Suddenly the Baptist Union has become Baptists Together. Some are already unconvinced. Some are asking when was this agreed. There does feel that there has been a deliberate disappearance of the language of the ‘Baptist Union’ and a definite desire to rebrand the Union with the language of ‘Baptists Together’. We might make several observations and comments:
1. Baptists struggle with finding good ‘thick’ descriptions of life beyond the local church. For good reasons we eschew language of a national or regional Baptist church and so historically we have developed the language of ‘association’, ‘union’ and also wider ‘federation’ (European Baptist Federation) and ‘alliance’ (Baptist World Alliance). More popularly we heard a lot about the ‘Baptist family’ over the last ten years (elsewhere I’ve attempted to redeem this terminology). None of these are ‘ecclesial’ terms; they are taken rather than the language of the day in which they emerged in 17th, 19th and 20th centuries.
2. One of the clear values that emerged from the Baptist Futures process was a desire to rediscover or re-emphasize our interdependency, the belief that local churches need one another to be Baptist, or at least, that there is a level of share history and relationship between local Baptist churches that is vital to our life and witness. From this, I guess, comes the terminology of ‘Baptists Together
’. It is an attempt to more clearly define the Union as not an institution to which local churches relate, but as Baptists – churches, associations, and colleges – being, working and living in relationship for worship and mission. It recognises that the language of ‘Union’ has lost its currency as a relational term, having more institutional and bureaucratic connotations attached to it.
3. The re-naming or re-branding of the Union is an intentional attempt to acknowledge a desire to do things differently. Ironically in doing so, it may have worked against this intention, by doing so without any consultation or explicit agreement at a local or associational level, or even through Baptist Union Council.
4. ‘Baptists Together’ is not perfect. One Baptist minister wrote last week that it reminded him of the Prudential adverts
of the 1990s, which end with the husband claiming that he is and his wife ‘just want to be together’, with the look of the wife’s face unconvinced! Equally, the language of ‘together’ cannot help but remind us of the present Prime Minister and Chancellor claiming that ‘we are all in this together’, and again many of us remain unconvinced.
5. Having said that, I would suggest we take this as a positive
move to affirm a direction in which our Baptist life together is moving. One that genuinely wants to be more relational and local, one that wants to build trust and possibility. The proof will be in how those shaping the national Assembly, those in the Transitional Steering Group and those who lead and shape Associations, enable Baptists Together to be a reality experienced, if not by all, at least by many.
The Revd Andy Goodliff is minister of Belle Vue Baptist Church, Southend-on-Sea
Related: Branding, ambition and reality - what does it really mean to be Baptists Together?