We are a dense group of Baptist churches in Southend - 14 Baptist churches in about 16 square miles! Eleven of us on Sunday felt ready to commit, with others journeying alongside for now. We hope this will be a positive sign of an intention to seek to partner together in mission, to gather together for worship and prayer, to support one another (beyond just ministers) and to participate in wider Baptist life.
This new partnership is not something new: there was a ‘fellowship’ of churches between 1946 and 1993 in this area, but it does indicate the rediscovery of a heart for partnership, network and associating.
We were partly helped in this direction by the work on networking done during the recent Baptist Futures process. The concept of networks needs to be given continued attention and encouragement among us independently minded Baptists.
On Sunday we met together at Avenue Baptist Church
, which is the oldest Baptist church in the area having been founded in 1876. The most recent is 57 West
which became an official church only a few months ago. The gathering was a marker on this journey of seeking to become more honeycomb than marble
We began with cakes – always good – and the opportunity to informally build new relationships or revive old ones. Paul Hills, one of the Eastern Baptist Association regional ministers, was interviewed about what was happening within the Association.
It was followed by a more formal act of worship led by the Revd Andrew Picton (Avenue Baptist). As we took part in an act of confession, we recognised where we have failed to treat one another in ways that reflect the gospel. (The second church founded in the Southend area was a split from Avenue)
Confession was followed by celebrating the Lord’s Supper, making real our shared communion in the body of Christ. When it's easy to come together perhaps for an evening of praise or to listen to well-known speaker, it felt right and good to ground our gathering together in the sharing of bread and wine.
The evening ended with our act of covenant making; a set of words that describe our intention to be more than independent churches. Each church was presented with a plaque with the words of the covenant on them to display in their buildings
This is of course only the beginning. It has taken over three years to get here, and here is not our even destination. Our goal now is to live out the promises we have made to gather as God’s people, to participate in mission, to support those who lead and serve (beyond just ministers), and to engage together with life beyond us with regard to our Association, our Baptist Union and BMS World Mission.