Report from the 2014 November meeting of the Baptist Union Council*
What has the Baptist Union got to do with us?
As members of local Baptist churches most of us only have any real contact with the wider Baptist church when a minister leaves and we need to look for a new one – and increasingly many churches (and ministers) are finding the settlement process a frustrating one. And what about the growing number of churches who can’t afford a full-time minister any longer? The Baptist Union is currently engaged in a major ministerial review – looking not only at existing challenges but trying to develop a process that will enable new forms of ministry in the future.
Who can be a member of the Baptist Union?
These were the sorts of issues we considered at Council last week.
BU Council meets for 2 days twice a year. The second of the 2014 meetings was held at The Hayes Conference Centre at Swanwick on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The role of the council is to provide discernment in forming the broad and strategic direction for the Union, the detail of which is then worked on by the BSG (There are 13 people in the Baptist Steering Group, a mix of ministers – e.g. Specialist Team Leaders, Association Team leaders, a college principal, and Lynn Green who is the General Secretary of the Baptist Union of England and Wales – and lay people – e.g. David Locke who brings financial wisdom and expertise.) Lynn said ‘we are not short on ideas, what we need is spiritual discernment’. Lynn also said how much the Steering group valued the presence at each of their meetings of one of the ‘accompanying group’. This is a small group of Baptists with particular gifts in the area of spirituality – for example Roy Searle from the Northumbria Community. There is one accompanier at each meeting, they do not take part as other members but offer prayer throughout with occasional observations or reflections to clarify and assist the process or aid discussion. I was impressed by this, the church should not be governed in a management style copied from the world of business or politics; I reflected that such a model might be helpful for other church meetings.
Worship and times for prayer were at the heart of the two days. Borrowing an idea from the European Baptist Federation meetings, the programme was also interspersed with several 5 minute slots when we heard what Baptists were doing in other areas of the UK – for example Alan Donaldson from the Scottish Baptist Union was invited and talked about how they are doing things differently; many of us were particularly moved and inspired by Ingrid Shelley talking about her work as a prison chaplain in Nottingham.
However there was plenty that needed discussing – as ever. There was a small amount of on-going matters – such as housing for retired ministers – but the key discussions were around the ministerial review which is currently taking place. What sort of ministers will we need in the future? What support will they need? What should happen nationally, what regionally and what locally? How will these things be resourced?
And alongside this how can we our embody better our interdependence?
A further area of discussion centred on how ‘New Expressions’ or Pioneer projects may be able to be welcomed as members of Associations and Union despite the fact that, by their very nature, they often do not have the structures and processes required of churches who are seeking membership.
These are big questions and a country full of passionate but diverse and fiercely, non-conforming churches isn’t always the easiest of contexts for consensus! Council in no way can represent everyone’s view but it does provide a forum for ideas to be raised, practices probed and the possibility that God’s Spirit might be allowed to influence us more – we must never assume the ‘hardened professional Baptists’ have a hot-line to God, as Baptists we know that a lone voice from the edge might be the true prophet.
Council isn’t perfect, but it is a place where there are many very committed Christians who care for God’s world and want Baptist churches to be able to serve God better today and tomorrow. Pray for their work and the on-going work of the Steering Group as they wrestle with difficult issues. We meet again next March.
* Council is made up of about 90 Baptists,
- 3 representatives from each of the 13 Associations – the Regional MinistryTeam Leader (in our case Geoff Colmer) the Association Moderator (in our case Graham Clarke from St Albans) and one other (and for the CBA that’s me – a newly-accredited minister from Northampton)
- National office holders, such as Chris Ellis the current President, Jenny Entrican Vice President, Ernie Whalley Past president, Jenny Royal Cahir of BUGB Trustees and those based at Baptist House in Didcot, such as our General Secretary, Lynn Green and the heads of the department; Representatives from our 5 Colleges (Bristol, South Wales at Cardiff, Northern Baptist Learning Community at Manchester, Regents’ Park at Oxford and Spurgeon’s in South London)
- co-opted members, such as representatives from the justice groups for race, disability and women
- Council could do with more non-ministers and more people under 40.