As Covid-19 restrictions are lifted churches will have to learn a whole new way to present Sunday worship.
So said Simon Thomas, a former Blue Peter and Sky Sports presenter, at the opening of the Christian Resources Exhibition at Westpoint, Exeter (Feb 23-24).
‘When you are leading a service or preaching online it is difficult to decide whether to look at the congregation or the camera but unless you look at the camera those watching cannot feel fully involved,’ said Simon. ‘If you forget about your online audience very soon you will not have one.’
Helping churches develop broadcasting skills was one of the key themes of the exhibition with many visitors attending practical seminars on related subjects. Simon also talked about the death of his wife, Gemma, from acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) – four days after being admitted to hospital in 2017. Subsequently, he launched the Gemma Thomas Fund to raise awareness and money for research. He is now president of Blood Cancer UK.
‘I want to make sure that more people are made aware of the signs and symptoms of all blood cancers so we can improve early diagnosis and give people a fighting chance,’ he said.
Simon paid his first visit to CRE at Sandown Park as a 12-year-old, taken by his late father, a vicar.
‘The event has advanced so much,’ he said. ‘There is something here for every aspect of church life. It really is a must for Christians.’
CRE South West attracted 1521 people (1257 visitors and 264 non-visitor attendees) – numbers which delighted the organisers after the impact of Covid-19.
‘Running an event in the face of a pandemic is a nerve-wracking experience so we are grateful to all our loyal exhibitors and visitors,’ said CRE owner Steve Goddard. ‘In fact, the atmosphere last week was as upbeat as we have ever known with a sense of release and purpose after two years behind closed doors.’
‘It was good to be back together again and exhibit our plane!’ said MAF’s Kevin Crook. ‘We were so encouraged to see a large number of people showing real interest in our work, many of whom had never even heard of us.’
Mike Frith of OSCAR said: ‘We had a steady stream of visitors through Mission on the Map and many great conversations.’
Tim Moyler of Agapé UK, said: ‘There is no other way we could have reached so many leaders and organisations in just two days. Many said our Living & Telling course was just what they were looking for. Our national director was amazed at how many unexpected and fruitful conversations she had.’
‘We were genuinely delighted with the reception we received,’ said David Saint of Action Planning. ‘Although it was inevitably quieter than the national exhibition, we had a large number of very positive conversations. I’m pretty sure we came away with more leads from two days in Exeter than three days in Esher – and we were pretty pleased then, too!’
‘CRE is always an excellent platform for meeting quality contacts,’ said Chris Dunphy of ChurchEcoMiser. ‘Although the past few years have been anything but “normal”, the team know how to attract the right people and this was one of the best exhibitions we have ever done.’
These positive comments were endorsed by visitors.
‘I just want to say a HUGE thank you to all. The event was very well set out and organised, the seminars engaging and informative,’ said Liz Moore, a life coach. ‘It was lovely to network with people I hadn’t seen for a long time – and new people, too. Well done, CRE!’
Rev David Coffey, of Upton Vale Baptist in Torquay, told BBC Radio Devon: ’It’s fascinating to see the number and range of exhibitors at CRE. It reminds you how churches of all denominations form a huge marketplace. Gone are the days churches can go it alone.’
Simon Preece, church warden at St Andrew’s, Kenn in Devon, said: ‘I was so excited and almost overwhelmed by it all with people so willing to exchange ideas.’
• CRE National 2022 will take place at Sandown Park, Esher, Surrey, 11-13 October. To book a stand click here. Visitor tickets will be available from May 2022.