The years after the war were an immense challenge to the Church as the whole country set about trying to discover how to create a new sense of community. Youth work flourished and the fellowship conferences began to take shape. The Congregational Union went a stage further, recognising that many young men and women had lost their ‘youthful years’ and with them the opportunities for learning about the fellowship across the whole nation that held any denomination together. So began the Forum, initially the Congregational Forum, a holiday conference for church members. From July 28 th to August 4 th 1950 the first Forum was held with some two hundred and fifty members attending. Chaired by Leslie Cook with Bible Study led by John Marsh and music under the leadership of Eric Routley the history of Forum was off to a flying start. With the theme ‘Freedom and Fellowship in Christ’ the participants came from every part of the country.
The Hayes at Swanwick was selected as the most central and appropriate place for the meeting and it has remained so ever since. In 1950 a special relief train ran from St Pancras to the long since lost Butterley station (it had been specially opened for Forum! One of the rooms at the Hayes still recalls the name). Members were invited to walk across the fields to the conference centre. They were reminded to bring Bibles and Congregational Praise, towels, soap and shoe cleaning materials, Tennis Racquets and balls, the programme and especially not to forget their ration books. The telephone number was then simply Ripley 438.
By 1960 Forum was described as the most significant fact in church life over the last twenty years and its esteem was shown by the fact that the chairman of the Union was the Host of Forum. Amazingly the programme has changed little though the nature has when it was decided to allow children to attend with their parents. So Forum became a family event and in 1972 the family grew to include the Presbyterians and we became the United Reformed Church Forum.
For the next twenty years Forum continued to provide a wonderful sense of fellowship for those who came but slowly the numbers began to fall and financially it was no longer able to have sole use of the rapidly expanding facilities of the Hayes. The Forum of 1993 was a financial flop and the Mission Council decided to cease running it. A letter was sent to all the regular Forumites and the miracle of Holiday Forum came into existence. Shocked by the loss of this unique event in the life of the church a group of the regular members clubbed together and in faith took over the responsibility for Forum. The Hayes were very supportive for Forum had become part of their ‘family’ and between us we set the ball rolling again, sharing the site and managing a very tight budget. Members came from all over the country to help organise the event and very few of them ever claimed any expenses. The work for the week was shared by those attending and costs were slashed. The Forum came back to life with a vengeance.
I have been asked in the past "is it a holiday, or is it a conference?" the only answer is yes. It is a holiday to help you reflect upon your Christian life, and it is a conference with space to let you relax and enjoy the beauties of Derbyshire as you wish. There is plenty of talking, nobody need feel left out; plenty of thought, prayer and worship, stimulating and challenging; plenty of quiet places. The family is there for people on their own as well as for the children, for all ages and for all people.
Those of us who revived Forum were convinced of the value of Forum. We believed that it is a place where in the midst of what goes on, God shares with us as we share this time with each other. We have not been disappointed.