The first Keswick Convention was organised in 1875 by the Vicar of St John’s Church in the little town of Keswick, in the North West of England, situated in the beautiful region known as The Lake District. The Vicar of St. John’s, Canon Harford-Battersby, chose to hold the first event in a tent on his lawn, and over three hundred people attended! Within a few years, Christians from all over the world were travelling to Keswick (pronounced Kessik) to hear the best bible teachers available. One of these, an Anglican named Evan Hopkins, so touched his listeners that Canon Harford-Battersby wrote in his diary ‘Christ was revealed to me so powerfully and sweetly as the present Saviour in his all-sufficiency.’ It was to share this teaching more widely that the Convention was founded.
From the first, its objective was to meet the needs of those who wanted greater depth in their spiritual lives. That aim has never changed, but the event has become known for other things as well, including a determination to see Christians from many denominations working and worshipping together.
Initially, it was very much an Anglican event, but the Convention’s motto ‘All one in Christ Jesus‘ was soon demonstrated from the platform, as speakers from many other denominations were welcomed to participate. A second week of convention was introduced at Keswick in 1969, and was called the ‘Holiday Convention’ with less meetings and more family related activity. This was so successful that a third week began in 2001, reflecting the considerable success of week two, and since then the total number of individuals attending Keswick over the three weeks, has reached 12,000!
The Convention has long been noted for its concern for mission. Missionary meetings began in 1888, and both Hudson Taylor of China and Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur had strong connections with Keswick’s commitment to mission. As Convention chairman Peter Maiden stated in 2001, ‘If we are really hearing God’s Word and applying it, it must lead to mission in the widest sense . . . we need to ensure lives continue to be changed and that more and more people are impacted through the Word of God.’
Keswick Conventions are now worldwide. Today, there are annual meetings around the world, including the UK, Japan, Australia, Jamaica, Canada, India, parts of Africa and New Zealand, and the more recently launched ‘Keswick Christian Life Convention’ in Nairobi, Kenya, and the ‘Keswick’ Conventions in Romania and Zimbabwe. The speakers and leaders have included many of the best known preachers in the evangelical world, such as John Stott, from All Souls, Langham Place, London, Donald English, twice President of the Methodist Conference, George Duncan, known for his ministry at St George’s in Glasgow, David Coffey, General Secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, and Ann Graham-Lotz from the USA. After 130 remarkable years, the Convention still seeks to re-emphasise its central convictions and to draw Christians together as being ‘all one in Christ Jesus’ the characteristic of its continuing story.