Monday, 3 May 2010

Reflections on Baptist Assembly

I'm writing this on the train on the long - 51/2 hour - trip back from Plymouth to Manchester. The internet connection is very dodgy - my laptop is tethered to my iPhone - but at least it is working intermittently.
I think it will take a few days for us to work through our reflections of this year's assembly, but without a doubt, for us, it has been the best Assembly for many years!

Prism - the alternative assembly - is really maturing now, and took us on a journey exploring the theme of One World, One Mission from the margins of both church and society. What was particularly exciting this year was to see folk from much more 'mainstream' - and even 'Mainstream' - contexts, sharing this exploration. During the Prism seminars on Saturday, there were around 150 people who acknowledged that the church has moved from a position of power, influence and respect in our society to a position of marginalisation and irrelevance. While for some folk present this was clearly a matter of some pain and concern, the majority seemed to embrace this new situation as a prophetic opportunity: a little scary, but really where the church should be.

What was astonishing was to hear this affirmed from the main stage.

Anne Wilkinson-Hayes (how good was it to have her back?) urged us to set aside our Mission Strategies and neatly pre-packaged, off-the-shelf solutions and to jump into the flowing streams of the river of life.

Anne is taking a year out, living in a caravan, by the Thames and it was upon this context she drew when she urged us to jump into the unpredicatable, chaotic waters, quoting Ratty from Kenneth Graham's Wind in the Willows:

`And you really live by the river? What a jolly life!'

`By it and with it and on it and in it,' said the Rat. `It's brother and sister to me, and aunts, and company, and food and drink, and (naturally) washing. It's my world, and I don't want any other. What it hasn't got is not worth having, and what it doesn't know is not worth knowing...

Anne's carefully crafted reflection was surrounded by worship which, if not all of it was to my taste, had, at least, been carefully shaped to reflect her words. Finally, it felt as though someone at Baptist Assembly was taking worship seriously.

Even more remarkable was this morning's public issues session. We voted to support the Nuclear Non-Proliferation talks, and to support the Thursdays in Black campaign against violence, aggression and trafficking. After which, the microphones were handed over to a variety of voices from around the hall to sum up their experience of Assembly.

These thoughts were summed up by David Kerrigan, the General Secretary of the Baptist Missionary Society, no less, from the main platform at Baptist Assembly, who spoke of the need to hear the diversity of voices and to ask what Good News would look for those of other faiths, the unmarried couple, and the gay couple. There was an audible gasp across the auditorium, but there was no denying that he had said it.

So the question now is what we, as a denomination, will do with all of this. Will we have the courage to dive into Ratty's river without clinging to the lifebelt of certainty? Or perhaps we will have to devise a Mission Strategy, Health and safety assessment of the plan to dive into the river.

There were signs of this. Kwame Adzam's address in the closing eucharist attempted to close down all such debate by urging us to "Stand Firm" and hope for the promised revival which will see the church return from the margins to its position of authority in our land. This was greeted by loud - if somewhat forced - "Amen's" and "Hallelujah's" from around the room, in with which I'm afraid I was not able to join.

So, still a very long way to go, but all in all what an encouraging and inspirational event.

More reflections tomorrow when the internet will hopefully be more reliable!

1 comment:

  1. On reflection, and following comments from respected friends, I have removed certain comments from this post, along with the comments and my response.

    I apologise for any offence caused.