The Hoddesdon Conference grew out of the London Young People’s Group in the early 1960s and in response to two ideas/needs. One was a response to requests to establish a gathering in the ‘south’ that approximated the Swanwick gatherings. The other was an awareness of a need to establish a keener focus on youth work in our community.
The committee was originally formed by six members from the London YPG committee and first met on June 4th 1962. That group of six, of which Cherry Clementson was one, decided that a committee of 9 was desirable. At the second meeting Derek Ramsden, John Marshall (later, Asst Editor of The Christadelphian) and Joy Standeven joined the committee. At that time, the YPG funds “could stand a loan of £10 to the conference committee”. However, by July it was found that “the YPG funds were not sufficient to stand the £10 loan, but £5 had been found. East Ham ecclesia had also loaned £5, thus starting the conference funds with a balance of £10.
The Conference committee had managed to locate High Leigh Conference Centre (same management as Swanwick) and the first ‘Christadelphian Youth Conference’ was held from 18th – 20th January 1963. The cost of the weekend was £3/5/0 (pre-decimalisation), just over 60 people attended, and a questionnaire was used as a means of determining future needs and direction. Seven ‘traditional’ style conferences were held (1963-1969) still with a focus on youth work – with topics such as ’Youth Groups – why we need them’, ‘Starting the Youth Group’, ‘After Baptism’. Included among the speakers in 1969 were brethren Alfred Nicholls, Charles Mason and Roy Standeven. 1970 saw the first ‘Workshop’ conference with five workshops from which attendees chose two. These included ‘The Bible Comes Alive – through drama and movement’, ‘Teaching with Impact – through visual aids and discussion’, ‘Make a Joyful noise to the Lord – practical simplified musicianship’.
An address to the conference ‘Youth in Action’ was given by Harry Tennant; this coincided with our first publication, a booklet titled ‘Youth in Action’ written by Cherry Clementson and Joy Standeven with a cover designed by Paul Downer (the cover designer of both editions of ‘Praise the Lord’). The cost of the weekend was £4.
By 1973 eight workshops were offered (among the leaders John Hellawell, Roy and June Standeven, Len Richardson, Cherry Clementson and Joy Standeven); the cost of weekend was £5.50 and about 140 people attended. Over the years the Conference has evolved from two sources: (i) the response of attendees to the annual questionnaire, and (ii) committee members’ perception of needs.
By 1983 (14th-16th January) the focus was still on youth work in the community, 8 workshops were offered and the cost was £23.95. In 1984 we secured a March weekend for our gathering and no more snow!
1986 saw a major broadening to ‘Care about preaching – Hoddesdon promotes a dynamic approach to witnessing for Christ’ and 10 workshops were offered (Wilfred Alleyne, James Bilton, Anthony Whitehorn, Cherry Clementson, and John Greenwood amongst the leaders), the Sunday speaker being Dennis Gillett – ‘The spiritual life in practice’. The cost of the weekend was £30.00.
By 1993 (the launching of the spiral-bound 1st edition of Praise the Lord) we offered 11 workshops, the cost was £48, our Sunday speaker was Jim Bilton and we had become accustomed to a waiting list for the 200+ places. The 35th gathering (1997) was about ‘promoting a dynamic approach to witnessing for Christ’.
So, gradually our focus has broadened in response to the needs of those who attend and express their views on the questionnaire.
Delegates now range in age from 15 to 80+ and whilst youth work and preaching remain very necessary and important aspects of the conference, we find requests and ideas for workshops have become very broad including emphasis on personal, spiritual well being, worship and Bible studies.
A second aspect of our work has been the publication of support materials from Youth in Action’ in 1970, including ‘Gold Mine’ (a handbook of ideas for Youth Leaders) to ‘Collecting Craft Ideas for Sunday School’, the Sing Hosanna books – 1 (1974), 2 (1976), 3 (1979) and 4 (1986), the tapes and CDs to accompany them and now ‘Praise the Lord’ series (revised edition 2000).
The Conference has never had a constitution as such. At one of our very early gatherings we held a ‘Business Session’ and the view was expressed and supported by those who attended that ‘if it’s working, don’t change it’.
Committee membership has changed, gradually, over the years, and we have regularly sought approval from the Conference, through the annual questionnaire, for the work that we do. We have been encouraged by the support of countless brothers and sisters who have attended the conference over the years, and by the regular number of newcomers. Recently, we have been very encouraged to see a greater number of younger delegates attending and making a much valued contribution to the fellowship we enjoy together.
Our work has been made easier by the kindness of so many people who have been ready and willing to lead over 500 workshop sessions, the Sunday morning study sessions, our Breaking of Bread Services, morning and evening thoughts, and help in many other ways.
Our Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus have blessed us richly over nearly 50 years and we thank them for their continued guidance and constant love – and will continue to seek their guidance in the time that lies ahead.
Praise the Lord!