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.


It really feels like winter at the moment.  As I write, at the end of January, the snow outside our front door is more than a foot deep.  My travels around the country have obviously been fewer during the Christmas and New Year period, though that is about to change.

I have been looking back at my schedule, both for last year and for the events and visits coming up in the next few months.  The range has been fascinating.  The largest share has been my visits to local churches and projects – and rightly so – as I have shared fellowship, led worship, preached or just listened and prayed with people engaging in local mission.

But my year has also included ministers’ conferences, association celebrations, college teaching, quiet days and retreats, discernment days, council meetings, and representation at national events, such as the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday.

Each of these events has provided a snapshot of our Union, a picture of Christians in fellowship and of the Holy Spirit at work.  I pray that my presence as your representative in each of these places has been a sign that wherever we are, that wherever we worship, witness or struggle to seek and do God’s will, we are not alone.  Our Union takes various forms – as local churches cluster for mutual support and witness, as associations plan and pray strategically in support of local mission, and nationally as we support one another in prayer and in the sharing of resources.  This is union, this is fellowship – the communion of the Holy Spirit – God active amongst us gathering us and sending us, calling and equipping.

This union/fellowship/communion language is very important because it reminds us that our life together, however dispersed we might be, is the outpouring of God’s love.  We plan and serve and share, yet all this is made possible by the Holy Spirit who guides and empowers.  The Union is ‘us’, in each dimension of our relating and each aspect of our witnessing.  But above and under and through all this, the union is our life in God, the Holy One in our midst.  The apostle Paul writes,

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph. 4.1-3)

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.


New Year

We had the annual conversation: "Weren't the fireworks great, but what a lot of money to go up in  smoke!"  Then the annual frustration of trying to phone loved ones with New Year greetings only to be told, "Network busy!"  Happy New Year to you!
It's a good time to reflect on past, present and future, to remember absent friends and to hope and pray that the year to come has more promise than the one past.  A time to take stock and perhaps even to consider a resolution for the coming days.
This reflective mode set me thinking about our Union, about our relationships between churches, associations and colleges, about times past and times future, as well as time present.  We have been living through a time of transition, attempting new ways of decision-making and shifts in ways of relating, especially between the regional associations and the national structures.  We are still learning that 'national' doesn't mean 'them' but means 'us' - all of us. We are still learning how to relate without the level of institutional life we have known in the past.
Above all, I believe we still have a journey to travel on what it means to be a fellowship which is locally supportive and trusting, regionally creative and strategic, and nationally rich in its spiritual and practical resourcing.  As a Union, we are a fellowship with national dimensions.  The New Testament word koinonia, which is usually translated 'fellowship', means far more than a rosy-tinted warmth of friendly feeling.  A better translation is 'fellowship-sharing' - as Paul makes clear in 2 Corinthians 8, that fellowship between congregations is not just about good intentions but practical and costly mutual support.  So as a Near Year unfolds, let us look forward with a clear and an intentional commitment to support one another through prayer and practical sharing.
But my musings take me further.  Paul ends his second letter to the Corinthians with the familiar words which we repeat most times that most of us meet: 'The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion (koinonia / fellowship-sharing) of the Holy Spirit be with you all.'  This communion, which is our Union, is a work of the Holy Spirit which binds us together and inspires us to mutual encouragement and common action.  I believe there is a mystical dimension to God's call to us for life together as a Union.  Let us resolve to explore this common life in the Spirit in the coming year, allowing ourselves to be stretched and excited by the God of grace without whom we can do nothing.

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.


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.


Previous Blog Posts

October 2014: Pray and Fast for the Climate
August 2014: Pioneers of Faith
July 2014: Where you go, I will go
June 2014: Let's talk about worship
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