do the play”, where Regina emphasised the importance of following one’s own individual insights rather than allow-ing oneself to be too much influenced by the leadings of others. Her own determination not to be dissuaded from accepting the truth of the Revelation by well meaning friends inspired her to deeper study of the Urantia Book.
Bob Reynolds took us through Discovery, Reading and Understanding, Personal Growth, Sharing Growth with others and Attaining our Maximum Potential on Earth, and revisited an idea he picked up years ago differentiat-ing our Circle of Interest from our Circle of Influence in order to be realistic in our expectations.
Vern Verass spoke eloquently on “My Favourite Places in the Urantia Book” addressing three questions he posed when first encountering the book: Who is Jesus?; Are Adam and Eve real?; and Is evolution true?
Bevan James spoke of the personal problems of his clients in the legal practice he operates, and the help he derives from the twelve points listed on p.1108. …
…mortal personality to react to certain trying intellectual and testing social situations. Genuine spiritual faith (true moral consciousness) is revealed in that it:
- Causes ethics and morals to progress despite inherent and adverse animalistic tendencies.
Produces a sublime trust in the goodness of God even in the face of bitter disappointment and crushing defeat.
3. Generates profound courage and confidence despite natural adversity and physical calamity.
4. Exhibits inexplicable poise and sustaining tranquil-lity notwithstanding baffling diseases and even acute physical suffering.
5. Maintains a mysterious poise and composure of per-sonality in the face of maltreatment and the rankest injustice.
6. Maintains a divine trust in ultimate victory in spite of the cruelties of seemingly blind fate and the ap-parent utter indifference of natural forces to human welfare.
7. Persists in the unswerving belief in God despite all contrary demonstrations of logic and successfully withstands all other intellectual sophistries.
8. Continues to exhibit undaunted faith in the soul’s survival regardless of the deceptive teachings of false science and the persuasive delusions of unsound philosophy.
9. Lives and triumphs irrespective of the crushing overload of the complex and partial civilizations of modern times.
10. Contributes to the continued survival of altruism in spite of human selfishness, social antagonisms, industrial greeds, and political maladjustments.
11. Steadfastly adheres to a sublime belief in universe unity and divine guidance regardless of the perplexing presence of evil and sin.
12. Goes right on worshiping God in spite of anything and everything. Dares to declare, “Even though he slay me, yet will I serve him.”
The dreadful messes some people get themselves into are sometimes amenable to therapy, and Bevan sometimes can help by directing people to such therapies. Some-times he needs his faith in God to preserve his own sanity.
Dennis Dejong gave us an account of efforts being made to discover the remains of the first Garden of Eden under the sea near Cyprus, and of Dalamatia under the Persian Gulf.The program included generous time for people to reveal how they discovered the Urantia Book and to de-scribe their initial reactions to it. Two of these tales may be singled out as being particularly interesting.
Julian Mc-Garry’s journey from Jehovah’s Witness activist to Urantia Book student was a stormy one, and Robyn Hromek told of a more tranquil passage. Julian’s story is included.
Robert Coenraads then showed us an intriguing clip of the Continental shifts of our Earthly home.
The afternoon involved splitting into small groups to consider Bob’s final point-maximising our potential on earth, and finished with all meeting on the labyrinth in the front of “Amberley”. The labyrinth was a new experience for many of us, but has been used in the past as a stimulus to contemplation.
The evening entertainment was another Melbourne innovation. We remember that it was Melbourne who introduced the skit into the conference program in Sydney in 2001 with the unforgettable Wedding at Cana. This time there were skits by Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra, followed by a gathering in fancy dress as a character from the book. There were a number of angels, various apostles, Adam and Eve, Michael, a Solitary Messenger, a Lanonandek and others, together with a very bibulous Life Carrier, a splendidly mysterious Melchizedek, and a gorgeous Divine Minister. Bevan James was a roving reporter with his usual wit and panache.
Sunday began with Rita Schaad’s worship service, followed by further personal stories of the discovery of the revelation.
Then Jay Peregrine, the executive director of Urantia Foundation, gave us an overview of the Foundation’s origins and functions, taking questions from the floor, and explaining the Foundation’s attitude to some of the tricky questions such as translations, and disagreements among readership groups. We were lucky to have Jay, as sometimes the ways of the northern hemisphere can seem a little mysterious to readers in Australia and New Zealand, and it is useful to have face to face meetings with someone as close to the centre as he is. Being personable and open, he was able to give and receive information with ease and empathy.
Merindi Swadling, recently elected vice-president of UAI, and back in Australia after a stint in Canada, also gave a brief talk about UAI and its functioning arms-the ISB, RC and Judicial Commission. As she pointed out, there will be more work for these bodies as the Strategic Plan begins to be realised.
The afternoon was taken up with a trip to Montsalvat, the artists colony near Eltham, which has an interesting history extending back to the beginning of the 20th century.
Together with all the friendships made and renewed, the program was a great success. Congratulations to our hosts, the Melbourne Study Group, and thanks for another memorable conference.