Common Eating Community

Clergy Conference – Southport, Manitoba

The last few days I was out in Southport, Manitoba, attending our annual Anglican-Lutheran Clergy Conference. A little history. Almost 20 years ago, the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, signed the Waterloo Declaration. You can read about it by following the link, but over time one result of this agreement is that each year in my diocese and the local Lutheran Synod, both Anglican priests and Lutheran pastors gather together for a residential clergy conference.

I’ll get to the food portion below, but feel free to leave comments on your experiences of conference and convention food. Particularly when the conferences weren’t food themed.

Clergy conference room
The couch and chair from my room at the clergy conference. There was lots of window to let the sun in.
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The clergy conference is a time for us to get away for our day planners and unplug for a few days. It’s a great opportunity to get to know each other better. Some of this is done over meals, and even more is done during the evening over a beverage and snacks. A few of us even get together and do some jamming. There is also a lifelong learning component which comes in the form of our guest speaker.

Last year marked the first time that I had attended one, and it was a very good experience. There were two reasons for this, at least for me. The first is, that I didn’t know many of the Lutheran pastors, and it was wonderful getting to know them better. The second is that we had a great speaker, Anna Madsen, a Lutheran pastor from Minnesota, and director of the Spent Dandelion Retreat Center.

This year we brought in David Wilkinson, principal of St. John’s College, Durham. Wilkinson is a Methodist pastor, and astrophysicist. Wilkinson’s topic was: “The Communication of Good News in Contemporary Culture.” Among the items discussed, was our need to understand what pop culture is. Of particular note was the idea that we too often conflate pop culture with youth culture, when people of all ages are consumers of pop culture.

Along with talking about pop culture, Wilkinson is a self-confessed Star Wars nerd, we also had conversations around how the church can promote and encourage science and scientists. Both within our congregations and in the wider community. Wilkinson is an excellent scientist, communicator and a man of deep faith, all of which shone through during the sessions. Below are two videos featuring David. The first is a short video on science and faith in his life, and the second is one of his lectures. I recommend both of them to you.

Clergy Conference Mealtime:

Of course, much of the learning that goes on at an event like this doesn’t happen in the sessions, but rather during meal times and over a cup of coffee during the day, and perhaps some pop, either soda or wobbly, during the evening.
Southport is a public-private site. Among other purposes it serves to provide flight training for military personnel, particularly with helicopters. It was unfortunate that the take off space was located right next to our meeting space which made listening a little difficult at times.
For residences there were older and newer buildings. I was fortunate to end up in the newer building with a nice suite that included televisions in both living room and bedroom(I watched neither). As you can see from the picture at the top there was comfortable furnishings and as it turned out, there is also cooking space.

Clergy conference microwave.
There is a sink and a microwave. The microwave would quite comfortably hold a large chicken, or even perhaps a small turkey.
Clergy conference burners
My suite also contained a two burner ceramic cooktop.

What I don’t have pictures of are the small refrigerator, the pots and pans, and the Keurig that were also in my suite. Had I known in advance of the retreat, of their existence I would have brought along some food, and reusable pods and some high quality coffee. Although, the coffee, compared to many conferences that I have gone to was above average for such events. For, despite flight being the theme of Southport, the food was, for the most part, pedestrian.
Now, I’m not advocating for gourmet meals. However, each of the suppers was protein, starch, and veg. In each case, the starch was potato. Perhaps not surprising, given that we were in McCain country. It would be nice to alternate with a bit of rice or pasta. Also, less starchy food would be good for those among our ranks who struggle with Diabetes of the type two sort. Another thing that stood out was the amount of packaged, processed foods. I’m not sure how that helps us to pay attention when we have fairly long sessions. One thing I did appreciate about the meals was that the food wasn’t overcooked, something you get a lot of at conferences.
My favourite meal during the three days was breakfast. This was served to us in the Officers Mess. To me, anytime I can begin my day with bacon, it’s a good day. There was also the best variety of food available during breakfast, including plenty of fresh fruit. The staff was friendly and did a great job with the service. While we didn’t really mix with the troops from the base, they also were very polite, friendly, and when necessary, helpful.
I’ve put a gallery of some of our food below, so you can take a look at what we were eating. The odd thing about the food to me was a lack of imagination. We are on a budget for our conference so there is only so much that can be done, but perhaps a meal with pulses instead of meat for the protein, would make a nice change, and also mean there is a little bit more of the budget to put into alternatives sides to potatoes, and to have some more cruciferous vegetables in our meals. Of course with 65-70 people confined to a small space, we might also want some Beano to go with the cruciferous vegetables.

Still, on the whole, we never in any danger of going hungry while we were there. I do wonder, though, whether a little less emphasis on the amount food, and a little more emphasis on the quality of food, might not benefit our bodies, but the level and depth of conversations we have around our meals.
One thing with the model of food were using, it seems to place far to much emphasis on calories. We have breakfast, break, lunch, break, supper, and then snacks. Along with that the number of times we have food put in front of us, seems to encourage us to constantly be eating. Perhaps fewer opportunities might help us to be more reflective on what and how much we are consuming.
On a personal level, I would enjoy going back to Southport and bring along my own food so I could enjoy a time of retreat, or extended blog work. For a first visit, there are some bugs to be worked out, but I wouldn’t argue with Southport as the scene of next year’s clergy conference as well.

By Donald McKenzie

Anglican priest, and food blogger. This blog is focused on Food. It will feature reviews of places to eat books, and the odd recipe. I also write about what it means to gather together around food.