Chris Ellis was welcomed as our new President at the Baptist Assembly in May 2014. His focus for the year is ‘Higher, Deeper, Wider’ – based on the second half of Ephesians 3.  A new resource to accompany Chris during his Presidential year is based on a conversation about worship between Chris and Baptist minister Ruth Rice.  This series of eight studies is called 'Let's Talk about Worship', and is available to download free of charge for your small group to join in the conversation.

Each month Chris will be sharing his thoughts from his travels through this blog site.  He would love to engage in conversation with you and your church, and there will be opportunity for you to leave your comments at the end of each blog post. Please share your feedback in this way.

Click here to access the blog posts from Ernie Whalley during his Presidential year 2013-14.

The Big Picture in the Detail

Minds work in different kinds of ways and different eyes see from contrasting angles.  People just see the world differently.  Some hear the words, others see the body language, some see the big picture while others spot the detail.  Two people go for a walk in the country: one comments, ‘What a magnificent view!’ while the other observes, ‘Look at the colour of that petal!’

Speaking personally, I have tended to see the big picture.  It’s not that I can’t do detail, but I have to work harder at it.  Ideas and patterns come naturally, giving holding on to detail can be harder. Yet listening to other people’s stories, I am able to give attention to the specifics of what they have done, or thought or hope to happen, while at the same time seeing patterns of human striving and hoping and traces of God’s grace at work amidst it all.

For much of this year I have been sharing in the teaching of a course on spiritual accompaniment, exploring some of the riches of Christian spirituality, as well as the gifts and skills necessary to listen and discern with another Christian something of God’s way in their life.  At the same time, my travels have continued around the country, visiting our churches, associations and colleges.  In these travels I have heard stories and seen examples of God at work with lives changed, communities enriched and Jesus made real in the specifics of people’s lives.  I have celebrated with churches at their anniversaries, shared in quiet days and retreats, celebrated the two hundred years of Jamaican-British Baptist partnership, participated in association days and ministers’ conferences, and continued to listen to personal accounts of God at work in human need and endeavour.

To share these stories is to share testimony, to witness to the living God and to demonstrate that God’s gracious big picture is always meeting us in the specifics of our apparently small situations.

Soon it will be Christmas, when we give thanks for the eternal Word of God made flesh in Jesus – the ultimate example of the big picture brought down to earth in the details and specifics of messy human existence.  This is the nature of God’s grace – it reaches us where we are, rather than where we would like to be.  It meets us in mercy and embodies the big picture of good news that is not above the details of our lives and promises to transform them.

But even this affirmation is not specific enough, or down-to-earth enough, because grace has a human face.  There is nothing abstract about Jesus - only our attempts to explain him.  Here is God, in human flesh, born and killed, walking, talking and suffering for us and for our salvation.  And here, in our stories of grace, the Word continues to become flesh as the Holy Spirit brings new life and hope in hard places.

This Christmas there is much to pray for in our world.  But, above all, let our prayers be ones of thanksgiving - for the human face of grace in Jesus and in the faces of those around us in which his love is embodied.

May I wish you a happy Christmas and a grace-filled new year!

 Chris Ellis
If you want to think more about worship with Chris, then visit Let's Talk about Worship where you will find a series of interviews with Chris and some great linked resources for small group study in your church.


Pray and Fast for the Climate

I’m told it’s been a warm year, maybe the warmest on record. Many of us have been basking in sunshine which we have complacently called ‘unseasonal’. But deep down we have known that this is likely to be yet another sign that all is not well.

Through our profligate use of resources, and especially our use of fossil fuels, the earth and its climate is out of joint. While for some this means more temperate weather, for others it can mean floods or droughts, lost land and failed crops.

We know that something must change, but again, deep down, we know that we must change – our politicians need to commit more, our communities need to plan more, and we need to use less. Yet we have always found changing ourselves to be so hard. We need resolve, but even more, we need to seek God’s help.

Now Christian organisations in the UK are coming together to launch a year of prayer and fasting for the climate at special services across the country on 1 November 2014. This initiative calls on Christians to pray and fast on the first day of every month to make a stand for climate justice. The coming year is a crucial time for faith communities to act in response to the climate crisis, as momentum builds towards a new international climate agreement to be signed in Paris in December 2015 to stop dangerous climate change.

I want to encourage, no, urge, Baptists to become a part of this prayer movement. Politics is bound up with prayer, economics is entwined with spiritual disciplines. We pray to God the creator, ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’. We pray for God’s world, we pray for ourselves and we pray for those who suffer as a result of our selfish policies and actions.

Creator God,
this world is majestic with your glory,
yet delicate are the balances of your handiwork.
Forgive our abuse of your creation
and our selfish overuse of its wealth.
By your grace,
create within us a spirit of true repentance
and a passion for your kingdom which bears fruit
in new ways of living together
and a greater stewardship of your gifts,
though Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
To find out more and to become part of this prayer movement, go to the
Pray and Fast for the Climate website.

See also the information on the Joint Public Issues Team website.
Chris Ellis
If you want to think more about worship with Chris, then visit Let's Talk about Worship where you will find a series of interviews with Chris and some great linked resources for small group study in your church.


Pioneers of Faith

Newness is in the air.  New initiatives, new forms of church, fresh expressions of Christian community, missional approaches, pioneering ministries.  And it was some pioneers in mission whom I met on a recent visit to the West of England Baptist Association.

Dan and Beth Doherty, together with their toddler Pippa, have recently moved to a Somerset coastal town.  The association is paying the rent and Dan is working part-time at a nearby shopping mall and they are both reaching out into the community and forming relationships.  Beth, with a background in nursery teaching has developed a strong link with a local wetland trust and is leading nature trails for young children and their parents and carers.  Both are exploring what it means to be missional in a new context, perhaps eventually with a new form of church.

I had lunch at the home of Phil and Alice Lawrence on the Knowle West estate in Bristol.  The Cairn is a former Anglican vicarage which they have bought as a missional resource and as the beginnings of an intentional Christian community, alongside other Christians who have moved into this challenging area.  Already they asking ‘What next?’

And then tea with Ali Boulton and members of the Stowe church in south Swindon.  Ali and her family arrived on a new estate in 2009 as the first houses were being built.  Mission has had a community development face here, partnerships and trust have developed alongside people coming to faith.  Empowerment courses for women offer new forms of discipleship, pamper evenings show foot washing in a new context and offer Kingdom affirmation.  Already, the new church is asking how it needs to change in the light of a changing context.  Mission earthed in the reality of people’s lives, yet flexible and responsive to changing opportunities.

This visit was a kind of missional Safari Supper.  Not in terms of food, (though there was great hospitality) but, where possible, in the course of the day each of the pioneers, as well as the regional ministers, met with each other and visited each other’s place of witness.  So my visit as BUGB President became an opportunity for each group of people to reflect together on each other’s situation in context and offer suggestions, support and prayer.  Perhaps here is a model of networking support that will energise others.

You will see that I came away inspired – excited by the ability and desire to think and witness in new ways, moved by the sacrifice that pioneers often have to make when they minister outside traditional church structures, and determined to pray for them and for others who are called to act and trust ‘outside the box’.  ‘Pioneer’, I guess, means not only trail blazer, but person of faith – and what better witness is there than that?
Chris Ellis
If you want to think more about worship with Chris, then visit Let's Talk about Worship where you will find a series of interviews with Chris and some great linked resources for small group study in your church.


Previous Blog Posts

July 2014: Where you go, I will go
June 2014: Let's talk about worship
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