431PresidentBlog
Ernie Whalley was welcomed as our new President at the Baptist Assembly in May 2013. His focus for the year is ‘Like Stars in the Universe’ – using various facets of Philippians, and he has written a series of six Bible studies on this theme, which are available from the online shop.

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

431PresidentBlog
Gratitude

Recently a Christian leader was asked by an audience: ‘Why do you go to church?’ After a moment of reflection, he replied: ‘Gratitude.’ I think this sums up it up.
 

  • Gratitude!   Gathering together for worship is not meant to be a routine. It is the gathering together with our experiences of life – with all its ups and downs – and recognising the God behind it all.  And even out of the darkest, most confusing moments, to hold on to the One who can weave out a garment of hope. 
  • Gratitude!  When gazing at the signs of Spring, seeing the goodness in human kindness and the strength in solidarity, I am grateful.  Looking up at a star-filled sky in deep awe, and knowing that I am loved by God.  As the Psalmist centuries ago, expressed it:
What are mere mortals that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?   (Psalm 8)
  • Gratitude!  Journeying through Lent, mindful of a death and resurrection that transforms everything.  When a virus riddles our software on the hard disk, everything slows down and ceases to function. It needs to be dealt with.  The longer I’m a Christian, the more I recognise that ‘forgiveness of sins’ is the core of the Gospel message.  Hurt, unconfessed wrongdoings, bitterness – sometimes long hidden – can be healed, absorbed into God’s amazing grace in the light of the Cross. 

And in this my final blog, I want to express my own deep gratitude to all those who have welcomed me so warmly over this past year into communities, churches and homes in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and beyond. Thanks, too, for all who work in Baptist House for our Union and BMS World Mission.
 
Amidst the many challenges, I have been privileged to see so many shafts of Kingdom light both at home and overseas. Keep ‘shining like stars in the Universe’ and punching holes in the darkness as you ‘hold firmly to the Word of Life’. God’s richest blessings on you all.

 

 
(Ernie has prepared a series of 6 Bible Studies ‘Like Stars in the Universe’ based on our Assembly 2013 theme: ‘Reclaiming Philippians for Today’s Church’. Copies of this are available from the online shop  – priced £3. Ernie encourages churches to join a conversation based on the themes of the study – see www.likestars.org.uk throughout this year)


 

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431PresidentBlog
The Barnabas Spirit

Last month I talked with Sister Barnabas who was attending the joint ministers’ conference with the Baptist Union of Wales and BU South Wales. She was one of a fascinating number of people I met at the event in Saundersfoot.  Sister Barnabas is linked to the Ffald-y-Brenin Retreat Centre in Pontfaen, near Fishguard; a community which God is using richly to bless people (Roy Godwin tells the story in The Grace Outpouring.)  Sister Barnabas spends much time in intentional prayer.
 
We know from Acts 4: 36 that ‘Barnabas’ means ‘son of encouragement’.  Last week, I had the opportunity to read Tony Benn’s The Last Diaries – a blaze of Autumn sunshine.  Within all his reflections on the political scene, he writes movingly about encouraging others, including his family and the younger generation.
 
Those of us who are a bit older have more time to encourage others, but it is an opportunity for all of us.  It is a greatly needed gift.  In a busy world, we can easily take folk for granted.  The same applies in church life.  A word or gesture of genuine encouragement can be restorative.  Such moments can ‘strengthen the courage within’ so that people can carry on with a stronger spring in their step.
 
I can still remember a sermon of 40 years ago delivered by the Revd Ernest Moore, a New Testament Scholar and my tutor at Northern Baptist College. Shortly before I left college and, along with others, was preparing for my first pastorate, Ernest reminded us that the word ‘paraclete’ used for the Holy Spirit was often translated as ‘Comforter’.  But he thought the word ‘encourager’ was as good a translation – the Encouraging Spirit.
 
To ponder:
As Lent proceeds, how can I cultivate the Barnabas spirit within me towards those around me and in my community; amongst family and friends and within my church?

 

 
(Ernie has prepared a series of 6 Bible Studies ‘Like Stars in the Universe’ based on our Assembly 2013 theme: ‘Reclaiming Philippians for Today’s Church’. Copies of this are available from the online shop  – priced £3. Ernie encourages churches to join a conversation based on the themes of the study – see www.likestars.org.uk throughout this year)


 

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431PresidentBlog
Church Meeting: time to be scrapped or time for a radical change?


It was good to attend the Fresh Streams’ event at Swanwick last month and sense the energy and enthusiasm in the gathering.  Folks came mainly from our Baptist churches and it was a joy to see how our new General Secretary, Lynn Green, was welcomed.

Fresh Streams has a theology strand and a vote was taken to explore two topics this year:

  • engaging with culture whilst remaining distinct from it 
  • Baptist ecclesiology: has the church meeting had its day?


Church members’ meetings are often the low point in our church life and for understandable reasons.  As a former regional minister, I have probably attended church meetings in over 100 churches in the past 15 years. In the pastorates I served, I chaired well over 200 such meetings. I think I can safely say I’ve seen much of the best … and the worst!  Power politics, imitations of the worst of Westminster, packed meetings when there’s a proposal to remove pews… or terminate a ministry … to name but a few.  However, I’ve also experienced the best when there has been careful listening in tough meetings and people have changed their minds, when there has been space for the prophetic and the quiet voice on the margins has been listened to and heeded.  I understand how the church meeting has become a forum for the leaders’ plans to be shared with little opportunity for discussion. I understand why many people avoid them like the plague because they do not want a sleepless night.

So where do we go? I believe Fresh Streams is right to want to explore this topic. The time is right to consider…

  • Why do we have church members’ meetings anyway? It is fruitful to explore the reasons for this in our history? Why did our forefathers and foremothers propose this gathering to ‘discern the mind of Christ’ within a local congregation?  Its essence is at the heart of our history and principles that, in the gathering community of believers, the Spirit of God is seeking to prompt and guide us in the ways of Christ in our day.
  • The church meeting should be the setting where our ‘little’ Kingdom visions are placed within the glorious, limitless, ongoing purposes of our great God.  In our fragility, God deems to use even us as Kingdom partners.
  • Who sets the agenda? This is a key question for me.  Is it driven by our own parochialism or by a genuine open-ness to the Spirit?  We sing ‘be the wind in these sails’ but do we mean it?  Have we the maturity, prayerfulness and courage to practise this in our life together, as expressed in the church meeting?


Yes indeed, the time is ripe for deep consideration of church meetings.  Do we want a Kingdom-shaped church or a church-shaped Kingdom?

 
(Ernie has prepared a series of 6 Bible Studies ‘Like Stars in the Universe’ based on our Assembly 2013 theme: ‘Reclaiming Philippians for Today’s Church’. Copies of this are available from the online shop  – priced £3. Ernie encourages churches to join a conversation based on the themes of the study – see www.likestars.org.uk throughout this year)

For all comments, please see our Letters page

 

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Previous Blog Posts

January 2014: Seeing Light and Being Light
December 2013: Holding on to hope
November 2013: Roots and Reaching Forward
October 2013: Weaving Peace Together
September 2013: Love your neighbour …
August 2013: The New Wine Needs Fresh Wineskins
July 2013: Light of the Kingdom
June 2013: Glimpses of Kingdom Light
May 2013: Reclaiming the Community of the Church
 
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