East of Melbourne on a cold and wet evening we converged on the buildings of St Mark’s Anglican Church, Forest Hill, to find canapés and a delicious fruit punch awaiting guests. A myriad of interpretations of the dress theme ‘Free as a Bird’ flocked the foyer. Many a feather boa, bird print, and even a peacock fluttered around the room. This convivial welcome sparked conversation between MOPS friends, old and new.Upon entering the hall, we took our seats (80 women in all) at tables set for a warming roast dinner, and adorned with elements of the 2018 theme, ‘Free Indeed’.
True to MOPS form, an icebreaker was the way to see our leaders fired up and what better way than with a selfie challenge? Splitting into small groups we were given a list of photos that needed to be taken, such as photo bombing another group, a human pyramid – babies came in handy here! – and squeezing as many mums as possible into a car! Many laughs were had and it really set the tone for a fun conference.
Over the course of the evening we heard moving testimonies of hardship some of our MOPS mums have endured, followed by strength and restoration found within the friendships and support offered at varying MOPS locations. MOPS, we heard, was more than just a mothers’ group. To many it was a lifeline, a message of hope.
MOPS Australia Board Chair, Karen Dickson travelled from Launceston, Tasmania to present the ‘Hand of MOPS’ award for Victoria. This award is usually presented to one MOPS leader who has shown significant contribution at a local level. Not in Victoria, no, we’ve too many selfless leaders that it could not be narrowed down to just one and so 2017 saw two deserving winners in Jill Sargent and Gabriel Norris.
Delicious, sugary pavlova was enjoyed while we crafted paper lanterns with geometric bird motifs. And as we closed the evening in song, with the hall lights out and the glow of our lanterns illumunating birds in flight in the darkness, it was easy to feel free indeed.
Saturday morning saw some of us converge on local resident (Sarah McIntosh)’s home for breakfast, coffee and conversation. A lovely way to start the day! A short walk to the venue, before taking a seat in the church chapel for a time of worship. In the lead up to conference the ladies leading us in worship travelled from as far as Ballarat to prepare for the occasion! Talk about commitment! And we delighted in their musicianship; the five women performed beautifully together.
As her final duty as State Leader, Laurinda Coulter kept us abreast of MOPS Australia news, and introduced our keynote speaker, Karen Dickson. Through an honest assessment of her own #mumlife, Karen shared how we can ‘let love be the loudest voice’. Comedic yet relatable, Karen got to the heart of trusting God and leading with love.
It was Juelz Sanders, who spoke about her time spent living in another country, working with women who had been displaced due to abuse, who showed us we need to ‘be gutsy’ in trusting God. It is through times like these, although often extremely hard, that we are most rewarded in life.
And finally, Alison Brown encouraged us to have child-like faith and ‘take the first step’ of evangelism. From Black Books to VeggieTales, Allison depicted the simplicity of knowing our God and showing him to the world as the loving father that he is.
Overall, Victoria’s Conference was a wonderful time of connection and learning that has left our leaders feeling well equipped to empower our mums to find freedom in 2018.