Report from Baptist Union Council
Details of the Council which took place at the Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick 22-23 November
Strategic priorities for our Union, the commissioning of a new leadership team, the future of Assembly, and issues surrounding same-sex relationships were features of the first, new style Baptist Union Council.
Council is designed to provide spiritual and strategic oversight for our Union, and since it last met has undergone significant change with a much smaller and revised membership and substantially reduced business content. The gathering on Friday and Saturday gave much more time for reflection, prayer and discussion, with delegates sat around tables in a café church-style.
‘This is a place for discernment, and we have got to learn what it means to do that,’ said the Revd Lynn Green, leading Council for the first as General Secretary of our Baptist Union of Great Britain. ‘We are here to seek God’s guidance for our Union.’
There was a focus on being Baptists together, she continued. ‘We want to develop the sense of being part of one team.’
The seasons – and our priorities as a Union
A theme of the seasons was used to guide discussions. Before arriving Council members had been asked to reflect prayerfully on what they perceive is ‘springing up and bringing hope, what things are in the full bloom of summer, and which of those aspects are fading into autumn and which things are in the bareness of winter.
Discussing these at their tables, before placing notes at specific places around the room which represented the four seasons.
A number of themes emerged, and these were reflected in further discussions on Saturday morning.
The themes were:
Equipping leaders; Engaging with communities; Interdependence; Pruning/death; Rest; Taking Risks/pioneering.
They were summed up by an overall message: “We want to move from church centred Kingdom to Kingdom centred church.”
Other issues were raised:
1. Engaging young people and young leaders in our structures.
2. The Great Commission, telling people of God’s love, having evangelism intentionally part of things.
3. Justice issues not being lost.
4. Losing confidence in the Gospel.
5. Formation and faith in young people and children.
6. Selection of those being equipped for leadership not as robust as it should.
Baptist Steering Group
These areas will inform the work of the Baptist Steering Group, the leadership team responsible for implementing the strategy of our Union. Currently the Transitional Steering Group, the BSG begins operating in January. The Trustees report included a recommendation that the Revd Dave Ellis, currently a TSG member, be appointed as the Council representative on BSG. This was unanimously accepted, and on Saturday afternoon the BSG was commissioned and prayed for.
It means the BSG will comprise: Grenville Overton (representing SCBA, WEBA, SWaBA and SWBA), Paul Hills (EBA, CBA), Phil Jump (NWBA, NBA, YBA), Dianne Tidball (EMBA, HEBA), Alex Afriye (LBA), Rob Ellis (representing the Colleges), Lynn Green (General Secretary), Paul Goodliff (Ministries Team Leader), Stephen Keyworth (Faith and Society Team Leader), David Locke (Support Services Manager), Richard Nicholls (Transition Manager up to July 2014) Dave Ellis (Council) and Marion Fiddes (Trustees). The one remaing place is subject to further discussions.
In addition the names recommended for an accompanying group to BSG, to provide members of BSG prayer support, share in spiritual and missional reflection, act as critical friends and to bring perspectives from beyond BSG. They are: Ernie Whalley, Chris Ellis, Eric Aidoo, Jenni Entrican, Valerie Richards-Hill, Roy Searle.
Same sex relationships/Ministerial Recognition Rules and Guidelines
A presentation was given by the Revd Stephen Keyworth, team leader of the Faith and Society team, and the Revd Dr Paul Goodliff, team leader of the Ministries team.
Council was reminded of the conversations that were encouraged at the Baptist Assembly on same-sex relationships, and was informed of the responses received by the Faith and Society team on the issue, both from individual churches and groups of ministers who had met to engage in the conversation.
The responses fell into three broad categories:
those who hold to a traditional line; those who want to hold a traditional line but are struggling for words to be true to their pastoral concerns; and those who are prepared to accept.
More than 90 per cent of churches want to be known as a place of welcome and safety for homosexual people.
The conversation has revealed a range of views on sexuality and relationships within the Baptist family, Stephen said. Disagreement is a reality, and we need to consider how we react to disagreement.
A question was posed: how do we support ministers and churches to think through a gracious and just response as we love and care for others? Council engaged in a conversation, and it was stressed there is no desire for Baptists to change the way they understand marriage. However, there is a need to consider at a future Council the appropriateness of guidelines for ministers.
An update about the Marriage Bill was shared, with a reminder that churches will not automatically be registered for same-sex weddings – if they wish to conduct them, they need to “opt in”. The procedure for registering to opt in will require a local church decision in favour.
Detailed guidelines on the Marriage Bill will be available for churches, when they become available.
Future of Baptist Assembly
Stephen Keyworth introduced the need to reconsider the format of Assembly and reminded Council that this had happened at various times in the past. It was noted that rethinking Assembly was hard because of the need to keep up progress on the next Assembly. It was also noted that this was a joint issue for our Union and BMS World Mission.
He outlined the context, with the following points:
1. Falling numbers (down to about 1,400)
2. Each Assembly makes a loss (varying with location)
3. Staffing issues given the reduced size of teams at the National Resource (BMS have been carrying a disproportionate load)
4. Differing expectations
5. Various groups that have come into being around Assembly
6. Predictable format
7. Ageing attendance
The proposal was made that while we re-consider Assembly in terms of its purpose and format, one-day Assemblies are held in 2015, 2016 and 2017. A review will be undertaken after 2016 which can feed into the wider Assembly discussion.
Alongside this the possibility of a distinctive and deliberate presence at other conferences where Baptists already gather would be investigated.
Responses were invited on the proposal as well as on the process for the wider review. David Kerrigan, on behalf of BMS World Mission, stated that the presence at other conferences would be a joint one. It was recognised that the move to a one-day Assembly would have a significant impact on groups that use the Assembly as a meeting point.
Stephen stated the hope and vision for the one-day format is for it to be more inter-generational.
Discussion on tables ensued, and these comments were received:
1. A festival approach might help with attracting a younger group
2. A shorter Assembly would lose the networking opportunities
3. The importance of understanding the purpose of Assembly in order to answers other questions about format etc.
4. Issue of travelling a long distance for a one-day Assembly
5. Possibility of investing more in Association events alongside other conferences
Stephen reminded Council about the importance of being committed to a joint Assembly, based on more than just pragmatism. There was recognition that the format would change with each one-day Assemblies. The proposal was formally put and passed with two abstentions.
Council members received a report from the Board of Trustees, which included an update on the current financial position. Although giving to the Home Mission Appeal is down by approximately £120,000 on the same period last year, this is due in part to a £65,000 non-recurrent gift to Home Mission from Southern Counties Baptist Association in 2012. With overall expenditure within budget and legacies up on the same period last year, ‘we expect the books to more or less balance by the year end,’ the report stated.
There was an update on the Futures implementation, with the appointments to the Baptist Steering Group and short biographies of the BSG Accompanying Group, and a Pensions update, with details of the new pensions website (www.baptistpensions.org.uk
Our Union has a commitment to achieving greater diversity. In this context Revd Rupert Lazar and Sue Clements-Jewery gave a presentation on our progress towards that and a challenge to everyone to keep striving for this. They outlined how diversity is inherent and singularly important – it is what makes us a Gospel people: We are one body and many parts, and each part must play its part. We must carry our own load and we must carry each others’ burdens. How do we carry the burden of the marginalised?
The Revd Nigel Coles and the Revd Dianne Tidball gave a presentation on Mission Strategy Development, and the challenge of developing a missional strategy in our new structures. Council was reminded that the desire that had come out of the Futures Process to be a Missional Movement. The developing mission strategy includes missional research, missional leadership and missional experiments. Discussion on tables ensued to consider the key questions for the Mission Strategy Group.
Reflecting on the first, new-style Council, the Revd Dianne Tidball, regional minister team leader of the East Midlands Baptist Association, said there was ‘a real sense of seeking to be a worshipping, discerning community which has left behind some of the adversarial, debate chamber approaches’.
There was an ‘intentional seeking of God’, she added, and praised the sensitive and deep way in which Keith Judson led as chaplain. 'How exciting it is to be part of an overseeing group which has at its heart a desire to be serious about the worship God inspires, the mission God has given and the relationships he gifts,' she said.